Course Update - July 2020
31 Jul 2020
Posted by: Sarah Cross
Subjects: Course updates
For a normally very vibrant golf club and course this period was very strange and a time I hope I won’t ever experience again. It was a difficult time with only two members of the greenkeeping team on-site and caring for the course. We had to follow strict guide-lines throughout this period with respect to course maintenance and although the pictures I posted of the course at this time looked great there were areas that were causing us increasing concern. There was no maintenance guide-lines for bunkers which were quickly filling with weeds and the limited grass mowing frequencies made it difficult to maintain the quality of the course through the peak growth periods. The greens were only allowed to be cut three times a week which allowed them to plump up and become quite soft. There was no aeration, sand dressings or scarifying allowed and the height of cut had to be raised to reduce the pressure the greens were under.
While I’m sure the membership could only yearn to get back to playing golf, the unconstrained access to our ‘covid-safe’ wonderful environment for walks and exercise was certainly enjoyed by local residents, both adults and children. In some ways, this activity, with no golfers present on the course, helped to self-police the estate. The course was generally treated with respect by these visitors throughout this period and no material damage was caused. At the end of the day, we are part of the local community and this view has been supported by the correspondence the club has received from a number of local residents thanking us for access to our course throughout this period.
Firstly, I’d like to say how pleased we were to see everyone back, including the rest of my team, and hopefully we are all now enjoying the course. Following the announcement of restrictions being lifted, the time given to us to prepare the course was such a short window, but the whole greenkeeping team did an amazing job. While it did take us a while to get the greens back to their best, their efforts with respect to general course tidying and bunker work can only be congratulated. The favourable weather conditions together with their hard work and dedication has produced a course that has looked and played very well since our return to golf.
Pitch marks are becoming a real concern. Pending the ‘covid-safe’ return of divot bags for members and tee seed/divot boxes, the greenkeeping team are currently spending a great deal of time divoting tees and fairways, so it would be very helpful and encouraging to see the one thing that all players can do to help us. Please repair your pitch marks.
The winter works have now come to fruition and the first-year’s planting of heather (e.g. front of 3rd summer tee) has settled and is now coming into flower. I have received a few questions regarding heather so I’ll do my best to answer some of the recent comments and concerns.
- The heather planted on the bank between the 2nd green and 3rd tee has been placed there to help minimise bounces across the 3rd tee from errant 2nd hole tee shots:
- With the way that the heather is harvested some plants will die off, but due to the thickness of the turf there remains a seed bank which in time will produce young heather plants and low growing gorse:
- The ideal soil type for heather to thrive requires a pH of 5.5 but it will establish with a pH of 6.5 or less but with the thickness of the turf, they are planted within their own growing medium:
- There are no plans for the widespread use of heather on the course and its selection by the greens committee is limited ‘by purpose’. Namely, safety (e.g. area between 2nd green & 3rd tee), aesthetics (e.g. top of bunkers on 13th hole and possibly next winter on the top of the bank at the back of the 9th green), and bio diversity:
- Heather planting does require patience and initially high maintenance to help it become a healthy plant, gaps will appear, some plants will die and help with regeneration will be required.
The greens are performing well. This year we have treated the greens with Maxstim Bio Stimulant, with the main focus being to encourage a healthy root system. An improved root mass and depth is evident and this has resulted in an increased sward density that reduces the stress of wear on the greens surface. This bio stimulant has been applied every 2 weeks and to date has helped reduce the applications of wetting agents and fertiliser.
Regular light sand dressings of 6-10 tonnes have been applied to keep the surfaces true and to help dilute thatch. Chelated iron has also been applied to strengthen the sward and combat heat stress. Initially some light grooming of the greens was carried out to remove any lateral growth with rolling carried out on an ‘as and when’ required basis. A maintenance week is now being planned to hollow-core, over-seed, and top-dress the greens. As always, we will work as efficiently as possible to limit the disruption time, but ultimately this work has to be done. To answer the usual question of “Why, when the greens are so good?”. These processes are what allows us to get the greens to where they are now.
Tee boxes have performed very well this season with the surfaces remaining strong and healthy having benefited from the slow release fertiliser inputs. The team are divoting the tees regularly with recovery growing in over 4-5 days. Wetting agents have been applied to hold the moisture and seaweeds to assist seed germination. Aeration will continue on tees and surrounds to encourage deeper rooting and improve sward density.
The slow release fertiliser applied in early March has paid dividends with the fairways being as close to full coverage I’ve seen since I arrived. With the weather being on our side these areas have kept in great order. The purchase of the new fairway mower together with us retaining our old one has given us the opportunity to maintain these areas while limiting the amount of disruption to play, something I felt was really important given how busy the course has become. A liquid fertiliser is programmed to keep the grasses in good health. The current plan is for limited over-seeding towards the end of the year on the 1st, 8th and 10th fairways, although this is based on the condition of the fairways at this moment in time, so this plan could be subject to change as we move forward. A small fairway irrigator has been purchased to keep weaker areas of fairways in a better condition. This will not give us lush green fairways but it will help to reduce overall damage from heat stress and help with ongoing seeding requirements.
This year we’ve changed our approach with respect to the intensity of cutting these areas. Instead of blanket cutting week to week through the course, we’ve divided each area into different categories. Namely, carry, initial fairway surround, tee banks and outer rough. This has eased disruption to the members but has also allowed us to rest certain areas to encourage thickening and improve some weaker areas such as under the tree canopies. We can now, with forward planning, adjust the difficulty of the course to suit certain competitions. In addition, we have also created more ecology rough areas to reduce unnecessary cutting and help improve the aesthetics of the course.
As is inevitable with an old sprinkler system, a number of repairs have been necessary, although some improvements have also been made. The putting green now has new pipework and two sprinklers placed around the outside of the green to improve the coverage. The single sprinkler that was in the middle of the green has been removed to increase the putting surface and allow us to help relieve wear with more areas to position the hole cups. An inverter has been installed in the pump house to give us a more consistent flow of pressure. This allows, for example, for all 4 sprinklers on a green to pop up together instead of 3 popping up and the pressure being so low at times the flow wasn’t strong enough to force the 4th sprinkler up. The pump has also had a new carbon seal fitted. There is some corrosion within the pump due to the quantity of iron in our bore hole water so we will just have to see how long it will last before a replacement of the wet end of the pump is required.
My thanks to Alan Loughlin, assisted by his wife, and David Goreham for deploying a further 12 bird boxes around the course, which now number 50. Of the 38 boxes situated around the course last year, I’ve been told 35 were used for nesting birds, which is very encouraging and I’m looking forward to seeing how many have been accommodated again this year. With the introduction of new ecology rough areas, we have also increased our wild flower areas. Some infestation of weeds has occurred but we have been cleaning them out by hand to improve their appearance. Additional log piles to encourage insects and other invertebrates have been placed around the course.
Eaton Golf Club