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Learn from these rains

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

When the ground is saturated, with more rain the water has to go somewhere. It will either get away to a safe destination or it will collect and eventually flood in the low areas. At this time of year all that can be done is to lead water away to a lower safe location where possible or protect property that is in danger. On sports pitches water collecting ponds should be plotted for attention in the summer or in the case of severe flooding, consideration must be given to re-grading to create a suitable gradient. Installing primary and secondary pipe drainage could follow if finance permits but in the short term the first priority must be to establish suitable surface drainage by improving the gradient – so that water can get away.

What can we learn from the rains

Friday, July 20th, 2012

In the recent unprecedented period of rain there would have been notable observations. There are two main aspects to flooding:
• the deluge of water that follows an indiscriminate path seeking escape. This water is the product of catchment water that accumulates over an area into a concentrated flow that eventually forces an exit route.

• the accumulation of surface water with no immediate and adequate route of escape. It is confined to low lying areas and can be far more destructive. The water level rises relative to the capacity of the unplanned collection area that has inadequate outfall.

Water run-off is always localized with water collecting or finding the easiest route of exit. At times of continual rain there can be temporary restriction in outfall locations or there is just not the provision to cope with excessive water volumes. Where these situations arise, swales and ditches designed to very shallow gradients dispatch surface water and also offer the opportunity for temporary storage, water loss by evaporation and the slow percolation into the soil over time.

Where low areas make the potential for the rise of flood water levels inevitable due to inadequate outfall, consideration should be given where feasible to some remodelling of landform to provide the eventual exit of the surplus water.

The utilisation of flood plains for sport and recreation is cost effective where damage inflicted is not a major concern and human life is not threatened. However, within these areas it is expedient to plan water courses with a ditch reticulation and in the case of recreational areas such as golf courses, sports and leisure sites to elevate playing features where possible and create significant surface gradients. Wherever rising water levels can be diverted away from features and water run-off can be channelled out of harms way, there is merit in undertaking the earthworks necessary to achieve this.

Though contamination may be minimal on recreation sites, land locally exploited industrially and commercially warrants special attention with regard to coping with storm water run-off or flooding.

There is more to sports pitch drainage than installing more drains

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

The first reaction to poor drainage and cancelled games is the installation of additional drains.  However, the real cause of failure can often go back to the construction and to lack of thought in the future use.  The following are a few considerations that have a major influence on future performance of the sports pitch.


1. The gradient and grade of the pitch is vital to promote surface run-off.
2. The attention given to the subsoil after grading – together with the proper assessment of the nature and depth of the materials in the profile below.
3. The methods of spreading the topsoil – these influence the degree of compaction and ultimately the condition of grass cover and the ability of the soil to drain.
4. The classification and depth of the topsoil has a bearing in view of its infiltration and permeabiliy potential.
5. The performance requirements are important – namely, must play be possible today after good rain yesterday or can play be postponed until the surface dries out.
6. What degree of usage is required – the number of hours of active play per week – particularly in the wet winter months


7. Will the budget cope with attention needed in maintaining a intensive drainage system – in particular annual sand dressings at the cost of in the region of £2500 per application.

8. Will essential maintenance be carried out during the playing season and the proper renovation completed in the short period between the end of play and the beginning of the next season starting in August/September.

Budgeting golf course management

Friday, March 26th, 2010

In general most golf clubs simply extend the previous year’s expenditure in preparing forward annual estimates of course maintenance costs.  It is strange that in an enterprise where the income for the year can be fairly well estimated an agreed allocation towards course maintenance cannot be arrived at.  The attitude of keeping the budget as low as possible when trying to maintain a set standard is puzzling.


In view of the magnitude of the task and the challenge to maintain a set standard preparing a five or ten year capital programme becomes a priority.  Sure, new priorities will emerge but major expenditure items should be planned ahead in a systematic programme that should not be changed.  The main capital expenditure involves the equipment and course improvements.


Annual on-course maintenance costs are numerous and are best controlled when they comprise a comprehensive list of the main items of expenditure.  However, it is the further subdividing of these items by the course manager that is the key to the controlling of costs – namely material costs to include fertilisers, soil conditioners, pesticides, seed etc


The value of good well maintained equipment


Equipment determines the outcome of the maintenance exercise.  Without good working units and minimum down time the task facing the greenkeepers can become impossible.  Most of the reasonably well equipped golf courses have in the region of £250000 worth of equipment in the shed.  Depreciating at 20% per year (some hard working equipment should realistically be 33% while others may well be less), at least £50000 must be considered an amount for depreciation and an allowance of this sum annually is essential to maintain the standard or upgrade the equipment.  Yet how often do we see dramatic cut back in this vital investment – with clubs often only purchasing a unit when there is a critical need. 


