The history

How to develop a ‘running game’ course.

The development of fine perennial grasses in contrast to ‘target-style’ annual meadow grasses (Poa annua) needs explanation.

FineGolf has invited Martin Ward MD of Symbio to advise with a series of articles on the importance of soil biology in helping perennial grasses.

He starts by giving some history.

“Until the advent of specialist inorganic fertilisers introduced between the 1930’s and 1960’s golf greens mostly sported low maintenance fescue or bent grass surfaces, needing few inputs and suffering minimal disease.

However from the 1930’s with inorganic fertilisers starting to be used to provide ‘green’ greens, resulting in lush growth, the perennial fine grasses that need minimal inputs died, to be replaced by thick stemmed, seeding, annual meadow grass (Poa annua) which is susceptible to many turf diseases.

symbio, inorganic rootzone,

Unhealthy inorganicaly managed ten year-old rootzone

Fungicides were then needed to suppress disease, which then also kill off the good fungi that break down the dead grass (thatch). Too much thatch is bad, it holds moisture, harbours disease and slows down the speed of the greens. See photo of ten year old rootzone managed with inorganic fertiliser and fungicides showing the build up of thatch.

So wetting agents and heavy aeration and hollow coring and scarification equipment was developed to reduce compaction and physically remove the thatch that built up.

Management of these greens was limited to inorganic fertiliser and pesticide inputs, plus physical aeration and thatch removal leading to a growth cycle of boom and bust.

Golfers understandably rebelled against the amount of aeration and physical disruption required to maintain a good surface with these ‘chemical’ greens and if the disruption was reduced the slow Poa annua puddings that passed for many greens on parkland courses, was the result.

(In the 1960’s the USGA specification rootzone of greens was developed to improve drainage and allow chemicals to leach out of the rootzone, an attempt at requiring less managed disruption to the surface.)

Some of the keepers of the old links courses ignored these “developments” as did clubs with low budgets and there were a few agronomists that counselled against this tide of chemicals, notably Jim Arthur.

golf ball plugged,

The result of inorganic management!

But driven by

1) golfers watching ‘target-style’ golf on TV who were demanding greener greens, along with

2) the fertiliser and fungicide suppliers, a general culture of application and reaction developed through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, with many greenkeepers expecting to see a big change to their surfaces whenever a product was applied. (Boom and bust)

However those golfers, used to playing fescue or fescue/bent surfaces, know this is not how the finest golf perennial grasses grow naturally.

In the 1990’s companies like Symbio, which specialises in the biology of fine turf were founded to commercialise the developing knowledge in the field of soil biology to try and

reverse the trend to chemical dependence and reintroduce the soil microbes that degrade thatch and allow grasses to process nutrient, and protect themselves from disease.

symbio, organically managed rootzone

Healthy, organically managed ten year-old rootzone

Most golfers will have noticed that you get more, disease free growth in the unfertilised rough than you do on fertilised greens. The grasses in the rough are often native fescues, which when mown, provide the best putting surfaces. This is because the physical condition and chemical availability in the soil in the rough, is driven by the natural biology, which recycles nutrient, protects the plant against disease and maintains an open, friable, fast draining rootzone.  See photo of another ten year old rootzone that has been healthily, ‘organically’ managed.

Rapid change is now taking place in golf course and greens management, driven by the demands from golfers for fast, even surfaces 365 days a year, reduced income and lower operating budgets for course maintenance and legislation reducing the pesticides available.

Most playing surfaces have improved massively in the last decade as course managers understand that working with just soil physics and chemistry is like sitting on a two legged stool, with practice it can be done but you are always vigilant and about to topple over and it takes a high budget. The fine grasses model is cheaper and with the correct soil biology driving chemical and physical processes you have a stable foundation for fine grass growth.

In future articles we will look at how healthy rootzones change the management and provide fine turf playing surfaces with case studies of some of the many courses that have or are in the process of transitioning from Poa annua to fine grass.

For more information contact:

Martin Ward,  Symbio,  01428 685762




Reader Comments

On July 17th, 2014 Ken Barber said:

Green keeper interest in the use of biological products is definitely on the increase. After 40 years as a Course Manager, I now concentrate on what is going on beneath the surface. I have been using compost teas and organic supplements for 7 years now and my annual meadow grass greens are becoming more fescue/bent dominant. I rarely have to use fungicides and stopped using wetting agents two years ago.

There are two or three good suppliers out there today who can supply good biology and provide excellent back-up support, so there is no excuse and the plus side is the reduction in costs.

Love the website

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