Thursday, 26 July 2018

Be careful for what you wish for!

Hi All, ‘be careful for what you wish for’ is my  opening line to this latest blog. 
Looking back at my last blog I was talking about the high levels of rain following the snow but since then it hasn’t rained a drop. May arrived with 51mm of rain falling in just a couple of days but May began this drought and I mean drought. We had 26 dry days in May, no rainfall recorded in June and less than 1mm in July so far making in one of the driest periods in recorded history.
Not as bad as ‘76’ I can hear Charlie (one of our previous Greenkeepers who worked at Stoneham for 44 years) shouting from his front room and technically he would be right only due to the fact in rained so much in the first four months of 2018 putting our average rainfall slightly higher than 1976.

Is 2018 hotter than 1976? 

In 1976, temperatures soared to 32C or higher over 15 consecutive days, causing the biggest drought in living memory and becoming the one against which all subsequent droughts have been compared.

In 1976 areas in the south of the country went without rain for 45 days. We have now beaten that run with 56 days without rain in 2018 so far we also have seen similar forest and heath fires. There’s no doubt we have beaten the drought of 1997 already!
The highest temperature was 35.6C in Southampton on the June 28 1976.  With An estimated 50,000 trees being lost in Dorset alone.
2018 also has been sunnier that 1976 an average of 239.9 hours of sunshine were recorded last month compared to 205.5 hours in June 1976.
One thing is for sure, these droughts don’t come along very often but when they do you have to think about how you cope with the extreme heat stress on grass plants that aren’t naturally used to these climatic conditions. 
Okay, so it’s been great (maybe a touch hot at times) for golf but great weather none the less. 

July 2017 v
What issues has this caused us? Well plenty as you can imagine!

July 2018
Irrigation and watering? 

As you can imagine or you may have seen, we are watering a lot. Sometimes for different reasons (either replacing moisture or syringing to cool the Plant) but mainly in this extreme heat we are just getting moisture into the ground trying to make up Evaporation rates. 

We lost over 200mm in evaporation to date with 0mm in rainfall meaning we are in a deficit on areas without irrigation. That’s 8 inches of water in old money from every inch of ground across the Golf course... that’s a lot of water! 
Areas with Irrigation have been getting plenty. We have aimed to replace evaporation rates everyday, so if it’s 4mm ET we have been applying 4mm or just over depending on what is coming the next day.  We are constantly moisture probing the surface to make sure they aren’t to wet and are where we want them. 
We are aiming between 22% and 30% depending on the heat with our aim of 25% for the competitions. This can be harder than you think, as the sprinklers cross each other in the centre of the green so technically getting two passes where as the edges get one pass. Getting a consistent level moisture wise, means hand watering the edges to get them up and reducing the centres, so they can drop to our ideal. Mother Nature doesn’t tend to double pass with one rain shower!

The new Toro flex sprinklers on Greens and Aprons have made a huge difference and I think this is obvious to see now. 
We have been able to change arcs and trajectory of the water as well as adding tails to hit other areas.

Levi Pethick has become a master of these heads following his extra training in this area. He has been out repairing breaks, changing heads over, resetting heads to hit areas plus constantly checking and repairing cable breaks around the course. You may have seen these on the 18th or 8th. Unfortunately the cable on the system was put in about 50mm deep meaning we have been hitting it just by doing general maintenance to pathways or other areas of the course.
Did I or Levi ever expect him to be on this daily for so long... NO but thanks to him and Andy Garrett (our irrigation engineer) they have kept us running (touch wood). 

A special thanks to Andy who saved us one night when the system had failed for 24hrs during a 30• spell. Most Irrigation engineers would have just said you need a new panel (which would have been weeks not days to arrive) but not Andy, he spent all evening rebuilding the panel to get us up and running just in time. Thanks Andy!

We have had huge issues on the tees. The sprinklers on these, haven’t been changed and are poorly spaced and domestic heads (meaning they aren’t actually tees heads). We also only have sprinklers down one side on tees like 5th, 6th and 11th. This I can’t explain why, but if the wind blow the wrong way we have no chance of getting water where we want it. The use of stand alone sprinklers in the early morning has been part of the morning set up with members of the team running round hand watering and leaving sprinklers set up and then moved every 30 minutes.

Watering the heather has also been something we have needed to do. Areas of heather turf and natural heather have gone like toast and burnt off. We have spent hours trying to keep some of these areas alive. Even areas that get water every night are showing signs of stress. 
I am hoping this will be just like when you burn heather (like they do in the forset to maintain it) and it comes back in better state. There are signs of green life underneath some of these areas. My plan is to wait and see what Mother Nature does. I will leave the burnt ginger looking heather to act as a sun screen for now and then maybe cut it away during the winter if we see re-establishment. 