With the value and sophistication of modern equipment employing a full time fitter/mechanic is fast becoming a real consideration.  Down time becomes easy to value when essential tasks just cannot be done.  Currently a cost effective approach incorporates the adoption of leasing packages now available.  Having a full fleet of good up to date equipment at all times at a reasonable monthly cost ensures the course manager  that he has the resources to do the work.


There is always a need for improvements on the course


To maintain a set standard with all the competition of other local courses annual improvements become an essential consideration.  Whether it is increasing tee surfaces, upgrading the irrigation system, renovating bunkers, extending pathways or improving drainage in greens – there is always something.  Realistically, an amount should be allowed annually and this amount should be part of a five year programme.  Attending to an urgent unplanned need becomes a strain on cash flow.  Furthermore there is often dissension when sudden improvements are at the whim of the current club captain or green committee.



The ever increasing array of materials


Today there is an ever increasing variety of products, services and treatments that can be of benefit on the golf course.  The range of fertilisers, soil conditioners, biotic stimulants and organic supplements alone make the choice for the course manager a difficult one.  In addition to pathway materials, bunker sand, drainage piping and aggregates there is too the full set of golf course equipment of furniture.  The annual shows at Harrogate and Saltex reveal a range of products, services and equipment that can become baffling in their enormity and choice.  The decision is invariably left with the course manager or secretary but the need for the priority budgeting and monitoring of expenditure can become crucial in the management of available funds.


The number one expense – the staff


Labour costs will always account for the major proportion of course maintenance costs.  With the average of five or six green keepers employed on an 18 hole golf course, their well being alone instils the motivation needed to make the maintenance programme a success.  Course managers today play a different role to the head green keeper of the past.  Like a managing director answering to a board, the course manager must produce the results and be accountable.  To do this he must be given full rein to use his initiative within the bounds of management decisions.  Daily directive from the secretary and/or green committee undermines his responsibility and lowers his confidence.  Good green keeping staff produce the results and should be adequately compensated for their work.  They too respond to acknowledgement and the budget should cover adequate presentable protective clothing and scope for further education and capability testing.


  Today, with the increasing awareness of health and safety regulations, the maintenance facility has become a focal point.  Providing neat and comfortable mess facilities as well as adequate and safe storage and workshop space for equipment are now prime requirements.  In fact the upgrading of maintenance facilities has been neglected for far too long.  There is no doubt that a well planned maintenance building contributes much to the moral of the staff – and it is their performance on the course that determines the final presentation.  As in any smooth running operation daily housekeeping plays a major role too.  This too takes time and involves a cost.  A well maintained maintenance facility suggests a well managed golf course.


On-course administration is now vital 


With all the items compiling the annual costs to maintain the golf course, the monitoring and control of costs is as vital to progress on the course as it is to the club’s cash flow.  With annual expenditure varying from £150000 to £500000 proper control can only be attained where a sound recording system operates and the essential facts are collated so that they are immediately available for management decisions.  Relying on inadequate diary entries cannot be satisfactory.  Reporting back to the main club committee on the performance and financial expenditure over the last month is an essential responsibility of the course manager.  Comparing actual costs with budget costs must be the basis of a sound costing system and the correct allocation of item costs can only initiate in the maintenance shed.  .  The whole budgeting exercise takes much time but if done properly it gives greater insight into realistic costing and priority planning.  There are software programmes available but individual requirements differ and the most practical examples seem to be those developed in-house by someone fully involved.

Turfgrass nutrition in winter

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Many have frowned on the application of nutrition in winter – especially nitrogen.  Observing the establishment of a new golf tee that had suffered from inadequate nutrition in the autumn there was healthy and vigorous growth in the location of rabbit droppings.  The grasses sown were a bent and fescue mixture.

Sports pitch drainage – the merits of creating a camber on the playing surface

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Creating adequate surface gradient on sports pitches has been found to be vital to promote surface drainage.  However, existing built-up surroundings and reasonably level locations often make this endeavour impractical.  There are countless examples of cambering pitches in the US and there is limited adoption in some premier football clubs in the UK.  Nevertheless, this simple and economic method of soil profiling is seldom considered in lower level grassed pitches.  Drainage is an essential requirement on winter pitches but the high costs of installing primary and secondary systems and maintaining them with the annual sand dressing required is a major concern to local authorities and private clubs.  Installing a camber becomes a positive initial means of shedding surface water to each side of the pitch before it saturates the topsoil to a significant depth.   The created  outward slopes from the generally level central camber running between goals limits puddle formation, prevents flooding ever occurring and does not affect the game.  With the gentle camber linking side slopes of 1:70 players hardly notice the outward cross gradient.  


Key words: grassed sports pitches, surface drainage, camber, gradient .