Contributed By: Dave Edmondson BSc (Hons), Head Greenkeeper
2018 has seen unusually prolonged periods of extremely dry weather with Met Eireann declaring the country in drought status, in conjunction with Irish water enforcing hosepipe restrictions domestically. The lack of precipitation has been extremely challenging for turf professionals and has thrown up many challenges along the way.
At the Island, we are lucky enough to possess a Davis Vantage Pro Weather station which has been excellent for collecting weather data. The unit itself monitors temperature, rainfall, wind speeds, solar radiation and evapotranspiration (ET), allowing us to maintain excellent records. It is interesting to note that through the drought period we received only 5.5mm of rain from the 10th of May until the 20th of July. Thankfully, rainfall has hit the links recently with a reading of 22.4mm falling on Friday the 20th of July and 33mm falling the following weekend (28th /29th July). In conjunction with high evapotranspiration rates, this lack of rainfall has led to huge soil moisture deficits in our area. This has only been enhanced with being based on free draining links sands.
During such periods of drought, it is essential to provide firm and fast true links conditions while having a huge focus on sustainability and good practice in order to promote and preserve the fine native links grasses that provide us many benefits, not only from a playing perspective but from an agronomic perspective also.
For the purpose of this blog post, I would like to highlight what measures have been carried out and performed during the drought of 2018 at The Island GC.
Promoting native links grasses
Through best management practices and with a little help of overseeding at the correct times of the year fescue and bent grasses are the predominant species here. These grasses are extremely drought tolerant and require minimal surface disruption to provide good year-round playing surfaces. Poa annua is discouraged at all costs.
Fescue/Bent turfgrass requires less water, due to their deep rooting characteristics, in addition to requiring minimal fertiliser, pesticide and aggressive maintenance practices. On the other side of the coin, Poa annua is shallow rooted, requires larger amounts of nutrition, water, fertiliser and pesticide. This species of grass is also extremely susceptible to fusarium and Anthracnose; these require expensive fungicide to combat. It also produces significant seed heads in the spring, which can affect surface smoothness. Poa annua accumulates higher levels of organic matter, which requires large quantities of sand and disruptive cultural practices to maintain levels within acceptable levels.
During periods of drought, it would be unethical and bad practice to overwater links courses. Water should be applied on a minimalist level, just to keep the turf alive. Through the summer period, the links grasses on all areas aside from greens and tees went into a dormant state. Deep rooting links grasses have a shutdown mechanism that allows them to survive prolonged drought. The majority of our water will be targeted towards gathering landing zones for divot recovery and towards key playing areas (Greens and tees). Coming out of a drought, the native links grasses will green up naturally once precipitation falls.
The use of soil moisture meters in conjunction with hand watering where possible
Soil moisture probes allow the turf professional to monitor surfaces for volumetric water content constantly. Drying uniformity throughout putting surfaces can be a little inconsistent at certain times of the year, so we tend to focus our hand watering on slopes and high parts of greens, while leaving the lower lying areas that naturally retain more moisture. This is great for water conservation and providing consistent surface firmness. It is a time-consuming task, but I believe it is key in providing surface consistency on the links.
Recently we purchased a Pogo moisture meter which in short, works by a green staff member taking moisture readings throughout a green surface. This collected information is fed back to a smartphone or tablet and is then sent into an internet cloud. Once in the cloud, all surfaces have been digitally mapped, and each reading from its exact GPS location can be viewed on an overhead map. This helps us make key decisions for the next day’s watering. Pogo is also useful for tracking pin locations, and we use this information when setting these, as to spread the wear properly and to also stay away from areas prone to drying quickly.
Wetting agents (Surfactants).
Being based on free draining sands water retention is key through the summer months. Generally applied on a monthly basis (although some will last longer) these products help us retain moisture in the rootzone. They are particularly useful in providing moisture content uniformity and enhanced infiltration after heavy rainfall events. Without the use of these on the links, we would be prone to conditions such as soil hydrophobicity, fairy ring and dry patch, which would affect surface quality.
Throughout the past couple of years, we have been utilising the latest seed technology. Initially developed for regions prone to forest fires, with no irrigation, seed coats were developed to re-establish lost vegetation. Such technology has now moved into golf. The mentioned seeds are individually coated with a small amount of nutrient and wetting agent. This drastically reduces the need for water during establishment. In a links scenario, this is ideal and has worked well for us using minimum water inputs.
2018 has been an extremely challenging year for many turf professionals and continues to be in many situations. I have seen so many social media posts of late relating to irrigation system problems and this year has undoubtedly been testing in our industry. Please bear in mind that a lot of hard work goes into producing good year-round playing surfaces. As a profession, I feel many have been “up against it” in many ways, so please: next time you see a member of your greenstaff out there on the course, give them a smile and a wave, I’m sure he or she will appreciate it.