This last month we have experienced some seriously mixed weather with as 32mm rain falling in 24hours on one occasion. We have been pleased that the last couple of weeks have been slightly dryer which has allowed us to mow all areas of the course. This has really improved the course appearance and has made us feel like summer is just around the corner. Ideally we would like to see temperatures rise in the next few weeks so that we can get better growth and recovery. The cold nights we seem to be experiencing are knocking back any growth we are getting.
We have been making efforts to improve the presentation of the course for the start of the competition season. We have installed new: flag poles, flags, and hole cups. It was mentioned in the last committee meeting that there was a lack of coloured marker posts around our hazards and that it has caused some confusion during competitions. This issue was addressed after purchasing some more wooden stakes and one of our members (Terry Robinson) has made a great job painting them and putting them out on the course.
Around the greens
So far this month we have done a lot of work on the greens; completing some much needed renovations to improve the playability and consistency of our putting surfaces.
Last week we ‘verti-cut’ the greens at a depth of 1.5mm, which is basically a delicate form of scarification that removed: organic material, moss, coarse grasses, and horizontal growing grass blades from the sward. This has produced a smoother and more consistent surface ready for the playing season.
During spring renovations we managed to apply 20-25 tonnes of sand top dressing onto the greens and applied another 4-5 tonnes of light sand top dressing since then. The adding of sand dilutes thatch and also increase the drainage capabilities of our greens. This will pay off during wet conditions. The greens have responded really well to the treatment and have recovered quickly. We noticed a big difference in the health of the grass and while changing holes have noticed sand channels leading from the surface down through the soil profile. The grass plants are using these channels to send roots down, making nutrients, water, and air more available.
We lowered the cutting height on the greens this week to our summer mowing height of 3.75mm. After doing this we can already see that the green speed has increased, the surface is more uniform, and as a result it is much smoother. As well as lowering the heights we have also been regularly rolling the greens, which has helped to get rid of any imperfections. Head Greenkeeper Ben Rutter is also in talks to borrow a ‘turf-iron’ on demonstration this season as a way to test the improvements having one would make to our greens. If this goes ahead we would like to hold a demonstration on a major competition day where members will be invited to hit putts on the surface before and after so they can judge for themselve's if as a club we would like to invest in one of these machines in the future. In the article 'Greens rolling - the ultimate finish?' Ian Mitchell (2015) explains the benefits using a turf iron over other types of rollers. These are much more efficient so you can use them less but get the same effect as less efficient rollers. This means less man hours and also less damage to the greens.
Anyone playing early might have seen our Head Greenkeeper Ben Rutter 'bowling' golf balls across the greens after any work we have done in the morning. He is using his years of experience as both a golfer and a greenkeeper to decide which treatments still need to be done to improve our greens. We perform Stimp meter testing most days but there is no substitute for actually rolling a ball across the green to give you a true representation of how the ball will behave when played on. We really want to iliminate any slight ‘bobbles’ from the greens and create consistently smooth greens on the whole course.
All members of the greenkeeping team at Drax Golf Club are keen golfers, which helps us to how to produce a course that not only looks nice but also plays well. We have a huge advantage over non playing greenkeepers because we can identify areas of the course that aren’t performing well enough and can act quickly to make improvements so that the course is constantly playing at its best. We always listen to golfer feedback and use it as a way to measure how well the course is playing.
After regular Stimp-meter testing we discovered that the average speed of all the greens was between 9 and 10 feet. This speed is great for the time of year and gives us confidence that we will easily be able to achieve speeds of 11 or 12 for any of our major competitions. In the article ' Green Speed - How Fast Do You like Yours?',Simon Barnaby (2002) explains that speeds between 9 and 12 are generally considered extremely fast by the U.S.G.A. They suggest that greens should be at speeds of 9 for weekday play and small competitions, and 10.5 for any major tournaments. We have to be cautious at Drax golf course because we have contoured greens that can become too fast and firm. This could make them unplayable or impossible to play approach shots onto. The greens are starting to really firm up and in the summer we expect them to be fast, smooth, consistent, and also responsive to approach shots.
Our fertiliser program is well under way having already applied two early spring fertilisers containing nitrogen and a high iron content. The nitrogen has helped to spur the grass into recovering after our renovations, and the iron helped to strengthen the grass blades and knock back any moss and disease. We plan to put down another slow release granular fertiliser in the next few weeks and then switch over to liquid foliar feeds. The foliar liquid feeds will allow us to ‘spoon feed’ the greens with nutrients rather experiencing the growth spurts sometimes associated with granular feeds. These growth spurts can slow the speed of the greens down for a couple of weeks and by not using them we will be able to maintain consistently fast greens throughout the season. We will also be applying surfactant wetting agents each month through the season to help retain water in the greens profile to help the grass roots access water and stop any dry patches. At the same time we will apply seaweed extract to give the grass plants carbohydrates and hormones that are required for growth throughout the season. We will also be applying a product called Primmo Maxx, a plant growth regulator which stops the grass growing vertically and instead makes it grow horizontally to fill in the surface ‘knit in’ to make a nice smooth surface. By applying this in conjunction with rolling we expect to be able to achieve really smooth putting surface.
