Grass Clippings

Around our saturated grounds

Like October, this month continues to see the British Isles inundated with low pressure fronts moving in from mid-Atlantic and bringing rainstorm after rainstorm. We have recorded well over treble the amount of rain that we had this time last year. The effect on the course and grounds is surely no surprise to anyone, as we have indicated in a recent blog to golf Members, that the water table is rising, and the ground is becoming saturated to the point of field capacity.

There is only one solution for saturated ground – you leave it alone to drain and firm back up. If there is foot traffic on the area, the roots will shear off and the root system will break below the surface, in the same way that if the ground was frozen and the thaw only melts the surface inch or so.

It would not be evident immediately, but come the spring, the grass plant would have little in the way of a support system to source nutrients and remain hydrated. The effect can be that areas of greens would look dehydrated and starved no matter the care taken at this point, the turf would not grow back and eventually it would lead to turf loss. Using waterlogged ground will also create what is known in agricultural quarters as a ‘perched water table’. Overuse of the surfaces causes compaction that is higher in the surface causing perching.

To farmers this would result in water on the surface of a field not drying out and leading to water logging. It can have a similar effect on a green or fairway and cause a chain reaction leading to turf loss. Managing turf in winter is a difficult call, what looks okay on the surface may not be indicative of a good situation below. The remedial steps are to err on the side of caution to reduce further damage.

The Club’s greens were fashioned in the 1950’s, as I have written previously, and local soils were used to build them, as it was the only source of material available. This indigenous soil has a high silt content, which holds water – not good news for allowing water to drain from the surface. Silt is the smallest fraction of soil particles, smaller than clay particles, their shape is described as ‘plate’ like which enables the material to shift and move freely in the soil.

Decades ago, soil conditions vs weather didn’t pose too much of a problem, as many of the longer-serving Members have commented to me, their golf clubs were stored away in the winter and came out again in spring. Only the most hardy or reckless of Members played golf in the winter.

However, technology has advanced greatly in many aspects of the game – stay-dry waterproofs and shoes have made playing in poor weather more tolerable. Equipment is lighter and made of materials which make winter play a better game. Sadly, the fundamentals of the golf course haven’t changed with the decades, we are still managing greens much the same as in the 1950’s, when soil would have been dug from a borrow pit in the ground and shaped and moulded to create a new green for an updated course layout.

Next year will see the largest change to three of the greens since holes 13, 17 and 18 were rebuilt. We are to comprehensively drain greens 3, 6 and 14 to give them a better chance of withstanding the worst weather that winter has to throw at them. A close network of drainage channels is to be installed across the greens, on a sub-turf level to effectively remove excess rainfall from them. Connecting drain lines will link it to the existing drainage network to channel the water away from the greens area. As well as greens drainage, we are also looking at improving drainage of fairways and roughs by adopting the same techniques used on improving the carry’s of holes 13 and 14 this summer. These works will be a game changer to the functioning of the course in the winter.

As we move into an era of wetter, milder winters delivering greater amounts of rain we shall need to keep abreast of these changes by improving the course to cope. We aim to keep disruption to a minimum by instigating these improvements in the summer, off-peak playing season.

Catastrophic forest ecosystem collapse study

A team of experts hope a new study will help researchers, policymakers, and society, better prepare for the future and address threats before they become critical. The group, gathered from across Europe, has produced a list of fifteen over-looked and emerging issues that are likely to have a significant impact on UK forests over the next 50 years. The dramatic sounding label of ‘catastrophic forest ecosystem collapse’ refers to multiple interrelated hazards that have a cascading effect on forests, leading to their total or partial collapse. Over the years in Grass Clippings, issues that are affecting trees in the southeastern region have been highlighted as indicators of the changes in flora and fauna becoming ever more important at defining the future for our ecosystem.

Issues that will have an outcome on UK forests include competition with society for water, viral diseases, and extreme weather affecting forest management. Dr Eleanor Tew, first author and head of forest planning at Forestry England said: ‘The next 50 years will bring huge changes to UK forests: the threats they face, the way that we manage them, and the benefits they deliver to society. We hope the results from this horizon scanning exercise serve as an urgent call to action to build on, and dramatically upscale, action to increase forest resilience.’ A ‘horizon scanning’ exercise comprises of a technique to identify relatively unknown threats, opportunities, and new trends which are recorded and used as source data for greater research into specific issues. This will be the first time that such a study has been undertaken in the UK forestry setting. The panel, comprised of 42 experts representing a range of professions, organisations, and geographies, reached out to their networks for the findings. Forestry England, a part of the Forestry Commission, collaborated with the University of Cambridge on the study, which was published in the journal, Forestry.

Protect your plants

I’ve seen recent reports that there is a huge snowstorm approaching the UK and we will soon be awash with snow. Although feasible, we did have snow on the ground last December before the Christmas break, we are still waiting and all we seem to get is rain. For garden folk, looking forward to what’s coming next is always a preoccupation especially now, considering that we are approaching the time that a cold snap is usually around the corner. There is no harm in being prepared in the garden for what is to come.

If you have tender plants in pots, it would be wise to put them somewhere sheltered and preferably in a greenhouse. It’s useful to think back to last winter, which was one of the harshest I can recall, and when plants in your garden were hit by freezing winds. Wrap tender types in plastic, straw or nonwoven geotextile and pin this into place with garden canes. Mulching of beds is also a prudent move, to protect herbaceous perennials overwintering below ground. Many plants are still flowering due to the ambient daytime temperatures that are still widespread. On site we have had only two frost days when we have experienced a ground frost, if bad weather does come in quickly, then this will shock the plants into dormancy but at what consequence? We will probably not know that till next spring.

Peter Bradburn, Course and Ground Director