Listen to a fine Greenkeeper on Event preparation

Added on October 16th, 2019 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, Greenkeeping

Golf will endure much pain if it fails to catch up with wider society’s sensible conservationist wish for low inputs of water, fertiliser and pesticides. Is it even possible that the likes of Extinction Rebellion activists might add the ‘toffs’ game to their area of interest in a re-run of suffragette attacks on some golf courses?

Should golf hide its head in the sand and tinker with the pretence that the use of pesticides will be acceptable if safely handled (like Amenity Forum policy) or supposedly sustainable certificates are doled out by Golf Environment Organisation(GEO) to high input courses like Celtic Manor or The Belfry and simply trust all will be well?

When one realises that greenkeepers at some 80% of British golf courses have only been educated in how to manage  high input annual meadow grass (Poa annua), it is not surprising that BIGGA (the largest European greenkeepers association) is sponsored by so many companies whose products sell best into the annual meadow grass golf-course-market.

Nevertheless, some clubs are swimming against the tide of ignorant golfers infected by Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD), who define greens performance by how closely they are shaved in the desire for increased putting speed.

One such club is Aldeburgh, a heathland venue and one of Suffolk’s coastal courses, where they have nurtured a course manager who knows technically what to do to create firm, smooth, fine grassed surfaces all year round. Just as importantly he is able to give a vision of how and why fine grasses not only are low input and conservationist but produce the highest quality performance all year round.

Mark Broughton

An example of this outstanding leadership is contained in an article Mark Broughton wrote for his Club members to explain what went into the preparation of the course by the Club to host the Jacques Léglise Trophy (JLT) this August in response to many questions and comments.

The article was first openly published in the inimitable Michael Coffey’s www.TheGolfClubSecreatry.co.uk newsletter and FineGolf is pleased to give it a wider airing after mentioning some extra facts that help set the context.

  • Species composition on the Aldeburgh greens is difficult to define accurately, it varies throughout the year and from year to year and is one of the difficulties when reporting on any course’s agronomic conditions.  After a dry summer with plenty of opportunity to dry out the greens, the Poa percentage drops right off but mild wet winters see an increase.   Nevertheless, 60% fescue, 25% browntop bent and 15% Poa is about right but the important thing is that the fescue is present throughout the greens and its smoothness dominates the ball roll characteristics rather than the bobbling associated with Poa.
  • The height of cut was reduced to 4mm for the JLT, a little shorter than the 4.5mm they usually run at during the summer.  The greens are cut at 5mm in Spring and Autumn and 6mm during the Winter.  It turned out there was no need to drop the height of cut to 4mm as the greens dried out a lot in the days leading up to the event and the focus then changed to not letting the greens get ridiculously fast.

“Preparing for big events” by Mark Broughton MG.

Mark Broughton, course manager at Aldeburgh Golf Club in Suffolk, shares his thoughts and observations on what it takes to prepare a course for a big R&A event following the club’s hosting of the Jacques Léglise Trophy in late August.

The Jacques Léglise Trophy at the end of August went very well, with the players, The R&A and the European Golf Association all full of praise for the course. During the event I was asked many times about what was involved in presenting the course at this level and sometimes asked why we couldn’t have the course like it all of the time. Below is a summary of the tournament preparation work.

Preparation for a major event starts months in advance. Our winter programme was more focussed on rough management than construction work and from January onwards, the timing of work such as top-dressing and fertiliser application was geared towards building the course to a peak for the last week in August. This has meant giving Club events lower priority than usual.

Some members were surprised that The R&A was only asking for green speeds in the 9.5-10ft range.

Even at The Open Championship, The R&A doesn’t want very fast greens. It is more interested in providing firm greens as this brings out the strategy of the course and puts a premium on accuracy off the tee and the quality of shots into the greens.

 

 

 

The last thing they want is a greenkeeper trying to impress by providing greens running at 12ft!

During the event our greens were running at 9-9.5ft just after the morning cut when the green surface was still slightly damp, increasing to 10.5-11ft as they dried out in the afternoon. It was interesting to hear that some of the players who play a lot of golf in the USA or on parkland golf courses (Ed. on low shaved Poa annua)  were used to greens slowing down through the day and took a while to get used to our conditions.

The weather building up to, and during, the event was very kind to us. We had a week or so of dry weather in the final build-up. If we had experienced wet weather during this time our course preparation work would have been quite different and we would have had to resort to rolling and more aggressive mowing to reach our firmness and speed targets. As it was, Aldeburgh’s fine grasses and excellent drainage supplied all the firmness and speed required.

No irrigation was applied to the greens for the five days before, and the duration of, the event. This is quite extreme even for Aldeburgh but allowed the greens moisture content to fall from circa 14% to circa 6%. Our normal green moisture target is between 10% and 20%.

Extra greenkeepers were on hand during the week of the event

The biggest change to our normal routine was the impact of course closure on our work activities. For the two days before the event the course was closed until 10am. During the event it was closed until 8.30am. The course was again closed after play at around 4pm. To accommodate this, we worked a split shift system, starting at 4.30am through to course closure, then starting again at 4pm through to 8pm. Having the course entirely to ourselves had a very noticeable impact on work efficiency.

During the four days of the event, the work programme was similar each day. At first, we hand-mowed the greens three times per day – a double cut in the morning and a single cut in the afternoon. After the practice days, we eased back to a single cut morning and afternoon as we were trying to stop the greens from getting too fast. The afternoon cut is important as it’s a dry cut which is always better than cutting in dewy conditions. An afternoon cut is not possible, however, without a full course closure. There was no rolling during the event.

The tees were cut daily ahead of play but as there were no tee markers to move and no golfers on the course, the job only took two and a half hours rather than a full day as is normal. The approaches and green surrounds were cut daily, as were the fairways, but the fairways were cut in the afternoon. We had an additional fairway mower on site for the event so we were able to cut all of the fairways in under three hours. Usually this job takes all day with two machines when working around golfers.

The holes were changed each morning and the bunkers were raked ahead of play. Dew was removed from the fairways in the morning by dragging a hose pipe between two trucks. This level of very intensive work on the course is only sustainable for a few days as the turf suffers from wear and stress. The tees were already thinning out in places by the end of the event and those who played on Sunday September 1st would have noticed how stressed the greens looked, despite heavy overnight irrigation on the Saturday evening and easing up on mowing frequency.

Despite the Jacques Léglise Trophy being a comparatively straightforward event to prepare for (a small field starting at 9am with the last players off at 2.40pm, giving the greenkeeping team plenty of time to work ahead of and after play), we still needed to supplement our greenkeeping team. For the week of the event, we had 14 greenkeepers including Danny Perring and Antony Kirwan, past first assistant and deputy course manager at Aldeburgh, who came back to help out. Our normal complement of staff is nine full-time and two part-time for 27 holes. No greens staff holiday was allowed in the month before the event.

Summary

The intensity of mowing, grooming, brushing and other work we did for the Jacques Léglise Trophy, together with very strict control of irrigation, is only sustainable for a few days. If we kept at it, we would soon lose grass cover and the surfaces would deteriorate rapidly. The resources required to achieve the standards required by The R&A are beyond our budget for anything but a short period, and restrictions on members’ play would be needed to get the additional work done. For normal play, we are always aiming to present the course at the highest standard that is sustainable for decades rather than a week, and which is achievable within our budget and manpower limits.

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