Sunday, 15 November 2020

Lockdown 2 - A different feeling

Hi All,

 


 

 

I had all these great ideas for blogs and vlog updates in the last couple of months.  I started to make some videos but due to the pace of the amount of work being done it’s always so far behind when I come to editing or even when writing a blog. Always seemed pointless as things had changed again. I am not going to let that stop me anymore but I can’t believe I am writing another blog during lockdown... another one! 

 

Lockdown2 is different if I am honest, for me personally not a lot has changed. I am still coming to the club to work daily, the kids are at school or nursery. Having young children means I don’t go out anymore :) so I am not even doing that at this stage in our lives. Our evenings and weekends are normally taken up by beach walks, parks and walks in the forest. All of these are still open.

 

It does make me question why golf is now closed ? 

 

Golf is one of the safest sports you can play. It’s a great walk and social distance is never a problem. Even now measuring out the outside hitting bays on the range project. It’s 2.5 meters between players, because that’s the hitting mat sizes to give you room to swing. 

For me and others in the industry we realise this is a political and traffic issue and not a safety issue. Imagine being the government during the pandemic that allowed only hunting, golf and tennis and not football! 

The argument could be that this should reduce essential travel. For example we as a club with 5,488 rounds available during this lockdown will reduce roughly 10,000 car journeys. Imagine that for all golf clubs in England and the risk it reduces of people going to get petrol, stopping at shops, accidents for the emergency services to deal with etc. 

 

29mm of Rain and flooding up

 

 

The only bonus I can take from golf course side is the course is getting a rest. The damage following one of the wettest October’s and out wettest month ever since we started recording weather all those years ago. 226mm of rain fell over ever square inch of the golf course. That’s a lot of water. 

On top of this we tried to stay open towards the end when we shouldn’t have because we knew lockdown was coming and we would be able to get some recovery. This will get harder as we go into winter. 

As I sit and write this blog we’ve just had 29mm of rain on Saturday alone and it’s still raining this Sunday morning. Make no mistake the course is very, very wet in places. This is hindering so much work both on the course and on the range project. 

I know the course isn’t playable at the moment and we would be closed. 

So the good news is due to the awful amount of rain you are not missing much! 

 

Graph from M.Hunt showing 10 years of growth and the warmer years

 

Without doubt every year we seem to be breaking records. This maybe the hottest years on record (three of the last five are in the all time hottest top five), the wettest months keep breaking with images of flash flooding now becoming a scene we see regularly on the TV. The heaviest rainfall in a 24hr period. The climate has definitely changed even in my 25 years in the industry. We tend to get more extreme weather, hot and no rain and then periods of heavy rain as Mother Nature evens things up. It’s a more Mediterranean feel to it. Big down pours, less actually rain days but more rain when it comes. This makes sense to why we are draining greens for example. These will still flood because the infiltration rates are still lower than the rain rate but it’s about quicker recovery and being firmer the other side of the downpour. We really are seeing the benefit of the investment now. Out of the six wettest greens we have drained so fair they are the ones we can mow first now after the rainfall. More gulley pots and  runoffs have been added along with fairway drainage and more will need to be added. 

Irrigation and water are the other way. These high temperature summers with long periods of drought cause the grass plant to die. We need to build an infrastructure that can cope with modern weather patterns and having irrigation across the course to stop us losing grass coverage is a must and something we are working on very hard in the background. 

 

Going forward 

 

My worry going forward is how busy we will be after lockdown is lifted and golfers can finally get back out. Last time we are the weather on our side, dry and recovery was good. The levels of compaction last time due to how busy the course got was frightening and this time we will get just as busy. 

We are a full membership with a waiting list and that’s before the range opens. I think this will bring another surge of people wanting to become members. 

The downside is the weather will be going into is coldest months and recovery will not happen until spring. We will need to be tough on roping off areas and managing the traffic through the course. We will need to protect it sometimes too but this lockdown gives us a chance to rest the course and be ready and to get a lot of work done. To get things in place for the spring and the following year. 

 

The Course  

 

Due the record breaking wet October we decided to postpone the hollow coring of the fairways until spring (if needed). The damage caused would have been to great but the good news is the green staff have been able to get on a get loads of work done around the course. 

