HAPPY NEW YEAR!! With the new year now upon us, this a great opportunity to look back on the past year and plan for the next 12months.

Within the golf course industry, 2018 has been described as one of the most difficult and stressful years on record. What with extremely wet 6 months prior to January 2018, and then the arrival of the “beast from the east” (that stayed with us till the middle of March) the year certainly didn’t start kindly. This was then of course, immediately followed by the hottest and driest summer in three decades. Thankfully autumn and early winter has been somewhat kinder to us.

I have heard a lot of complaining within my industry about having to deal with these challenges. However, I look at them in a very different light. The volume of information that I have learnt about myself, my team and of obviously the golf course, over such a short time period, has been incredible. This knowledge will be with me for the rest of my working career. The phrase “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger” is very apt!!

I now understand that the run of events prior and including last year’s weather could be classed as the “perfect storm”. These events had effectively built up one on top of the other overtime. Making my ability to maintain consistency and recovery ever more difficult to obtain on the course. If ever asked, I can show a direct correlation to the severity of the recent disease outbreak to missed opportunities dating back 2/3 years prior. Hind sight is a wonderful thing, but recognising and learning from these experiences is all a part of a Course managers development.

The last twelve months have helped me identify areas on the course that need to be improved. Addressing these issues will enable the course to withstand similar conditions in the future and thus reduce the stress for both the grass plants and myself!!

There is a myriad of issues that overtime we will be addressing, all of them I’m glad to say are easily achievable. However its one step at a time.

Our first is to try and rectify the shallow rooting that our greens here at Penwortham traditionally suffer from. This alone has caused a great number of secondary problems that needn’t have occurred.

Over the last few years a great deal of work has been successfully carried out on the greens to improve the soil composition immediately below the putting surface. We now however need to focus our attention to encourage the grass plants roots to delve deeper to maximise nutrient and water uptake. With longer roots, the grass plants are able to withstand greater environmental pressures more easily and so become less stressed, and less susceptible to disease pressure. This has been recognised by both myself and the STRI as an issue that needs to be addressed.

The structure of the rootzone in the immediate five inches below the surface here at Penwortham contains a higher percentage of dead and decaying organic matter than relatively inert rootzone below it. This layer as some of you will remember used to be classed as “thatch”.

However due to all the aeration and coring we have done since my arrival this has now begun to break down and revert to a nutrient rich organic layer. In nature this would be ameliorated into the rest of the rootzone by the tunnelling actions of earth worms. However fortunately / unfortunately (depends how you look at it) we don’t have high quantities of surface casting worms on our greens. Without the action of the worms it is left to us by mechanical means to “dilute” and perforate this layer. If this work isn’t carried out, the grass plant especially the Annual meadow grass ssp is happy just to have its roots within this nutrient rich upper surface. This isn’t a problem in mild damp conditions, however in hot, dry or windy conditions the upper few inches are the first to warm and dry out. If these conditions persist for lengthy periods the plant then is highly stressed (heat and drought) and can easily perish. 

The best way to encourage roots to grow below this organic matter, is to minimise any resistance the roots may come across during their growth. This is best achieved by repeated mechanical perforation of this layer and beyond. This then promotes vertically growing roots as opposed to the horizontal growth (deeper roots). The more perforations (pathways) the greater the number of roots that will get through.


Plan into Action

We have already begun a programme of works on the greens to combat this problem. Prior to the turn of the year we have carried out a number of “slitting” operations. Due to the likelihood of these slits opening up during the playing season, this method is not recommend to be continued after December.

We will be now focusing on other methods of deep aeration/perforation. This is where I hear you all grown. I’d like to explain that all works will be designed to minimise the surface disruption. However after having read what I have previously written I hope you understand the importance of this work.

 I always like to make a positive out of any negative. The greens surfaces are not in “pristine” condition at the moment and so I think this is a real opportunity to get a higher volume of deep “perforations” than normal on to the greens. With the regular introduction of topdressing in conjunction with this aeration work the surfaces will be fine for “winter golf”.

 The short and long term gain will be far more beneficial than any short term pain. This work along with the scheduled “greens renovations” will mean by the time the season starts and throughout the season the greens will be better than you’ve ever known!!

Matt Dobbs

Course Manager