Most, if not all Greenkeepers, have to face the worry of the course closing at some point in the winter due to the extremes of weather we can get in the UK. A heavy bout of rain, frost or heavy snow, can have severe consequences for clubs, both financially and maintenance-wise.
It is often the heavy soil parkland courses that take the brunt of any poor weather, especially after heavy periods of rain, when the soils can become saturated. Once soils get saturated they are prone to damage; quite often courses are closed, not because the greens are wet, but due to the condition of the fairways and traffic routes across the course.
Many parts of the country have endured long periods of wet weather, resulting in the local soils becoming saturated and remaining wet for long periods. Every time it rains, the water tops up the already saturated grounds, resulting in local flooding of land in the low spots; even the brooks and streams have become full to bursting, often adding to the water problems.
With the soil full of water, the drains are at capacity and in full flow, which again adds to the flooding problems. To help alleviate the potential of flooding, it would pay to invest some time and money in ensuring all your drainage ditches are kept clean and able to cope with this influx of water. Also, keep your brooks and streams clear of debris and free flowing.
With golf now firmly an all year round sport, the Christmas break often sees an increase in golf traffic on the course, which can result in additional wear and tear. It is important to keep a check on pin placements, as wear around the hole position can increase during wet weather periods.
The use of golf trolleys can also increase wear on areas of the course, particularly along the pathways from greens to tees. Restricting the use of trolleys, or providing designated trolley paths, can minimise damage.
The use of artificial winter tee mats can also help control wear and damage. Many golf courses try and maintain play on their greens all the year round, however this is not always possible. The opportunity to have a temporary green or enlarged apron area can often be taken to accommodate play during inclement weather.
There is still a lot of leaf debris around on most courses, high winds can often blow this debris onto the greens. Daily brushing will help keep the greens free of debris.
High winds in January can often cause structure and tree damage. It is imperative to inspect, record and make the site safe. Any structure or tree debris that has fallen down, and can be considered a hazard, must be fenced off or removed in the interests of public safety.
Winter construction and repair works are ongoing. This is often associated with drainage improvements around the course or may include refurbishment, new build or extensions to bunkers, tees and greens.
January is also a good time to carry out repairs and maintenance to fence lines, seating and other structures around the course. You may get some favourable weather for painting and repairing these structures.
Continue to brush or switch greens and tees daily to remove moisture from the grass surface, stopping the spread of disease and facilitating an improved quality of cut on the dry grass.
Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism. Vandalism often increases during the winter months.
Changing of holes should be carried out regularly, however frequency will be dependant on a number of factors, green size, green construction, tournaments, amount of play and condition of the green. During wet periods, it is likely the hole will wear more quickly, resulting in a crowning affect and surface wear. This wear is more apparent if the green has thatch problems. The hole will tend to wear quickly and form a depression caused by the placement of the golfers' feet. You may be looking to change the hole positions more than three times per week during wet periods.
Mowing frequencies will vary from daily to twice weekly operations dependant on the growth of the grass and the standards set by the course manager. Mowing heights may vary depending on local conditions, type of course, course expectations, sward type and mower type. The mowing heights are a guide, and will be subject to local weather conditions, but remember not to remove more than 1/3 of total grass height in each cut. The less stress that is placed on the grass at this vital time the better the results further on into the coming season.
Greens: Mowing height should be maintained at around 6-8mm.
Tees: Mowing height should be maintained at around 10-15mm.
Banks: Mowing height should be maintained at 22-30mm
Fairways: Mowing height should be maintained at around 15-25mm.
Rough, semi rough grass areas: Mow and tidy up these areas. Reduce build up of clippings by cutting little and often with a rotary or flail. Mowing height of cut during the winter between 50-100mm.
For greens, tees and fairways, aeration is ongoing when conditions allow. A wide range of solid, hollow or slit aerators can be put to use on the playing surfaces. It is essential to keep the greens aerated to maintain air and gas exchange and alleviate compaction.
Inspect, weed and rake bunkers daily. Repair any damage from rabbits or other animals, maintain sand up the face of the bunkers to prevent erosion and sand loss. Some golf courses experience flash floods during heavy rain, leaving many bunkers in a poor state (washing out sand from bunker faces). Repair works may be necessary. Continue or undertake bunker construction works, subject to ground conditions allowing for transport of materials.
Fertiliser programmes are tailored to suit the grass plant's needs. In recent years, we have seen a number of new products, such as bio stimulants that can be applied during the winter months to aid recovery and help the plant resist disease pathogens.
Most turf grasses are now dormant, slower growing. However, some greenkeepers may apply liquid iron to keep the turf healthy and strong. USGA greens often do require some top up feeding during the winter to maintain nutrient status.
February is a good time to take soil samples and get them sent off for analysis, thus enabling you to get them back in time to start your new year's maintenance.
Ideally, if you have not had one done before you should have a full (PSD) Particle Size Distribution soil analysis done to tell you the actual make up of your soil profile.
Soil is made up of percentages of clay, silt and sand. The PSD Analysis will identify the ratio of these and confirm soil type, thus giving you a better understanding of what soil you are dealing with. Also, you can establish the amount of organic matter (OM) content as well as soil nutrient status and soil Ph. With this information you will be able to identify the needs of your soil.
Pitchcare have recently launched a new independent Soil Anaylsis service that enables you to get specific results for the soils you manage. Soil analysis is a means to discover what levels of nutrients are available to plants. There is an optimum for each plant nutrient and, when coupled with other properties such as soil structure and particle size, determines how vigorous your plants are.
Diseases can still occur in January, particularly after snow cover. It is important to keep dew off grass surfaces. Allowing the sward to dry out helps prevent disease attacks. The use of switching canes and brushes can be used to remove these dew deposits.
Pests: Only earthworms are likely to be a nuisance to managed turf during January therefore control from Carbendazim will be required.
Moss may also be quite prevalent at this time of year due to lack of turf vigour and low levels of light intensity. For many areas it is just a slight winter 'nuisance' and soon disappears when spring returns. If more persistent, then moss control will be necessary but January is not the time for such work other than to carry out routine practices of aerification and, perhaps, a little use of sulphate of Iron.
By the end of January servicing, repair and overhaul of mowing equipment should nearly be complete. Sharpening of reels and replacement of bottom blades are a key requirement, therefore it is important that all such replacement parts are in stock and readily available.
The start of the year is also a good time to have an early spring clean, conducting a thorough clean up of mess rooms, toilets and garages It good Health & Safety practice to keep garages and working areas clean and tidy.
January is also a time to reflect on the work achieved and what you want to plan for next year. Many golf clubs have their budgets set in January, so it is a good time to prioritise your spending .
Pitchcare provide a range of courses suitable for golf courses. In most cases, the courses can be held on site using the club's own equipment and machinery.
Some of the courses available are:
Chainsaws - CS30 and CS31
H&S Refresher Training on Combined Turf Care Equipment; Tractors and Trailers; All Mowers (Ride-on and Pedestrian)
Machinery Courses on ATVs; Tractors: Brushcutters/Strimmers; Mowers (ride-on and Pedestrian)
Pesticide Application (PA courses)
Stem Injection of Invasive Species (Japanese Knotweed etc.)
Basic Trees Survey and Inspection
Inspect greens, tees, flags and hole positions for damage or vandalism.
Inspect drainage outfalls, channels and ditches. Ensure that they are working.
Inspect all water features on the course, cleaning out any unwanted debris and litter.