During the season we plan to regularly apply a light sad top-dressing because it will produce a smooth surface by filling in any imperfections on the greens. If you think about the damage caused to greens through the season by: pitch-marks, foot traffic, machinery, animal damage, worm casts, and many others – then you can understand why this is essential. By using frequently and light applications of sand top dressing worked in using a drag matt we can fill in any of these imperfections in without affecting the playability of the greens. If we do this all through the season we will start to see some serious benefits including a smoother surface and also more sand in the soil profile to help drainage through the winter.
In the last few weeks we have also started repairing every pitch mark we see whilst doing our rounds during morning set up. On average we have been repairing around 8 per green every morning. When you calculate this up, we have been repairing an average of 96 pitch marks per day, and will be repairing 2,880 pitch marks per month over the whole course (average 30 days). It's a job that only takes us 5 minutes per green and we have already seen the improvements this has made.
The old 1st tee is going to be our new practise putting green. It is already starting to look really good but once the temperature rise to create more grass growth then the surface will thicken up and leave us with a smooth putting green similar to the rest of our greens.
Approaches and Collars
This week we lowered the height of cut down on approaches to 10mm on and have already seen the benefits with more definition and more reliable ball bounce when playing approach shot into them.
This season we have been really concentrating on improving the quality of our approaches. After regularly aeration through winter using the Verti-drain we can now see the benefits of better grass growth and coverage. We have extended and re-shaped the approaches to create larger landing areas before the greens for anyone wanting to play ‘bump-and-run’ shots or to putt from off the greens. We carried out Verti-cutting (scarification) on all the approaches where we removed 140 full mower boxes of thatchy organic material, moss and lateral grass growth - this made them look much better.
We sprayed the approaches a couple of weeks ago with a wetting agent to retain water within the profile, and a fertiliser to encourage the grass to grow. We are pleased with the progress of the approaches and we want to maintain this high quality throughout the season.
We have now lowered our cutting heights on tees to 8.5mm and have also switched to cutting them with our Jacobson Greens-king with tee units fitted. This has given us a more precise cut and has already made improvements to the visual appearance of the tees.
We would like to thank the members who turned up to the divoting party a couple of weeks ago. It has really helped us and has already made a big difference to the recovery of the course. The Senior Captain Matt Ford has installed divot bags on the 1st and 7th tees with large bins full of divot mix along side to top the bags up. The bags are available to be taken with players during a round so they can always repair divots where ever they are on the course. We think this is a great idea and will make sure we keep the divot bins topped up and bags filled up with divot mix where possible.
Our fairways are starting to dry out nicely and we have been keeping on top of cutting them twice a week, as a result the definition of the course is really starting to show. We would like to aerate the fairways at the end of season and through winter because they are extremely compacted. This is stopping the grass from rooting and is reducing the grass coverage. Last month we purchased a new piece of aeration machinery in the form of a large slitter called the Sisis Mega-slit. We have already used it once on the 2nd and 5th fairways and have already seen vast improvements to the drainage of these areas. This machine works by driving a series of 10-12 inch ‘knife’ like tines through the tough compacted fairways, this breaks up the thatch layer below the surface and loosen the gravel in drainage lines to help remove water more quickly.
We have prepared the bunkers ready for the season by removing sand from any bunkers with too much and transferring it to the bunkers in need of more sand. Some bunkers such as the 9th and 5th had too much in to so were able to transport it other bunker meaning we saved money by not having to purchase any more sand. We also edged the bunkers using strimmers and repaired any damage on the edges of them with spare turf.
The bunkers with drainage have been cleaned out and drainage pipes cleaned using draining rods, which has helped dry them out after days of heavy rain. We plan to install drainage in any bunkers without drainage so that next winter they don’t get as badly flooded.
Last week we renovated the paths on the 2nd and 5th tees. These paths were lined with wood chipping down as the material and because soft and sloppy when wet. We removed all of the wood chips to reveal the 6 inches of hard-core below and covered them with the new material we got called Lytag, a product from Drax Power Plant. We used a wacker plate to firm the surface and are happy that the surface is now more pleasant to walk on and better draining.
Graham Gillson, mechanic/greenkeeper, has also been fixing the drainage around the course this winter paying particular attention to the areas behind the 9th green and the 'moat' area, where the drainage flows into the main ditch surrounding the course. He has exposed the pipes and cleared them out so they are now running again and the large puddle at the right of the 9th drains away quickly with the now pipe working properly. He has also been busy servicing and maintaining all our machinery throughout this winter.
We also have some new exciting construction projects in the pipeline. To help us complete them we have now secured a deal with a local machinery hire company to get access to large plant machinery, which will help us with earth moving and construction. Through the season we plan to carry out the following projects:
New medal tee on the 4th tees towards the back just over the drainage ditch
New ladies and winter tee on the 18th
Re-instate the par 3 fifth medal tee
We hope this blog helps to communicate with members and keep them updated with the improvements we are making and also the future plans for the course. We also hope it to encourage any non members reading this to be encouraged to come and play Drax Golf Course and see what a high quality and enjoyable course it is to play. For anyone interested in playing our course we are now on www.teeofftimes.com and have some great value deals on offer, our course is a lot of fun to play and we have some great food and drink down at the social club.