Home Blog Greg’s Greenkeeping Blog June 2019

June has been the wettest month of the year so far, but it’s been far from a wash out with the rain actually most welcome.

We’re entering into the peak of the season and the course is certainly in peak condition. We’re very pleased to be able to provide such good conditions, particularly on a consistent basis throughout the seasons.

In this months blog, I will be focusing on 2 key areas of the course, areas that are managed in a very particular way for very specific reasons. 

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Greens

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Over the last few years we have been working on a species exchange, which effectively means changing the types of grasses that are growing on the greens. A recent Q and A helped find out more.

So what type of grasses were on the greens initially?

6 years ago the greens were dominated by Annual Meadow Grass or Poa Annua as it’s often referred to and this took up around 90% of the surfaces. 

Yes, I’ve heard that when watching the PGA Tour, it must be OK then, surely?

There’s no doubt that good greens can be produced with Poa Annua and many courses, for different reasons choose to grow greens this way. Many of these courses have fantastic greens and real credit should go to the skills of the greenkeepers achieving these results.

So why not at Hunley then?

It is actually very challenging trying to produce top quality surfaces consistently with Poa Annua, as it is particularly prone to damage from pests and diseases. It requires lots of aggressive maintenance treatments that can often be quite disruptive to play, such as hollow coring, scarifying, verti cutting and the application of heavy sand top dressings.

It requires greater applications of fertiliser and water, as well as treatments from chemicals in order to help it remain disease free. 

So what grasses have we got now? 

We now have around 75% fescue and bent grasses (slightly more fescue than bent), with only a small amount of Poa Annua left.

How is the alternative so different?

The fine grasses require very little of any of the things required by Poa Annua. So very little fertilser, scarifying, hollow coring etc, damage from pests and diseases are much less significant and they also are much firmer in nature with performance testing also proving that they play better too.

We haven’t applied any chemicals for over 2 years and have only fertilised once at a very low rate this year, which is a direct result of the change.

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So basically, it’s more than just about how they putt?

Absolutely, Poa Annua greens are naturally soft whereas fescue, bent greens are naturally firm which gives a very different playing experience. Effectively one provides conditions for target golf and the other for the running game.

We want to offer the best conditions for our members and visitors to enjoy for as much of the year possible. The type of grass species on our greens helps us better able to do this, with the lower maintenance minimising the need for us to disrupt golf with aggressive treatments as well as helping us save resources, but in doing so we believe this provides more interesting playing characteristics.

So it’s a win win situation then?

It is, but even more importantly, it has a much smaller impact on the environment. This has never been so important with the current global crisis with regards to climate change.

I see, so it reduces your carbon footprint?

Exactly, less fuel, less fertiliser, less water, no chemicals and so on.

So what lies ahead for further improvement?

It’s just about managing the fine grasses now, providing them with what they need to dominate. So low inputs, low levels of disruption and the percentage of fine grasses will continue to increase naturally with the Poa Annua unable to compete. It’s a great position to be in and well worth the journey to get here.

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Rough

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Management of the rough grasses has been ongoing for several years and this has improved the course in a similar way to the changes on the greens. Another Q and A session talks about the long grass at Hunley.

The long grasses currently look amazing, tell us about this?

Well on my arrival the course was quite open and bland, the idea of growing the rough was to provide definition and also for it to become a real feature of the course.

It must be a real nightmare for finding balls though?

Yes this has been the main challenge, it hasn’t been as simple as just letting in grow. We’ve had to work on thinning it so a ball can be found after going off line.

So how do you go about that?

Cutting and removing the clippings helps to reduce the vigorous growth. The nutrients in the soil feed the grass, so each time we cut and collect, the grass has to use more of the reserves in the soil. As those reserves deplete, growth becomes thinner and thinner.

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As I remember though when it first grew up it didn’t look as colourful as it does now?

That’s mostly down to the grass species changing. While it was lush and thick it naturally was much greener,  but also favoured less desirable species such as Yorkshire fog, Ryegrass and Cocksfoot. Reducing the vigour has seen red fescue increase and that is what provides the beautiful colour.

So it’s that simple, cut and collect the grass?

Almost, we did speed up the process with the use of a bespoke weed killer, which was used to reduce the course grasses chemically.

Does this not go against your ethos of not using chemicals?

Yes, but as a means to an end we felt that short term use of the herbicide was acceptable in order to achieve long term sustainability.

So going forwards, is the rough just going to be left long?

Not yet, we will still need to cut and collect as it’s not quite as we want it across the whole course. Further work is still required, but eventually we hope to be in a position to just leave it.

So what would you say to the golfers if they aren’t happy with the rough?

Well it’s about dealing with any feedback objectively. We want golfers to let us know about problem areas so that we can cut them back as and when needed.

Great, so my slice should be well covered then? 

Not entirely, as some areas a long way from general playing zones won’t be cut. It’s unrealistic to manage everywhere, such is the sheer size of the site. It also wouldn’t be responsible, as there needs to be areas left alone for nature to inhabit and variety of habitats on the course are important for improving biodiversity.

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Our ethos at Hunley is to provide the best conditions for play, but also to do this in a way that is considerate to the local environment and the wider global issues we are all facing.

We all believe that to change the world for the better, we just need to look after what we have in the right way. If everyone did this, things would quickly improve. There’s no good thinking we’re too insignificant to make a difference, we can all do it and we all should.

On that note we’ve been seeing some excellent results from our nature conservation recently. Our pair of Barn Owls have 3 chicks, 2 family of Grey Partridge have several young each and the number of Brown Hare has gone through the roof!

We will be hosting a Wildlife walk soon too, so keep an eye out for further details.

Thanks for reading,

Greg 

[email protected]

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