 

At this time we have decided not to furlough any of the green staff. We are probably busier now than in the summer. If you think of farming, if we don’t do the work now it won’t be in place for the spring  and we would have no crop and our crop is grass. Add to this the pressure of the leaves coming down (1000 man hours every year) the fact we couldn’t hollow core fairways so we are trying to aerate in house, staff holidays and allowing for people to be off in isolation plus all the projects going on. 

We are busy, busy, busy! 

 

Grow sheets being used to improve surrounds following seeding

 

 

Day one of Lockdown 2 and the staff had to remove all course furniture. This is to stop theft and trespassing. We then secured around the clubhouse and car park, even having to put a new post box up ready for the clubs mail. 

This was less stressful than before, we had done it before and we had more time, we understand more about the pandemic and we know the club are in a good position. Before it felt strange with the weather being amazing and the car park empty. It doesn’t feel the same in the wet, it’s almost what happens during the winter months. We still miss those smiling faces, quick conversations and laughter with the members and staff but it doesn’t feel like before. We know you are coming back and can’t wait but we know your coming! 

 

The aim straight away was to divot tees and around greens and aprons. I wanted as much recovery as we could get before we opened. 

 

We carried on with the aeration on fairways and now have completed the fairways twice with 19mm solid tines. 

8mm tine x 1.5 inch

 

 

We also aerated the greens at 1.5 inch settings. Something we have never done. This basically is a tighter spacing between the tine holes, meaning more of the surface area is hit and more air into the surface. We don’t normally do this as it took four days to complete (frost delays added in). We normally aim for one or two days. It also makes the surface a little soft, which we couldn’t get a way with during normal play. 

 


We have also over seeded fairways in two directions on most fairways. We have applied a Dwarf Rye again following the success of last two seasons seed. Even though it looked like we had lost it in the summer, it proved it had just gone dormant and as soon as we got rain it greened up and recovered. Pretty amazing really. This is the grass species I think we will see emerge first. The second way we used a Hard Fescue, Creeping Fescue and Chewings Fescue mix. This was after consultation with seed experts who visited the site during the year and we looked all the species that had survived the last three years and tried to get a mix that would thicken the fairways back up following the 2018 drought. I expect these species to establish in spring next year. 

 


 

We have also take the opportunity to hollow core some of the worst areas of fairways, collect, broadcast over seed and topdress before running the seeder over in two directions. We will fertilise all the fairways with a granular feed go try and establish as much of this grass as possible. We intended to do this during lock down and we may start selected areas but one of our big issues now is the amount of leaves coming down. These are obviously covering the site and we will now wait until all the leaves are down in most areas before applying as we don’t want to blow it or sweep the fertiliser off the surfaces. We have gone with a 6 month base fertiliser that will just trickle away for six months and hopefully get us back to full establishment. For those interested this works by each fertiliser prill being covered in one of three different coatings. Each coating breaks down in different temperatures and moisture levels. So the first hit we get comes from a quick release granule and last about two months. Once this breaks down the next coating has weathered and started the same process until all three have fully broken down. Anyway, thats enough from me about fertilisers. 

 


Top dressing sitting on surface at 1st

 

 

Woodland work 

 

 

Spider cherry picker being used to lift trees ahead of Halfway hut

 

When you return you may notice some woodland work has been carried out around the site. Lifting of the lower branches to 14ft along the Greenkeepers track at the 1st (relief for all of us that regularly hit it out there and have to thread the ball back into play!), this hasn’t been done with golf in mind but the delivery of the new halfway just that is delivered as one unit in the back of a lorry and we needed 14ft clearance to get the unit out to the course.  Next we will start to trench utilities down the 18th to the new area at the 10th halfway hut. It is hoped we will get this area built during lock down. We then will wait for the spring or a dry period to allow us to transport the halfway hut into position on the back of a lorry. I can confirm no lorries can get out there at the moment!! 

 

Amphibian Digger arriving for one weeks work

We have also done some major clearance of scrub and Rhododendrons in the bowl on the 18th. This will give us chance to survey the area to see if it could help us in anyway with water storage. To do this because the area is so wet we had to hire an amphibian digger. There are only a few if these in the country but the grapple on this made removing the Rhododendron and scrub easier. 

 



 

From Monday the delivery of our trees as part of the driving range project will arrive and the planting will begin. I will post photos of low loaders full of good size trees arrive. Exciting stuff!

