Keeping a Finger on the Pulse

Keeping a Finger on the Pulse

(Golf Course News International, March 2002)

No one enjoys completing unnecessary paperwork – and record keeping or any form of administration is an extra chore for many course managers. Even spending too much time behind the computer can eventually lead to loss of productive time.

So why record – and for what purpose?

Records are of no value filed away without any assessment. They are only of benefit when they assist in future planning, when they are able to account for success or failure of a treatment or where costing times of work is important, i.e. time utilised in maintaining bunkers, keeping tabs of machinery maintenance costs or judging the comparative costs between pedestrian or triplex mowing of greens.

The COSHH return emphasises the importance of recording essential environmental and practical information along with the application of the pesticide. As the success of all treatments on the course, cultural or applied, depend on environmental conditions, it seems logical to record prevailing conditions day to day. For example the soil moisture content, air and soil temperature and the strength and direction of the wind collectively and independently influence the outcome of verticutting, hollow tining, seeding, spraying and fertilising as well as many other activities.

Apart from the daily variance in weather conditions, the cycle of conditions over the year determines the planning of the many treatments undertaken in the year of the golf course. Yet even today too few golf courses maintain a daily routine of recording rainfall, maximum and minimum temperatures. For such a small outlay in cost it is unfathomable why so many managers ignore two of the most vital factors that control all their efforts on the golf course.

Every Drop has an Effect

The presence of water, lifeblood and scourge on the golf course, is constantly in focus and deserves constant monitoring especially where it influences play. The wet winter months show dramatically the importance of sound surface design to remove surplus surface water – as well as any need to overcome underground drainage problems resulting from a high water table or seepage zones.

In the summer temperature peak period when evapotranspiration rates are high and rainfall is less frequent, the application of water becomes a necessity for survival – yet the ignorance of the actual need and the reliance on unsound judgement is hardly a basis for deciding to irrigate or not.

Maintaining an ongoing water balance status in the soil is not only essential for the proper planning of water needs – it influences so many treatments – deep tining, seeding and fertilisation to name only a few. It also ensures optimum moisture conditions for grass growth.

In fact, simple formulae have been used extensively in the US and are now incorporated into computer controlled irrigation systems to gauge the water loss from the grass surface and plan irrigation requirements. Understandably the combined influences of the day’s temperature the extent and direction of the wind and the time of year effect the metabolism of the grass cover and especially the rate of water loss. Daily recording of these influential factors can with experience alone give a good insight into water losses expected in the planning of the irrigation programme. Coupled with tabulated rainfall recorded the water status balance can be maintained with little effort.

But rainfall measurement alone is not enough.

It is all About Temperature

As we enter Spring the effects of temperature change are very apparent. During the season it significantly alters the water used, the growth rate and the performance of applications on cultural treatments. Diseases are prominent when temperature and moisture combine to bring about the desired weather conditions. However, more important, the daily fluctuation of temperatures – and especially the recording of maximum and minimum – can be seen to give added reason in the success or failure of a treatment whatever it is.

Soil temperature – notably in the area of maximum root development – normally around 50mm – gives valuable insight into grass growth performance. Germination, nutrient release or uptake, root growth, top growth are all governed by temperatures. Hence the daily monitoring of soil temperatures becomes invaluable in the implementation of numerous treatments.

Even minor observations count

What of recording occurrences or treatments not significantly effected by the weather? Quantitatively everything done or not done effects the result – and offer indirectly the expenditure. Directly the recording in simple form that is easily appraised on a time chart must influence ongoing treatments and so becomes vital for future planning.

Keeping eyes open on the golf course can account for a wealth of information – some potentially vital. The sheer number of observations and the forever changing scene make it near night impossible to keep on top of all that needs to be done – there is always something that can be done if management is striving for perfection. To this end the simple notebook or tape recorder is probably the most important and underrated item in the greenkeeper’s possession at all times. Prioritising items of work and planning its attention is the accepted main function of a good course manager – yet without systematic planning and recording order is abandoned. The rating of some item of work as urgent when last week it was important is an indication that priorities have been lost and planning is being neglected.

The many factors that change the drainage performance of a known soil type become dramatic in the sporting arena – and especially on golf courses. Compaction, thatch and root growth in unnatural surroundings all significantly reduce tested laboratory measurements of percolation and porosity – not to mention the site specific lack of water infiltration into the surface.

The daily analysis of the course conditions and major items of work need not be a chore – they can be easily organised to involve no more time than should be spent in maintaining a well thought out diary of works – which all course mangers will acknowledge is essential. The pattern of changing environmental and playing conditions over the year should play a major role in planning and budgeting the many items of work to be undertaken.

Gordon Jaaback

March 4 2002