I know, I can’t believe it either but I am having to write about the bunkers. Bunkers and lack of moisture have been a huge problem for us. 
The bunkers are showing issues that like any freak weather system would show us something we wouldn’t normally expect. For example if it had rained for 56 days the drains and ground could have been full and we would have been talking about how wet the sand is sitting. Instead it hasn’t rained for 56 days with high temperatures daily meaning the sand is so dry it’s slipping down the slopes, we then are pushing this back up daily but as it’s dry it’s either slipping down again or not compacting due to the lack o moisture. 
The bases feel like they have 10 inches of sand rather than the 3 we want hand have almost all year round. The team have deliberately stopped raking with the teeth but instead opted for smooth back racking as a way to minimise feel of depth and to try and compact where possible.

The best way for me to some this up is if you imagine a beach. The sand at the top of the beach is dry and hard to walk through, the sand near the sea is firm and compact. We all opt to walk along the sea edge because the moisture compacts the sand and makes it easier. If you dig this up (like I have to very often due to my son wanting to build in the sand) you will know there its metres deep the same as the top, but the feel totally different.  

So what else can we do, we need to look at this properly and on context. Is this weather system going to be something that happens every year? Maybe. 

We have been watering some of the bunkers but due to other areas Greens, tees, aprons and heather, time and water has been limited. Do we put this down to a freak weather system? Do we also agree bunkers are hazards just like ditches, are the bottoms of ditches perfect to play from? Should Bunkers be perfect to play from all the time? So many questions and I don’t have all the answers. Bunkers started as waste lands on the links and weren’t raked until 1950’s... Golf at St Andrews started in 1574!!

Bunker Misters are used to water the sand during dry spells

They also compact the base and keep the banks alive

I do believe that we can look at some modern golf courses all with the same issues as us and ask what are you doing about this? A lot of clubs including Wentworth now have “misters” on the bunkers. This is basically sprinklers that wet the sand down every other night to keep them moist. Rob Patrick reported that Wentworth watered them everyday at the BMW this year while he worked there. I know other clubs who do this and some are just normal members clubs. This however isn’t a quick fix and will need to be part of our investigation into a new Irrigation system. 
I do promise you this, we have been trying our hardest to get these right and will continue to do so.

Well during May the rough was growing like mad following the wet spell. We got the Grillo out and hired the Ventrac mower to help us cut areas down. We also sprayed rescue (chemical which thins the thicker grasses out) and the stinging nettles off around the course. We made some subtle changes to the rough. Going from 2.5 inches to 4inches in areas and then 6 inches before leaving areas for ecology reasons or eco rough as I call it. 
By the end of June the rough had burnt up and was naturally thinning but a lot of work and hours had gone into it before. Thanks to Murray Long for his input on this too. 
By July the rough looked great but you could find your ball almost anywhere. I can testify to that after playing it a few times...

Cutting the course? 
Cutting of fairways, semi and rough have greatly reduced as we look to keep grass coverage. Wetting agents have been applied to all areas to help hold moisture in the soil. We also have applied PGR (Plant Growth Regulators) which help slow the plant down. This in turn reduces the amount of water it uses and perspires. 
Greens during June were being cut every other day in a bid to keep the stress off the plant. We increased rolling to compensate and this has carried on. 
Greens cutting increased during the tournaments (Club champs, Pro Am etc) to twice a day or more. With Aprons also being cut daily and tee being hand cut three times a week. 

Detail work

You will have noticed the weather has helped us to get round and stay on top of the detail work around the course, trimming Bunker edges, round heather, divoting (with the help of the bon fire crew),ditches etc so it’s not all bad. 

Keeping the team cool! 

The team have had to adapt to being out in the hot weather also. Plenty of liquids, sun screen and ice creams have been consumed over the last few weeks. Hats and new trainer boots have been provided to try and help keep them cool. Some of the team still have there cool cloths provided by Syngenta. Once wet these stay cool for hours. 
Just a note: remember how you feel after 18 holes in the sunshine... it can be tiring. The team are out there 8 hours a day, 5 days a week plus weekend mornings doing sometimes manual work in that heat. A little wave or hello goes along way! 

Anyway that’s enough from me. I hope this was helpful. 

Enjoy the sunshine, remember to wear sun lotion and pray for rain!! Ha ha 


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