 

Conclusion 

 


 

 

As you can see the team have been busy since lockdown started and the battle with leaves is hotting up. We have cut most surfaces once due to the wetness and have started cutting greens by hand mowers. The battle keep on top of disease is also on going. Our aim now is to get as much seed out and projects done as we can and intend to up the presentation if this if possible before we come out of Lock down in December. It wont be quite the same as last time with the weather falling away but the team are in and working very hard for all of you. My personal thanks goes out to them.

 

I will do another blog about the Range Project as there is so much to tell you about. Also I will be publishing videos this week of works that have been getting done over the last few weeks. 

 

I will blog again with a range update and keep you informed with what’s going out on the course next week. 

 


 

 

For now I will be watching the Masters. I must say this has been a great Masters for all Greenkeepers. Seeing Augusta showing signs of wear, covered in leaves, balls plugging and “mud balls” has been quite refreshing. Even with all the investment and hundreds of staff. It’s a golf course, it has issues just like the rest of us. When we normally see it in April it’s their best time of year. We know GDD (growth wise) it’s the same as when we have Club Championships in July (with a few millions less spent on upkeep). I’ve been lucky enough to visit the site and it is amazing even in the winter but as this Masters has proved, it’s great but not perfect! 

 

Stay safe everyone, let’s get through this. 

 

Matt 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 11 September 2020

Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward

 Hi All, 


 

I just wanted to give you all an update from the course. It's been a very busy period on the course but not with golf this time but due to all our aeration works. As we move into a new era as an industry with limited chemical use, aeration will be more and more important to maintain healthy surfaces. 

Like in modern society, the use of antibiotics is being frowned upon and Doctors told to reduce and limit until completely necessary it's the same in our industry and many others. 

Chemicals revoked, changed and made less harmful to the Environment all of this can only be a good thing but it means we need to look at other options. For humans it's about eating healthy, getting our daily steps in, exercise and using vitamins to boost our immune system. For the grass plant this isn't much different, getting air into the plant, a good balance of fertiliser and water. Reducing the stress and allowing time to recover after an illness.Again like humans if you get ill or a disease it's about doing what we can to help aid recovery.


 

For us all the aeration work on the course has been about that. We are trying to get over a disease attack or reduce the risks of it happening again. You will have noticed not only the hollow coring of the greens as mentioned in my previous blog but the hollow coring of all the Tees, Aprons, Surrounds and some of the fairways worst hit by the intense heat and drought in July. 

 

Over seeding the Anthracnose greens

Double sarel roll to gives us more holes for seed to fall in.

 

Greens 

As I mentioned in my previous blog we have had a real battle with the Anthracnose disease this year. We like so many have had issues bubbling away most of the summer. This mainly due to heat stress and possibly the stress from the lock down and then quickly back into being used A LOT. With fungicide usage limited or at least the active ingredients reduced this has been a learning curve and an insight into how things are going to go for the entire industry. We have done a lot of work on the greens especially the ones worst hit - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 13th. We found out our magnesium levels had dropped to low and applied weekly feeds of this. We have over seeded three times and hand seeded weak areas too. I must admit sometimes when we do the work the greens look like they have taken a step back but I know what we are doing is right and will improve them and aid recovery in the long term. Seeing these areas covered in sand after the light top dressings needed to seal the seed in can then stand out and make the scar areas more visible. We have also added an organic fertiliser and now we are giving the greens weekly hits of urea, Humics and Carbs. This will help encourage growth and allow the plant to thicken up and help the seed establish beyond the two leaf stage.  

tracking sunlight on the 4th green

 

Why is it particularly bad on the first five greens?

I ve been asked this question a lot. One thing to remember is that all the greens on the course are different. Different make ups, depending on the soils around them when they were built. Most are made of the clay. Some have drainage, They have there own micro climates, trees, shade, water running on to them from ground above, water shedding off them. Some are south facing, some are north, east or west. Some get more wind so dry out quicker. No green is the same but our job is to try and get as close to consistent as possible. 

When we looked at the greens my first thought was the greens at the start are maybe a bit wetter and we know anthracnose like other fungi loves moist condition even though it's the heat that explodes them into life its the moisture it thrives in. This is also a double edged sword as when you get heat you water more to keep the plant alive and the pathogen thrives on this. A stressed plant and then added moisture. 

After studying the greens closer with Murray Long we realised they all sit in the shade at some point in the day. See photo taken of the 4th green and sun light levels. This will impact growth hugely. If its only getting four hours of day light compared to other green getting 7-8 then the impact over time will be huge and this is only getting short and darker as we get into winter. We have had the disease on most greens on the course but the recovery has been good them compared to the ones in the shade. 

