Once ground conditions improve and the course is accessible to vehicles again, it's back to finishing off winter construction projects, revamping tees, bunkers or cleaning out ditches or ponds. It generally starts to become a rush to complete these works before the onslaught of spring renovations that are only a few weeks away.
It is best to reduce vehicle movement around the course, especially when ground conditions are wet and saturated. Working on and in wet conditions will, and can, do untold damage to grass surfaces. You may also need to control the amount of golf buggy and trolley movement, or restrict them to designated paths to reduce unwanted wear and tear.
The use of artificial winter tee mats can also help control wear and damage on tees. 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.
March is a good time to complete any tree or woodland works. Any tree works must be undertaken by qualified, trained personnel. If your staff are not suitably qualified in tree surgery and/or operating chainsaw machinery, you must employ specialist contractors to carry out these works. It is often best to complete tree and woodland works before the trees and woodland begin to flourish with growth at the end of March.
High winds 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.
March still gives you some 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.
Inspect, weed and rake bunkers. 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. In recent years, we have seen a number of new bunker lining products out on the market, although not always a cheap option, their long term performance may be worth considering.
Continue to brush/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.
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 will depend on type of course and the standard of play required. Mowing height of cut during the winter between 50-100mm.
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.
Aeration of greens, tees and fairways is ongoing when conditions allow. A wide range of solid, hollow or slit aerators are put to use on the playing surfaces. It is essential to keep the greens aerated to maintain air and gas exchange, and to alleviate compaction.
Generally, no fertiliser applications are made during the winter months, as plant growth has slowed down. However, some groundstaff may apply a dose of liquid iron to colour up and provide some strength to the grass plant. USGA greens often do require some top-up feeding during the winter to maintain nutrient status of the green.
Soil temperatures should and will begin to rise towards the end of March, enabling the grass plant to make use of any fertilisers being applied. The grass plant's transpiration/respiration rates need to be active to initiate movement of soluble solutions from the soil into and through the plant's tissue.
Bunkers and Paths
Bunkers:- The emphasis will now be on presentation and playability for the coming season, since all major renovation work should now be complete. If general trimming, edging and topping up of sand levels is not already underway, then a start needs to be made as soon as possible. Additional sand should have sufficient time to 'bed down' before the new season, but if not then it can be watered and consolidated using a 'whacker plate' or roller.
This will help to avoid the 'plugged lie' syndrome in bunkers. Since growth around bunkers is likely to be sparse, the removal of excess sand is essential. A back pack blower is ideal for this purpose. Weak areas can be fertilised and where possible, a sufficient length of grass can be left on the bank or bunker face, especially on south facing slopes. Where renovation has taken place earlier in the winter, such bunkers should almost be ready for being brought back into play.
Paths: Once the main work to greens, tees and surrounds etc are complete and following bunker edging and cleaning, paths are likely to be next in the list of priorities for pre-season renovation. Once any holes have been filled and any debris scraped clear or removed, then a light path dressing of the appropriate material should be applied, possibly via a belt dresser type hopper.
Freshly re-surfaced paths can give an enhanced aesthetic appearance to the course and a good practice is to treat and apply on a regular basis as opposed to a full scale and costly renovation. Where path ends have become worn, they should be treated as per green surrounds and given protection from wear as much as possible. If re-turfing has to be carried out, then top dress quite heavily with a compost mix to prevent the turf from drying out.
Course Accessories: This is the last month for these to be cleaned, repaired, re-painted and ready for changing in time for the start of the new season. Any items such as flag pins, hole cups, bunker rakes and so on that are required need to be ordered well in advance to prevent any undue delays. Hazard markers are often painted 'in situ', especially if there are numerous ditches or water features present on the course. Wet days are ideal for internal painting and then storing on some form of racking system.
Greens :- March is a good month for pre-season renovation ( spring renovations ) work to take place and before competitions get underway and visitor play increases.
Recent trends have shown that many Course Managers prefer to carry out solid tining or coring work with 10mm tine sizes and then follow-up with micro-coring in April.
The downside, however, is that it is more difficult to fill the smaller tine holes with sand, especially when surface conditions are more likely to be moist. The larger 13mm coring operation is then left until August when conditions are usually ideal for such work and a much faster recovery ensues. Where deep scarifying is the preferred option for thatch removal, this practice is best carried out later in the season when there is sufficient growth for recovery.
Attempting to deep scarify in March, when cold easterly winds are likely to follow, is fraught with potential problems as well as golfer annoyance, so best to avoid if possible. Prior to any light scarifying, coring or tining work, the greens should be given a spring start-up feed or tonic, but just enough to encourage growth and recovery.
Products containing around 3 to 4% Nitrogen and a higher amount of sulphate of Iron are often popular, especially if moss 'discouragement' is required. A main pre-season or base feed, usually with a granular product would then be applied in April. The first main top dressing of the season will quickly follow the chosen cultural practice where as much as 1 ton per green of dressing would be applied; this depending on the size of the green and whether or not core or deep tine holes need to be filled.
Less would be applied if no major 'cultivation' work is carried out. Any planned over-seeding should be held back for a few weeks until soil temperatures are favourable for germination. The temptation to reduce mowing height should be left until the greens have 'settled-down' and there is clear evidence of recovery, therefore the HOC should remain at around 4.5 to 5mm for as long as possible. Beware the false spring! Any risk of a late surge of disease pressure from Fusarium should be minimal, but avoid pushing growth and smothering the surface with top dressing.
