In 45 years of playing different golf courses, I have come to realise that, though design and environment are the most obvious features that makes a ‘fine’ course, it is the turf that is actually most fundamental and brings the design to life.
Influence of TV:
Greenkeepers need protection from ignorant club members who demand lush green fairways and heavily watered, scalped greens as seen on television. These types of conditions may make it easier for them to score well short term with target-style golf and keep to their low handicaps but they are a recipe for degeneration of the turf longer term and thereby their enjoyment.
The running game off firm, tight turf is so much more skilled and fun.
Fine turf is dominated by two fine-leaved, slow-growing, deep-rooted, drought resistant grasses, namely Fine Fescues (Festuca rubra) and the Bents (Agrostis).
All golf courses are improved with these grasses which naturally exist in cool-season, temperate latitudes (Indeed, they do not like hot climates). The principles of good greenkeeping are based on the needs of these grasses and the conditions where they flourish which are at the same time unsuitable or unappreciated by coarser-leaved, faster-growing, shallower-rooted, more agricultural meadow grasses (Poa annua).
The common denominator where fine grasses flourish?
It is not altitude, as they flourish at sea level and on moorland tops. They enjoy alkaline (often derived from sea-shell content) dry arid links, downland and limestone heath and acid moorland.
The answer is as follows, to quote Jim Arthur (from “Practical Greenkeeping“):
“What was surmised a century and more ago has been proven by research and analysis countless times since. The secret of good golf greenkeeping is to copy basic infertile conditions – especially to avoid phosphatic fertilisers – and to ensure ideal conditions for deep-rooting by intensive deep aeration. In other words, for good greens use nitrogen only and aerate deeply. These same principles apply equally to every part of the golf course.”
Another way of putting it, is the old greenkeeping adage “ask a farmer what to do and go and do exactly the opposite” – established many moons ago!
The mono-cultured green of one colour (encouraged by fertilising) is not what good greenkeepers are looking for. A green of indigenous fine grasses gives a dappled mosaic of colours, including yellow patches in the summer where the meadow grasses (Poa annua) is being stressed out by drought and a lack of fertiliser.
Aeration is the most important thing for healthy grass.
However, tining makes greens bumpy for some days so golfers become frustrated at times and often suggest it should be done later in the year when there are less golfers around.
The effect of tining depends on the type of soil and how it drains but don’t expect that tining can be done effectively after October when the ground gets waterlogged, as at that time the action of driving in the tine can make a skin on the sides of the hole and stops drainage thereby making the tining useless for its purpose.
Managed disruption in the growing season
As meadow grasses (Poa annua) are stressed by drought and lack of fertiliser, over-seeding with fine grasses to take their place, needs to be done during the growing seasons. It is a waste of expensive seed to sow in October. Golfers have to accept some managed disruption to their playing surfaces during the growing season, to obtain longer-term truer, firmer, quicker surfaces all the year round. Some of the finest clubs are now overseeding on a few greens by rotation, on one day (often mondays) each week through the growing season. (Royal Porthcawl is being transformed by this policy)
Mowing is the basis of producing good playing surfaces.
The ‘Augusta Syndrome’ of receptive, quick greens as seen on TV creates enormous pressure on club greenkeepers, particularly from low handicappers, to cut the greens short for speed.
Poa annua has to be mown close (2 to 3mm) for speed but this can have lethal results hence the soubriquet “the quick and the dead”. Fine wiry grasses produce quick surfaces without having to be scalped to their roots and indeed some pure fescue greens cut at 6mm give a stimp reading of 11+ in dry conditions, though normally they are cut at 5mm and give a speed of around 10.
The speed of fine golf club greens will vary and be dependant on the amount of local rainfall at any particular time in the year, unlike many target-style clubs who employ an exspensive maintenance regime that often attempts to maintain a constant speed across the seasons.
Self seeding slows greens: A major factor in slowing down the speed of greens made of Poa annua is that it seeds at low level. Fine grasses seed on high stems. When growing seeding pods appear on greens often in the spring, they are from the Poa annua. The increasing use of the verticutter machine, leaving close parallel lines on the sward, is often an attempt to reduce Poa annua’s seeding characteristics. But it also stresses and tends to kill off the wanted fescue grasses and so natural greenkeepers are reducing the use of the verticutter.
The cardinal sin is overwatering.
It encourages the wrong grasses. Greenkeepers of fine courses allow greens and fairways to dry out. Have a look at a bumpy fairway and what do you see? The fine grasses are on the top of the dry ridge and in the wet furrows are found the meadow grasses. The solution? Aeration, to stop rain running off the ridge and more aeration, to give drainage in the furrow.
A technological breakthrough called Wetting Agents is being increasingly used to help moisture retention in dry areas of greens and surroundings. No longer does the whole irrigation system have to be turned-on to just irrigate a small dry area. This saves gallons of water, while just keeping the grass alive rather than an overwatered lush colour of green.
Fine aprons are vital.
One of the distinctions between fine courses and others is that a fine course encourages the bump and run shot . This requires modern grooming and scarification exercised on aprons to greens.
On Lush Target-style courses the fairway grass is comparatively long right up to the green so that, if they are to have a predictability of bounce, the golfer has to use a wedge to pitch onto the green and the surface needs to be soft to hold the shot.
Quality of aprons: Greenkeepers need to be encouraged to de-thatch and improve the consistency of their aprons so we see more golfers needing to use the bump and run.
Tight turf is fun:
One of the enjoyable aspects of FineGolf is negotiating the bumps and hollows around greens played off tight dry turf, when the four wedges in your bag are not necessarily an advantage!
Encourage fine turf:
All greenkeeping hinges on the precept that, if we copy the basic conditions found in nature, where these fine fescue and bent grasses dominate, and therefore keep out their competitors, then the grasses we want will thrive. Even where past mismanagement has resulted in annual meadow grass dominance, correcting the course management policy will slowly but surely achieve a swing back to fine turf.
Fine golf is an all-round winner:
The finest courses have knowledgeable green committees who encourage their green staff to take a long term strategy that ignores the pull of lush target golf. In the long term, keeping to the principles so beautifully and amusingly elucidated by Jim Arthur in his book “Practical Greenkeeping“ will give golf club members courses that play better all the year round, conserve water, protect the ecology and natural character while aiding disease control and weed invasion and reduce agri-chemical pollution of the soil and the subsequent run-off to rivers.
Reduce costs with FineGolf
The target-style courses have to spend unnecessary amounts on fertiliser, water, pesticides and maintenance to keep their meadow grass (Poa annua) dominated courses alive and are often closed in the winter.
Fine courses run on much smaller budgets, cutting out fertiliser, pesticides and over-watering. The grasses need less maintenance and cutting and the greens are firm and in use all year round.
Support your Greenkeeper
…to pursue a long term policy of natural greenkeeping and make sure the succession of Captains don’t bring the wrong management to your course, influenced by watching too much target-style TV golf.
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