Dark patches of compost and sand mix to aid the seed

    

 Dark patches?

This week I hand over seeded areas again and added some compost mix to aid the new seeds coming through and help the fresh seeds establish quicker. The theory of this is the darker patches will attract the heat, its will give a rich soil the seed to sit in. I know these don't look attractive but needs must and I as much as everyone want to get recovery from this disease. 

Anthracnose is a slow burning disease and a slow disease to recover from,but like all the diseases we have had/get and will get, it's part of life and nature, all we can do is do the right things to minimise this happening and when we do get it do the right things to aid recovery. The positive I take from this, is that the disease only takes out the Poa grass species and our long term goal is to reduce the Poa content within the green swards. This is because as much as it's a great putting surface it's the weakest species for disease and needs lots of fertiliser and water to maintain it. All the bent grass species we have been sowing into the scar damage is more disease resistant and requires less water. Long term with the way things are changing this has to be our goal.   

Seeds popping and new leaves above the rest of the green

 

How long until recovery?

This is a hard question to answer but our aim is asap. All the work on the seeding is paying off slowly and is now evident that its starting to pop. We know for sure that as the weather changes the pressure for this disease will go away and the cool season diseases will be lurking. I can honesty say the staff have been putting in all they can to help but like all diseases on turf we know grass will recover and hopefully we will increase the bent content to reduce the risk in future years.  

 

Seed popping from the hand over seeding

Fairways

 


 

In August we hollow cored the 1st, 6th,  9th and 11th. At that point we had only had 36mm of rain all in one day but a further 84mm of rain fell helping to bring the course back to life. The use of the wetting agents (a product used to help get the water into the plants and then in turn retain moisture) really paid off as the fairways seemed to green up instantly.  The rest of the fairways along with the four we worked on will be done again in November. It is hoped by then more moisture will in the soil profile to allow us to over seed after and get some more uptake from the seed. I am also hoping to give them a granular fertiliser to keep them healing during the winter months. We will also need to spend some time working on selective areas on fairways and other areas around the greens that are particularly poor to aid recovery.    


We also carried out our monthly 8mm tine aeration with both Pro Core and Gix8

 


Just a quick update from me. Hope you can see some of the work that's been going from the team to get the greens back to there best.

Remember sometimes you have taken a step back to move forward!

I will keep you updated and will blog about the range project next week.

Take care in these crazy times

Matt 

Monday, 24 August 2020

The highs and lows since lock down...

 Hi All, 


An interesting year so far for us all. The year had already started off tough, even before Coronavirus hit these shores. Firstly the wettest winter on record (again) followed by a cold spring which is never great. Then the lock down and staff on furlough and limited works being allowed. Then May hit with the highest amounts of sunshine ever (which was great for golf coming back). The course had to be treated differently, as a business we had to protect our cash as no one was clear of the income we would get. If you just looked at these key facts, it could paint a very negative picture. However, there have been some amazing highlights too. 

During lock down getting the four greens drained and two heavy aerations done was great for us and looking back something we probably needed to do anyway due to the wet winter. Seeing the return of the members was another highlight. Smiling faces as we all took a step back to normality and realised how lucky we are to be able to enjoy the club and not be only allowed out for one daily exercise. 

The return of the Pro shop and Club house was another welcome lift back to the new normal. Golf competitions came back, with ball lifters in place (not perfect but allows competitive golf). We've enjoyed having the Club Championships, Board Comps and knock out matches. A chance to see our friends, play golf in the open air and have a sneaky drink on the patio afterwards. 

The short game area opened and we got chance to see how the future will look. It's hard to believe this has been built in almost the same spot. The feedback has been great and the area will be keep improving with age. 

Andy Sullivan with the winning putt in the playoff with Richard Bland  

I really enjoyed hosting the Clutch Tour. Seeing Ryder cup players and European Tour players up close and how they played the course was fantastic and those that volunteered on the day would have some great stories from it.

Clutch Tour 14th hole

It was nice for us to host a golf event and by this I mean, just a golf event. No lorries or diggers we are now so close to being back to just golf with no disturbance! It was great to see bunker raking teams with the groups and caddies on the course. Lets not forget Stoneham was the original host of the Dunlop Masters (which changed its named to the British Masters some years later). This club deserves some golf events. Its beautiful, rolling, challenging and fun (sometimes). It oozes history but now with modern bunker placements and soon a new driving range and short game area. Stoneham is special!

