Remarkable! This time last year the hosepipe ban was in full swing and it was pouring with rain. Now the sun is shining and forcing a rapid flush of growth everywhere around the course, with members crying plaintively that they are routinely losing sleeves of balls in the rough.
Keeping on top of all that sprouting grass is the main task for everyone who works on the course. Greens are mown daily; tee boxes twice a week; semi-rough, approaches and fairways once a week and the rough given a fortnightly strimming.
The best time to cut the greens is when they have thoroughly dried out from any early morning dew that might be on them, but that is impossible as members and guests would not be too thrilled at waiting for one of the greenkeepers to finish his mowing before hitting an approach shot, so work has to start at 07.00 before play begins.
All the greens will have been mown by 08.45 and, on a monthly basis, given their vitamin feed of iron and seaweed. Seaweed is probably the last thing that people think of buying when they visit their local garden centre but it does wonderful things to grass and is also a sustainable resource that can be harvested without damaging the environment.
The iron and seaweed mixture increases resistance to disease and also gives the grass an attractive colour. Those verdant, super slick greens seen on TV every March at Augusta may be a joy, both to look at and putt on, but the cost is huge and the intense fertilising and reliance on fungicides is hardly good for the environment.
In Denmark, since 2003, the use of pesticides on golf courses has been banned, and there is pressure from the EC to consider extending it. The Danish experience took time to settle in particularly on championship courses where poa grass had been cut extremely short, and intensively watered, to deliver the fast greens demanded for the target golf of tournament golf. The roots died leaving a thick layer of what is known as ‘thatch’ beneath the surface leading to soft, moist surfaces more reminiscent of a sponge than a putting green.
Finer grasses, more resistant to disease and much more economical to maintain, were planted. So now the best courses offer slick surfaces even on clay and parkland areas, not just on free draining links.
The R&A course management team are very keen to see this environmentally friendly policy adopted throughout the UK. Club members and visitors will be pleased to hear that it already forms the cornerstone of course management at Royal Ashdown Forest.