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Fresh from the Fairways

Fresh from the Fairways.

Quarterly update from our Head Greenkeeper

Introduction

The last few months has seen record levels of rainfall hit all parts of the UK, which has not only led to misery for golfers, but a rather large headache for greenkeepers.

But what happens to a golf course when it’s exposed to the volumes of rain we’ve had in the last few months?

In this edition of Fresh from the Fairways, I answer this and other questions we’ve recently received from golfers that play at Richmond Park.

“What’s it been like being a greenkeeper in the last 6 months?”

In a word… wet! Monthly rainfall averages have been off the chart since last autumn, which has caused what we call a high natural water table. This means rainwater fails to percolate through the soil, and it becomes saturated. No matter how good the drainage system is on a golf course, there’s simply too much water locked into the layer below the surface because it has nowhere to go.

Just when we get a break in the weather and things start to dry out, another front of heavy rain comes along and raises the water table again. This has been the major challenge for greenkeepers across the country, no matter what type of course they are managing.

“Why are some courses more badly affected than others? I recently played at a links course in Kent, and they had no temporary greens at all?”

Parkland courses are built on slow draining clay, like what we have here at Richmond Park. Even links courses have been impacted by this intensive rainfall, but their natural sandy soil allows water to drain quicker.

“Why has the Duke’s Course had to close completely?”

The courses at Richmond Park are 100 years old and their drainage systems were never designed to cope with the volume of rain we’ve had. We’ve had to close the Duke’s Course because of large areas of standing water, which have not drained due to continuous rainfall over many months. The Prince’s course is higher up, so doesn’t have the same issue.

“The grass on the fairways is longer than I expected. When can we see nicely striped fairways again?”

The water table remains very high and there is still a lot of water trapped in the soil, making it much softer than usual. We’ve had to reduce the frequency of grass cutting to avoid damaging the turf. Wet weather also means lots of worm casts that bring mud to the surface – cutting fairways often smears this in and can make the problem far worse.

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“When will the courses be fully open again?”

This is the question on everyone’s lips and I’d love to tell you, but I’ve left my crystal ball at home! Right now many golf courses are still in recovery mode after damage caused by unprecedented amounts of rain. This means we’re concentrating on three things – aeration, top dressing and managing traffic.

Winter project work has also been delayed, but we have a plan in place to catch up over the next few months. We’re now at the end of March a prolonged dry spell is needed for the courses to fully recover, and it will come.

“Can we expect to see the same problems next winter?”

It’s a good question. If trends of extreme weather continue, then golf course operators will need to consider what measures, such as design changes, can be introduced to prevent repeat damage.

This year’s maintenance plan includes measures such as sand banding, a type of drainage that allow greens to drain more rapidly. This will really make a difference on some of our worst affected greens.

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Conclusion

I’d like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding through what has been a very challenging time. We’re doing everything in our control to get the courses fully open again. While it’s been difficult for golfers, our proactive approach to protecting the courses means they’ll be in really great shape this summer.

As alway, I welcome your feedback and suggestions so please feel free to drop me a line at roger.mills@glendalegolf.co.uk

Roger Mills

Course Manager

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