Unfortunately at the end of May beginning of June we had a Anthracnose disease outbreak on some of the greens. You may have noticed some thinning areas especially on four or five greens. 

Anthracnose is the second most common turf disease in the UK. It's a summer disease and mainly attacks the Poa grass species. This disease used to be called "Poa die back disease" and some people would encourage it to allow more bent grasses to come into golf greens. This can be very damaging as chemical control is limited and the factors that create the right environment for the disease are everything we are trying to do to produce good golf greens. E.G reduced fertiliser inputs so the geens don't slow down, trying to produce longer playing seasons, increased stress from keeping greens drier, this disease also becomes more active in high temperatures and we haven't been short of them lately. 

Any Course Manager will tell you that getting a disease outbreak on the greens is like having a child ill at home. The worry and sleepless nights thinking about them. This is something that's going to get harder and harder as the chemical withdrawals take place and have already taken place across the industry. 

We knew we would have to nurse this along through the season and we did but I felt things were not improving the way I wanted so I called the clubs Agronomist in to have a look as soon as he was allowed to return to visits.

Philip Armitage carryout test on the greens 

I spoke to Philip Armitage our agronomist about our issues this year including the Anthracnose disease outbreak, the fact that when applying products the colour in the plant was not holding for long and the recovery being slower. We carried out our yearly soil tests. These came back with results we had not expected.  The compaction in the green is high, even with the two maintenance windows (2 x 12mm tines and topdressings) in lock down. We have since aerated twice with 8mm tines and sarrel roll (small surface vent with small tines).

Our moisture readings were good, speed good, Smoothness good, firmness was fair but the soil hardness data was not good at all and this is the issue. 

 The Agronomist looked at me and said " Have you had a lot of golf?"  Simply yes was the answer and something I went back to check. Since we came out of lock down and went back to fourballs we had been averaging 8,000 rounds a month. This has meant that the compaction levels in the soil had gone too hard and it effectively squeezed out the air. If 8,000 people walked over my lawn at home every month I would see some damage then if we add the high temperatures of 35+ things would not be pretty. 

The answer following the visit was " I strongly recommend that the Club organises a renovation period as soon as possible to help alleviate the stress on the greens". Then lots of over seeding to fill the scars following the disease. 

I am not looking at this negatively either. Mother nature will throw us challenges, I think we've all experienced this especially this year. For me it's about how fix the issues in the short and medium term and how we learn from this to guide our long term. 

Hollow Coring greens to aid recovery and reduce compaction


In the short term we went about over-seeding the scars from the disease the same way we did in 2015 when we last had it. The agronomist strongly advised us to hollow core the greens to increase the air within the soil and to give them a organic base feed too. Looking at the calendar with Richard we had to move fast and completed the coring last Wednesday. The only thing against us that day was the 36 degree heat and the team having to clear the cores by hand. The team done amazing and got all the greens completed by 2.30pm. That was a tough, tough day but we all knew it had to be done. This will help not only the short term but medium term too. It is important to get the greens healthy before winter as this is when we move from warm season diseases to the cool season diseases. We will continue to micro tine greens when we can and add a little dressing when we find a window in the golfing calendar. Over seeding will continue and the establishment of more Bent grass in the greens will reduce the risk of the disease moving forward. As I sit here now in the office writing this, the sun is out after a heavy rain day yesterday. The seed on the greens is just starting to pop and fertilisers have kicked in (meaning slower greens for a few days...Sorry) but we are in good place. The disease will take time to heel and we have done everything we can and it will heal, we just need to be patient and allow nature to do her thing.  

Black spined acervuli (spores) from Anthracnose Foliar blight


What have we learnt? We have learnt a lot through this process and it's something we need to do as our industry is changing. Has the effect of lock down allowed the soils to decompact to much for this to go completely the other way? Should be be applying more N and K in spring, even when the plant isn't showing signs it needs it? These questions will take time to find out but one thing is for certain, if we have high volumes of golf we can't get away with no aeration. This can be done with little disruption to the members and something we all need to bare in mind. There is no life without air or water!

Thats enough from me this blog, I have so much still to talk about but will save these for other blogs. The road to recovery on all surfaces starts now. Let's get ready for Autumn. 

"The two most powerful Warriors are patience and time"

See you soon 


Matt