November 2000

This month we have a guest 'Course Doctor' as temporary replacement for Jimmy Kidd who is recovering from an illness. Stuart Ashworth is Technical Manager with Amenity Technology of Reading, a post he is eminently suited to with a degree in Soil Science and many years experience in the field of sports ground maintenance and golf course management.

Q. 1) We have just had three new holes built at our golf course and the contractors left the site two weeks ago. We expected the results to look a little bedraggled given the wet weather but were not prepared for the amount of pebbles/stones that are lying on the surface and the eruption of weed growth that has occurred. We have got about 50% grass coverage on the fairways at present - is this normal and what should we do about it if not?

Stuart Ashworth: The amount of stones on the surface could be for two main reasons, bad finishing from the contractor or soil washing away in the heavy rain leaving the stones behind. If it is the latter, which is most likely, then there is a good chance that much of the ungerminated grass seed will have gone with it allowing the weeds to get a hold. If it is due to poor workmanship then this needs to be taken up with the contractor. It is important to check contract document with contractor to see if any provision is made for such conditions and make sure that they are obliged to come back and remedy the situation.
If the situation is to be dealt with 'in house' then some provision has to be made to remove the stones either by employing another contractor or using your own staff. Come spring, the site can be sprayed with a selective weed killer, making sure to choose one that is not harmful to young seedlings, and new seed be applied if the sward coverage has not increased to approximately 75%. It may also pay to make an application of pre seed fertiliser to help speed up the establishment process.

Jonathan Charles Gaunt: Every time it rains on a newly sown area the soil gets washed through and gives the impression of stones rising to the surface. It is very rare to find soil that does not contain stones and so the golf course contractor has to either remove the stones from the soil or, more usually, bury them beneath the tilth. As the 'grow in' progresses it is entirely natural for the stones to appear and it is standard procedure for a manual 'stone pick' to be carried out by the contractor once there is about three quarters sward coverage established. Therefore I would suggest that you need not be alarmed at this point, especially in the contractor is tied to a 'maintenance contract' which means that the contractor will cut and prepare all grass areas three or four times before handing over to greenkeeper. Therefore it is in the contractor's own interest to remove as many stones as possible before allowing their precious grass cutting machinery onto the site.
Weeds should similarly not cause undue worry; they are mostly annuals and will soon disappear once regular close mowing is underway.

Ingrid Eichler: Firstly we must all appreciate that the recent weather has been exceptional. The example given might have been left in perfect order but with little grass cover to hold the tilth together the 'fines' are washed out, this is totally normal but with more rainfall the situation is exacerbated. Any golf course constructor who values their work will have a contract to come back to the site in the Spring in order to pick stones and finish off, this is not possible in the wet conditions and is not desirable until further grass coverage is established.
Weeds should not now be coming through with the advent of colder weather but come spring the weeds will be the first to show, do not panic! After the close cutting regime is established the weeds will disappear as they cannot stand cropping to low levels. It often seems that a project must appear to go backwards before it goes forwards, this is often alarming to the client but is thoroughly normal and you should leave well alone at the moment. If you have 50% grass coverage now it will more than hold its own in the spring.

Q. 2) During the recent floods our golf course was almost entirely submerged. Now that the flood waters are abating we are left with a golf course that is covered with silt - great smears across the greens, tees and fairways - and the bunkers appear to have been completely destroyed. What is the best course of action now?

Stuart Ashworth: First step is to check with the insurance company to see what, if anything, is covered.

1. Greens/Tees. Remove as much of the silt as is physically possible with shovels etc. trying not to damage the sward as recovery will be slow at this time of the year. If the contamination is particularly bad then shallow hollow coring of the greens and removal of the material off site should be considered. The greens should not be top dressed at this time of year due to disease pressures. The frequency of operations would depend upon the amount of contamination, weather and playing commitments.

2. Fairways. Try to remove as much silt as possible so as not to suffocate the grass and then slit or spike as often as possible through the winter months.

3. Bunkers. If you are insured and have a lot of damaged bunkers then, because of the labour implications, it would pay to get an outside contractor to do these repairs. If not then you need to remove all the material left in the damaged bunkers down to the drainage laterals. The drainage laterals should be cleaned out and any re shaping work be carried out. The old sand should not be used as it may be contaminated with silt and only new sand should be put back in.

Jonathan Charles Gaunt: Ideally the silt should be irrigated thus creating a solution that will wash away. However, given the likelihood of frosts and further rain this option becomes difficult. Therefore the silt needs to be brushed off as much as, and as soon as, possible. If not then there is the real risk that the moisture build up will kill the underlying sward which has little or no growth at this time of year and thus unable to break through the silt layer. Disease is also more likely as the layer will not allow air movement around the sward. Getting rid of the silt will result in a thorough mess but sometimes you just have to be 'rough' to cure the problem. The bunkers are another costly problem, the sand must be replaced entirely and, while you are at it, you might also want to look at replacing bunker drainage.

Ingrid Eichler: The answer to this question is largely dependent upon where you are and the current state of the soil. If it is too wet and you go in too early you can end up doing more harm than good. With such a problem the answer is mostly a case of extreme hard work to carefully scrape the silt away to allow for air movement, the resulting mess will be discouraging but should eventually disappear as the grass grows through and the silt is washed away.
The bunkers will need to be dug out to the sub base and from there you can assess whether the drainage is still viable. Also you might ask yourselves whether the bunkering on the course needs upgrading - while in such a mess this would be a less disturbing time to rebuild them. New sand is an absolute must as the current sand will be thoroughly contaminated and useless for bunkers. In short this whole project will involve a lot of hard work which can be undertaken by the greenstaff but might well require outside assistance if the scale of the job is too large. A very disheartening situation but one that can, (with an optimistic outlook!), be viewed as a good opportunity to evaluate course quality as a whole.