by David Stansfield
date it has been a pretty foul Winter with lots of rain interspersed with spells
of hard frost. Keeping the course open in such circumstances will always have
something of an adverse effect on its condition next Spring, but the extent of
the necessary recovery and repairs required in April and May will vary considerably
from course to course. Obviously, those courses on sandy free-draining land will
tend to have fewer problems in this respect than will be the case on a clay-based
parkland. However, this is more of a truism than an absolute fact. There are still
plenty of muddy patches and paths on, for example, heathland courses at the moment.
better generalisation is that those clubs who have done their spadework, month
in and month out, year after year, to minimise wet surfaces, will reap the benefits
in these circumstances by having a full course to play whilst causing it the least
damage. It is a fundamental precept of agronomy that good courses are well drained,
either actually or artificially, and that these drainage characteristics must
be sustained by extensive course-wide, year round, aeration.
under play and the routine traffic of machinery compact the ground, reducing the
pore space through which water can move from the surface down to subsoil depth
and away. Such damage has to be frequently counteracted even though the primary
benefits of such work cannot readily and immediately be seen. Indeed, the implementation
of operations such as Vertidraining, hollow tining and slitting are generally
regarded as a torment because to be truly effective they have to be done in advance
of poorer weather in the majority of cases. However, any water which is encouraged
into the soil must then have somewhere to go, and be able to get there at a reasonable
rate, otherwise there will be backing up. Those lucky few who have a course with
an inherently free-draining soil and a low Winter water table are the exceptions.
For the majority, at least part of the course will require (or have) some form
of artificial drainage to help remove surplus rainwater and keep the water table
low, hence helping to sustain firm surfaces.
so, most of this group will not have any idea whatsoever where these drains are,
where they go, or what condition they are in. Any Club that has a proper drainage
plan for the course is a rarity. This perhaps is excusable in those instances
where the drainage system predates the Club, this having been installed around
the turn of the last Century or even before that. This accounts for more than
a few. However, often even modern drainage is not mapped with an indication of
direction, outfall, pipe size and backfilling. This is usually combined with the
Club not having a scale drawing of the course !
of a basic 1:2500 plan is a resource every Club should have, not just for drainage
works, but to record the general development of the course too. Being able to
consult a plan can save many long-term problems by being able to avoid breakage
(through direct treatments, construction work, or installing irrigation), blockage
due to tree planting (very common) and the fouling of outfalls. Remember too that
drainage systems need maintenance more than emergency repairs (especially in bunkers),
and ditches need an annual clearing.
said all that, solely providing good drainage will not keep courses mud free.
As mentioned above, aeration work is the key to unlock its function in all parts
of the course. On top of that, to avoid bare and muddy patches, there must be
traffic control and worm management. Traffic control can take many forms, not
just the obvious of ropes, hoops, white lines and a trolley ban. The volume of
play on most courses engenders a requirement for year round planning to limit
wear, together with prompt repair, using good mature turf, to stop the inevitable
courses need good paths away from the line of play which are well built and reasonably
attractive in appearance - scattering a few cockleshells or rolling in scrap road
planings (roadstone and tarmac) is just not good enough. Bridges need to be on
the sides of fairways, not in the middle. Machinery routes to the distant points
should be on tracks in the rough wherever possible, with an exit point from the
sheds which does not involve churning up the nearest green surround or fairway.
None of this happens by accident but involves planning, effort and expenditure.
tips can be more immediate. Do not put mats on the main tees; vary Winter tee
positions to change walking routes normally taken in Summer and the drive landing
areas on fairways; put mats on Par 3 holes behind the main tee to reduce pitch
marking; if there has to be trolleys at least ban buggies when the ground conditions
are very wet; and if the greens become soft enough to hold a footprint for 10
seconds the play must come off pro tem.
leaves us with wormcasting, a problem feature which is on the increase, whilst
the means to control it are on the decrease. If you have severe wormcasting now,
you are stuck with it for this year at least. Chemical control is not always effective
but to have the best chance it must be applied in the Autumn. As to cultural control,
at best using what is currently available will only have partial benefit, for
it is slow acting but has an accumulative effect from repeat treatment.
in all there is no instant cure-all which will allow Clubs to cope with a wet
Winter. Those who manage best encompass the potential within their overall treatment
programme and course development strategy. Those who do not, have to regularly
repaint the "Course Closed" sign.