Unusual Turf Problems

The present Covid 19 lockdown has caused society to rethink how things may be undertaken once we return to a “new normal”, whatever and whenever that maybe. This also provides an opportunity to review how golf courses could be managed into the future as this forced time away has allowed a unique opportunity to assess how courses are maintained and how sustainable some of the present practises are.

The lockdown was for a long period relatively speaking when managing fine turf and everyone was understandably worried as we moved into the then “unknown”.

Now we are back and with essential management resumed on golf courses around the country, what did we learn over the 17 days without maintenance?

Some observations post the 17 day period of nil maintenance are summarised below:

For most of the country there was generally a kind weather pattern during the lockdown period.

This was fortunate and it meant that even for the clubs that were unable to apply a pre-lockdown fungicide, disease outbreaks turned out to be less than originally anticipated.

Yes, some disease was seen, but it was interesting to see partial recovery in most instances and the inherent resilience of the turf plants.

                                                                    Figure 4. Growth after 17 days – testing but not unmanageable.

Grass growth on the fairways varied depending on whether they were irrigated or not and the dominant grass species present.

On unirrigated fairways the grass condition would have remained similar to that present
pre-lockdown, as many were severely affected by drought.

On irrigated fairways, growth varied depending on the dominant grass species present. Where ryegrass was dominant, there was extensive growth but where browntop or fescue dominated, the growth was far less and much easier to manage.

                                                                                                         Figure 2. Green Day 7.

                                                                                                         Figure 3. Same location Day 17.

It was apparent that the 1/3  mowing rule was able to be broken by most following this length of time. The less growth than anticipated, combined with the sunny mild conditions meant that the plant crown hadn’t lifted appreciably and so it was possible to remove a lot more than 1/3 of the leaf length without damaging the crown. Hence previous greens cutting heights were able to be quickly restored without any obvious damage or stress on the plant. However, it was observed that where there were localised lush patches a whitish tinge occurred, indicating that too much leaf was  removed. Thus, the benefit of first checking heights was evident.

The immediate green surrounds were probably the area on most courses that grew the faster
than other areas. Some clubs had to adopt novel ways (e.g. first cut with a rotary mower and catchers) to manage the growth and remove the clippings before resuming with reel mowers.

                                                                          Figure 4. Growth after 17 days – testing but not unmanageable.

Grass growth on the fairways varied depending on whether they were irrigated or not and the dominant grass species present.

On unirrigated fairways the grass condition would have remained similar to that present pre-lockdown, as many were severely affected by drought.

On irrigated fairways, growth varied depending on the dominant grass species present. Where ryegrass was dominant, there was extensive growth but where browntop or fescue dominated,the growth was far less and much easier to manage.

                                                                                                  Figure 5. Day 17 Browntop fairway.

                                                                                                           Figure 6. Day 17 Ryegrass fairway.

When looking into the future this small period of no maintenance has perhaps given us all a realistic insight to what the future may hold if restrictions (chemical, water etc) occur and what is really “sustainable” and what isn’t. Most importantly, maintained turf grasses can be far more tolerant of stresses than we might think.

                                           For any turf and training related queries, talk to the team at NZ Sports Turf Institute.