Who'd be a Greenkeeper?!

Producing fine turf in Aberdeenshire can be troublesome due to the climate and geological profiles that we have and when we receive wet, dark conditions it can feel like a never ending battle to produce free draining and sustainable surfaces.
Winter hit the golf course hard, not just financial but from the green keeping aspect it halted nearly all winter jobs. Granted there is tree work that can be done when the snow was shallow enough so that your footing was good but all construction jobs frustratingly hit a brick wall.
Thanks to the severe snowfall here in Banchory, that on the 4th April our weather records indicated that we were sitting at 202mm of water across the course for 2018, generally pretty high in terms of water levels but what we expected and have come accustomed to.
The records indicate that this date was the turning point and as we frantically attempt to “close off” our winter projects that missed the opening day deadlines due to weather (opening day was sat 24th March in which our 13th green only de-frosted on the 22nd!!!). Suddenly the conditions stabilised but remained cold so there was still little to no growth despite applying the usual suspects of Ammonia based Nitrogen, Stimulants such as Seaweed and Amino Acids. Nothing shifted, sand dressings were limited if there was no holes to fill up as you were in danger of smothering the crown of the plants so level surfaces were difficult to obtain as any vertical mowing or brushing was met with freezing overnight temperatures and East winds.
It started to become apparent we were in for a cold/dry spring and the communication with the golfers was going to be key. Everyone around the UK was in the same predicament but sometimes that doesn’t matter to the humble local golfer that just wants to play, keeping everyone in the loop at all times was key, certainly at Banchory and it bought you time even though you couldn’t answer when everything would be back to normal!
Truth was it didn’t return to normal and by the end of April our Irrigation system was already used more than the previous 10 years! It was fired up and throwing water out at their allocated pressures. Greenkeepers the length of the country were down on their knees fixing the cold weather damage to systems (and weren’t on their knees praying!) and control valves. It was becoming apparent as the temperatures started to rise that we were just going to miss out spring and go straight into summer. The traditional Bent, Fescue and Ryegrass with the “favourite” Poa Annua species of grass lie in dormancy when soil Temperatures lie below 5 degrees so for the average temperatures to suddenly jump to double figures without rainfall put some of the plants into drought stress immediately so I found us fighting the plants ability to hold on to any moisture it received…. All before it’s actually growing.

We headed into May with Temperatures that were in double figures but not the kind we were used to! It was into the 20’s and with the average for that time of year being 11 degrees Celsius we were at double this. Night time temperatures were also staying double figures but I can guess what you think? He wanted heat to grow the grass but we hadn’t had natural rain water and the temperature of our irrigation water was 1 degree Celsius!! It was cold water fighting warm soil and the plant didn’t know what it was doing. Our irrigation system went down, 5 times over the months of May and June causing a lot of personal stress. Everyone from the golf club to my wife would always say “there is nothing you can do” but as a Course Manager you don’t feel the same, Adapt and Overcome is our saying here at the club and that we must do as daytime temperatures in June start to reach an average of 25 degrees Celsius with no rainfall.
All areas were treated with wetting agents as we awaited rain but we had to prioritise greens and aprons as our water supply got lower by the day but it never came, we needed water to activate the biology of our surfactants. It never came.
Only liquid fertilisers were applied as we daren’t trust the irrigation, imagine applying high Nitrogen during 20 temperatures and your system packed in!? I couldn’t risk it. Grass was now reaching wilting points on tees so the attention went to them and we applied the tactic of just keeping them alive and conserving water as the talk of water bans started to hit the news. New turf areas despite being watered 2-3 times a day were at permanent wilting point and still no rain.
The saving grace of this was the fact we could allocate half the staff to irrigation and the other half to little tasks that don’t get your full attention at this time of year as you’re in full cutting and preparation modes. Bunker work, banking’s, divots and course furniture were all smartened up at a time you normally are chasing your tail. No grass was cut on rough or fairways for 2 weeks and when the mowers did go out it was in verti cut mode just to control divot mess and aesthetics.
July had arrived and we looked at each other as if to say “it’s close to Christmas” but eventually on the 8th July 2018 we received rain!! Well, 2mm of rain but I tell you we felt like it was a monsoon. A few more days of sporadic rain showers suddenly got us thinking that if these temperature’s continue and the grass recovers quickly (as we sprayed to help them do just this) we were suddenly going to have a grass factory again…. Low and behold, we did but in all the wrong places! Greens went grass crazy so PGR’s (plant growth regulators) were applied and the weeds decided to come back from the dead. Suddenly the fear was being lived, you waited all season for the grass to grow and now it does and to top it off the poa started to seed on the greens profusely so you were frantically verti cutting/brushing and cutting like mad to keep on top of the greens but it coincided with the staff/childrens holiday season so you are naturally weaker in numbers
Never a dull moment in this profession but if this season has taught us anything it’s to communicate with everyone what you’re doing, we had tremendous support from all sides but …….. Did I mention we had tournaments, Opens, Championships during that time also, no? Well we did, the golf calendar didn’t stop for the weather so as I’ve said previous we all “Adapted and overcame”

Richard Mullen
Course Manager
Banchory Golf Club.

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