Crowborough Beacon Golf Club

SHOULD WE IRRIGATE THE GREENS IN MARCH?

As March fades into April and we approach the clocks changing and the start of the proper golfing season, the sun's warmth gets ever stronger and we start to hope that we can suddenly switch from winter into summer without any real spring. Oh that it was that simple, transforming the golf course from its winter wear and tear into its summer splendour. Sadly it's just not that simple as only this week we have had freezing overnight temperatures and another couple of miserable days of rainfall.  This coincided with the slow recovery of the greens after some heavy Verti-Draining, the first we have done in quite a while. Suggestions were made that perhaps we could turn the sprinklers on in an attempt to 'smooth the greens out' in time for the weekend competition? Not a lone suggestion apparently, so perhaps this view is shared by a wider audience than we first feared. So, for the interested members amongst you, here's a few comments about the sense in irrigating golf greens in March.


The suggestion first  arrived in the Office as the Met Office weather forecast accurately predicted overnight rain and low temperatures for Monday night. After 5mm of rainfall overnight on Monday, it was still raining Tuesday morning. The Tuesday night weather forecast accurately predicted showers and more rain forecast over the next few days, Thursday certainly. Heavy outbreaks of rain maybe on Saturday. Combined with temperatures as low as -2 forecast out in the suburbs, at 750’ at Crowborough that’s probably a minimum.


The reality is that nobody with any knowledge of fine turf grass would contemplate irrigating golf greens in March, especially when temperatures are falling to zero or below overnight. As other articles have suggested before, strangely enough all written in March, patience is what is required. The same patience that is required at this time each and every year. Grass simply doesn’t grow with any vigour until day time temperatures are consistently above 45 degrees F and preferably above 50 degrees F, but even then night time frosts can stop growth dead in its tracks. Dry soil warms up quicker than wet soil so it helps enormously to keep the soil dry coming out of winter, just as much as it is important to keep the greens as dry as possible going into autumn. Grass growth simply can’t be forced in spring by either fertiliser or irrigation. Warmth is the only thing that really matters and, like it or not, you just have to be patient.


There are number of really interesting books on turf grass maintenance, and they'll all say the same thing. At this time of year there’s nothing we can do to speed up nature. Rather than improve recovery as some may think, irrigating greens would simply set us back. David Stansfield, our long time agronomist did give a fairly succinct reply when asked the question, and added "...just take comfort in that it will soon be April!"


Making the greens wet again, so soon after they’ve begun to dry out, after they have been wet for months, simply to help compact and roll the surface smooth after the deep tining makes no sense at all. It’s almost the other side of the summer suggestion, one  that we look forward to receiving in July, that we should water the greens when they’re firm so that a ball can make a pitch mark and stop on the green.


You may care to see a Template Course Maintenance Policy provided by the Home Unions to help educate golf club committees regarding the use of Irrigation which includes;-


It is not advisable to use the system in the cold dry conditions of early spring as the cold wet greens so provided inhibit growth.


The prime function of the watering system is to allow survival of the grasses on the greens and surrounds in times of relative drought.  It should not be used to provide ‘target golf’.


The interesting article here is worth re-reading about the rate of grass growth

It includes this relevant piece;- 

“As a general rule Poa starts growing around a soil temp of 5 degrees, mainly due to its shallow roots warming up quicker. Bents start to grow at around 6 degrees and Fescues which are deeper rooting at around 6.5 degrees, with a general guide that consistent growth of all grass species starts in earnest when soil temperatures are above 7 degrees.  It should also be remembered that soil temperatures are very slow to respond, so the odd warm day in March and April will have little effect on raising soil temperatures.  And wetter ground is slower to warm up than dry soil.  The major requirement is for good average temperatures, where night time temperatures are not dropping below 5 degrees and a consistent day time temp above 12 degrees over a sustained 2-3 week period will allow the soil temperatures to start to rise.”


27th March 2015





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