Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Winter Questions?

As we head into March after yet another record winter of rainfall and it seems an endless amount of storms with silly names. I must say it's been good for me to see a bad winter in my first year. That's not saying I enjoyed the bad weather but It's helped me to gage where we are as a course and what work we need to do to improve it. 

One of the things I have found interesting is seeing how different parts of the course have handled the rainfall. 

Most of the course seems to handle the rain fairly well and other areas are not good at all. I think a lot of this is down to a few variables.

Firstly the soil type. For example the 1st is set on gravel but the 17th in comparison is the more common clay to the course. This straight away will make a huge difference. 

Drainage-  the ditches and land drainage that has been added over the years are really helping. Especially the new ditches put in last winter. Remember pipe drainage only has a life span of around 20 years. So some of the older drains will require work. 

Micro climates- there are so many changes in heights with slopes, banks, holes along the top or holes through the valley. Some areas are surrounded by trees or other areas out in the open. 

Thatch content- some areas of the course will have higher thatch levels than others. Why does this make a difference? Well thatch acts like a big sponge soaking up all the water and expanding. This then can create foot printing or damage to the green. Meaning we may need to close the green if damage gets to bad.

 I have been asked many questions about some of the things we are doing this winter. So I thought it would be good to do a blog to answer some of the questions. 

Why are we having to play a partial course sometimes? The course in the past was either open or closed!

With all these different variables mentioned above, it just doesn't seem right to me to close an entire course because one or two holes are too wet. For example the 13th and 14th greens have been really, really wet this winter with moisture readings nearing 60% (that's twice what we want), meaning those greens became unplayable or they would have caused lasting damage to the surfaces. This left us with the only decision and that was to rest those greens. (The damage being caused just by us walking over them to remove dew was enough let alone hundreds of golfers every week). 
Another example the 17th and bottom of the 15th fairways have been again unbelievably wet, with readings of 87% on the 17th! This meant closing 15-16 & 17 because we couldn't find an alternative pathway back to the 18th with out going through some even wetter areas. The holes our of play were inspected every day until we felt they were fit for play. 
So we may have been forced into closing holes but keeping some of the course open. I  just felt that some golf is still better than no golf. I hope you agree!

Why is the 17th so wet after the new ditch was put in last year and do you think it's working?

Yes the new ditches are definitely working. The amount of water going through the ditches especially the new one across 17th has been astounding. I had just joined the club when this was just being finished so I can't compare it to previous years but the flow of water has been constant and loud. My old boss would say 'it would fill your bath in seconds'! 
So why is 17th so wet? Drainage can be a funny thing but a lot of people get good outlets and land drainage mixed up.  

The new ditch at 17th for example is a fantastic outlet and has sped up the moving of water off the course. 

The greenstaff tell me the damage caused on the 12th, 6th and 14th in the past was awful but we have come out of winter fairly good in these areas this year. Why, because it isn't backing up across the site.

It however will only take a little bit of surface water from the 17th. 
Let's remember how wet the practice ground can get in the winter (until we develop it, more on that to come soon). Let's also remember the 17th is also one of the lowest points on the course that is made up with a clay soil. The lye of the land doesn't even help more surface water get away as it rises up on the left before the ditch! Water needs to run off not run up to an outlet. 
Now, if we combine poor draining soil which moves water sideways as well as up and down, place it at almost the lowest part of the course, in a valley and add to it no primary land drainage or secondary drainage and a slight up hill fall on the land and what do you get? A very wet hole!
I know some will say it's never been so wet but here is where we need to ask some questions. Is it wetter due to the new ditch cutting off some of the old clay pipes from years ago? This sometimes happens with new ditches but within a year the water finds it way through and it improves again. Is it really wetter? The hole along with the course would have been closed more on the worst days than this year, so is it really wetter or are we seeing more of it wet?  

No matter what the question, we keep coming back to the real question... 

Can it be fixed? 
Yes, we have already planned some extensive drainage on this hole and across to the lower area of the 15th plus others.
A lot of the drainage issues that I have seen out on the course this winter are fairly easy fixed and something the MC are committed to working on. Our plan is to tackle the worst areas year on year. 

Has removing the trees made the course wetter? Why, Because trees drink so much water! 

In an answer No. Trees do drink a lot of water but this greatly reduces when the leaves are gone. The reason for this is when the leaves are out is when they require energy. When it's producing chlorophyll and in turn absorbing that energy and photosynthesising, this is when a tree requires its water. So during the winter months the trees go practically dormant, requiring very little water. 
 I was always taught at college when doing woodland management that this was a myth, we were also taught that sports turf, in its very nature of not being allowed to fulfil its natural cycle requires more water than a tree!!

If we look at the facts, this winter was wet. Similar to 2013/14 winter. We had slightly higher rainfall in 2013/14 but only slightly! However this year we have 176 wet days compared with 170 wet days 2013/14 . 

In 2013/14 the course was Closed 47 out of 63 days! 

In 2015/16 the course was closed 4 full days. 

Why, what's the difference? I would say air movement and better outlets. 
Wind is the best thing for evaporation in life, working even quicker than heat. How often do you hear the commentator at the golf saying the 'they are syringing the green because the wind is up'

Some clubs didn't get away as lightly as us! 

Other clubs locally and nationally are reporting its the wettest they have ever seen it. At the greenkeepers national conference even the guys on the links or chalk courses were saying how wet it was. Images of St Andrews pumping water off fairways and courses locally to us have started to get advice regarding felling licences because there courses have been so wet this year and no tree work has been done in years. 

Remember the water table rises dramatically in the winter. The soil structure acts like a cup with little evaporation and the gravitational pull is slower than the speed rainfall is falling! 

Why did we have a trolley ban? 


As a Greenkeeper there is nothing worse than feeling you have to restrict someone's golf. Golf is just a sport and something we do for fun. Putting restrictions on fun is not what we want as a team or club but sometimes the protection of the course for the season ahead and the costs of repairing damage have to be taken into account. 

We asked every member 'Please make every effort to carry your bag' this is honestly our way of saying the course is getting too wet and its causing damage to YOUR course and if you can, (honestly ask yourself) then please carry so those who can't can still get out and play. 

When we finally brought the ban in due to damage on the course, as club we still allowed those with medical certificates to go out and play but this is always our last resort. Daily inspections took place to see if we could reverse the decision and lift the ban ASAP. 

I hope this blog has helped with some of the questions this winter. Rest assured that we are striving to improve all areas of the golf course and to give us a better all year round course. 
Sometimes a step back can be a step forward! 

Not long until spring now (hopefully)!

See you soon 


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