March should see the bulk of the pre-season work completed, but more will be required the following month before the playing surfaces move nearer to the desired level. Should dry conditions continue throughout the month, then only irrigate as little as possible and to avoid the upper rootzone profile from becoming overly dry. Water temperatures will be very low, which in turn will slow down growth and recovery, therefore judging how much to apply and when becomes a fine balance.
As always, the above is an overview or generalisation for the UK and where shade, wind exposure, high rainfall and so on persist, then such conditions need to be 'factored' into the overall management plan. In other words, what may work well for those in the west of Scotland may not be so for those in England's south east and vice-versa.
Tees:- For teeing areas, much will depend on whether or not the main playing areas are being rested or have been in use throughout the winter. If the former, then ideally they should be fertilised, tined, dressed and over-seeded before being brought back into play.
For tees which are in use all year round then much the same is likely to apply although a small section may be left undisturbed to accommodate play for the next 2 to 3 weeks. For larger teeing areas this may be an option but where teeing space is limited, it really comes down to doing the best possible in the current situation. Where separate winter teeing areas are in play then any renovation work should be undertaken once they are no longer in use, which for most will be the following month.
Similar to greens, tee mowing height should remain at a higher height until growth commences and new seedlings have germinated. Any over-seeding that takes place will have a better chance of success if top dressed afterwards and mowing height is not lowered. If 'unused' tees are showing high levels of moss, then treat with an appropriate product prior to scarifying work late in the month. It usually takes about two weeks for any product to weaken the moss sufficiently.
Surrounds:- Towards the end of the month, there should be the first signs of recovery from winter wear. Heavily 'trafficked' areas will be the last to recover and where this is the case and in spite of installing traffic control measures, such areas should be renovated similar to tees. For many courses, this may require tining, top dressing & over-seeding small areas where grass cover is weak.
Once treated, these areas should be protected as much as possible from resultant wear. Only in essential areas should re-turfing be contemplated due to the risk of the turf drying out. Where this is deemed necessary then the possible need for watering must be readily accessible.
Green surrounds can be fertilised late in the month if required and conditions are favourable. Too often, ground conditions can dry out fairly quickly if winds are in an easterly direction and such applications should be held in abeyance until warmer and moisture conditions prevail.
If cold and dry conditions continue for any length of time, a foliar feed may give some respite without the risk of leaf scorch. Regular checks on 3 to 5 day forecasts are essential.
Fairways:- This is the last month that deep tining work can be carried out before the season gets underway. Although best carried out earlier in the year, ground conditions may dictate that this is not possible. Fairways often take on a bleached appearance in March and lose any real definition due to nutrient loss over the winter.
This scenario can be overcome by applying a soluble mix of Urea and Iron which many would regard as being more of a 'cosmetic tonic'. 25kg bags of Urea and Sulphate of Iron will roughly treat 2 fairways (2 Ha) and should be at a cost of less than £300.
This may help to give the club a competitive edge and should suffice for a few weeks until higher temperatures allow for normal growth. Where nutrient levels are low and the turf is in need of a boost, then a suitable fertiliser can be applied from late in the month onwards, especially in the southern half of the UK.
Controlled release fertilisers have proved popular in the past but they are more expensive and can lead to a build-up of excess fibre. Every course is different and applications can vary from Foliar applied a few times per year to more Sulphur based granular products that have an acidifying effect on the turf.
This would generally be applied once or maybe again in Autumn as a winter feed. Mowing will continue but again the height of cut should remain high since the risk of overnight frosts will not have disappeared just yet.
March 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 sizes determine how vigorous your plants are. Different nutrients undertake different tasks within the plant.
Keep an eye on fungal disease attack. Cool, moist and even mild conditions can still be experienced in March, favourable conditions for an outbreak of disease. Use approved fungicides to treat infected areas.
We're heading into a period of the year when disease pressure is generally high, particularly Microdochium nivale, otherwise known as Fusarium patch, therefore it seems appropriate to review the techniques used to control the disease.
Fusarium affects cold season grasses in the Northern hemisphere. Three common turf grass species grown in Britain are susceptible to Fusarium: Annual Meadow-grass (Poa annua), Perennial Rye-grass (Lolium perenne) and Creeping Bent (Agrostis stolonifera).
Identification - Fusarium starts in the autumn as small orange to red-brown circular spots 1-2 cm in diameter. When the fungus is particularly active, the patches have a brown ring at the outer edge. The centre of the patches may become pale brown/yellow. White/pink mycelium may be observed on the outer edge of the patch matting the infected leaves together, this is often used as an indication of high activity.
One of the biggest assetts of any golf club is its machinery and equipment; it is important you look after it and ensure it gets serviced and repaired on a regular basis.
Investing in good storage and wash down facilities is essential for the welfare of machinery.
Remember to ensure that all your machinery has been serviced and ready for the new season. Once soil and air temperatures begin to rise, grass growth will begin in earnest.
Keep records of hours of use and take photographs of equipment for referencing.
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.
Recent stormy wet weather will have contributed a lot of surface water into drains, ditches and water courses. However, when large amounts of water are running into these outlets in a short period of time, it can often result in flooding parts of the course which may in turn make the course unplayable.
Check all ditches and brooks, make sure the water is running easily, remove any debris that may affect the flow of the streams, brooks or ditches.