STRI agronomic consultant, Gwynn Davies, provides practical guidance for managing your golf course during the outbreak of coronavirus and preparing for recovery.
It goes without saying that dealing with Covid-19 is an unprecedented situation. Advice and guidance is being offered on a daily basis, and requires changes to be made to business operations. It has been encouraging to see industry institutions and governing bodies rallying around to offer support.
Echoing the concern expressed by all, our thoughts are first and foremost on the health and well-being of everyone affected. We are here of course to help support golf club personnel manage a way through this difficult period to ensure that courses can financially recover, and ultimately, survive.
Undoubtedly, many hard decisions will need to be made in relation to the use and maintenance of your course. The following notes offer some practical advice for managing budgets and standards, and considers what options and opportunities are available for both members and greenkeepers.
Daily golf course management
Lets start with the practicalities of managing day-to-day play. How that is managed will depend on whether the club is financially dependent on green fee income or membership dues.
Minimal maintenance should be head of the agenda as staff may be temporarily self-isolating or looking after dependants.
The need for polishing the course and running ‘full throttle’ on daily set up should reduce. The emphasis must be on providing a course which can be enjoyed for ‘social golf’ in a safe environment.
Changes to routine maintenance
With this in mind, what changes to routine set-up maintenance can or should be made? Most labour savings are achieved by reducing mowing frequencies and prioritising greens over other elements, with bunkers and out of play areas of least priority.
Lengthening the time between cuts and backing off on rolling are protective measures. Only rake bunkers to repair animal damage and keep weeds out, or as a more extreme measure – remove some holes from play?
The latter is an interesting thought as it could present an opportunity to open a section of the course to the local community who may wish to access a ‘green space’ in walking distance for exercise or dog walking etc, demonstrating the ecological benefit of a golf course in otherwise urban-locked environments.
Could this be an opportunity to engage as an outreach initiative to the community and even spark interest in taking up the game we all love?
Mowing reduction is a big cost saving item. So, what to do when the grass really starts to grow? With the use of growth regulators, productivity can be slowed on outfield areas like approaches, tees and fairways, with some clubs fortunate enough to extend this into the rough areas too.
The same principle can be applied to greens, thereby reducing the frequency of cut without too much impact on the performance. Reduction in mowing frequency is also achieved by raising the height of cut for all elements. Doing so can even act as an opportunity to favour the better grasses.
Those with the greatest drop off in playing levels will benefit the most in that regard.
Golf course agronomy
Focusing on the agronomics of the situation, many clubs will find themselves questioning which is the correct or best thing to do under the current circumstances. There are certain operations that should not be trimmed and this includes sand topdressing and watering of greens for example, as well as weed control on fairways.
Nitrogen reduction to slow growth must balance the need to maintain sufficient growth for adequate ball support and reduce the risk of moss entry. Higher heights of cut assist with the latter.
Think forward to better times to come and consider getting back to normal later in the summer. This could coincide with a period in the year when course and green renovations are usually planned.
There will be little appetite from the membership to have further interruption to competition golf at all levels, or even accept disruption at a social level. Why not bring renovations forward to now at a time when there are fewer players and no competitions?
Examples of this would be to include refreshing the sand in all the bunkers and utilising the old sand on traffic areas where worm casts may be an issue, intensive renovations (hollow coring/scarifying, heavy topdressing, overseeding) where the pressure to present the surfaces has been removed.
Help with recovery by not cutting them for a week – when has such an opportunity presented itself previously? Now is the time to be proactive to help regain some agronomic ground following the wet autumn of 2017, the “Beast from the East” and drought of 2018. Provide the turf with the resources to recover and leave it alone for best results.
Redevelopment and repair work
Similarly, depending on the length of this current situation, there may be a window in which to do some much needed course redevelopment and repair work. This could involve levelling tees, lifting sunken drain lines, levelling and checking sprinklers, and overseeding or resurfacing heavily trafficked paths.
Clubs may find work on the course for clubhouse staff. The opportunity exists to complete ‘to do’ tasks and be aided by staff who may otherwise be laid off. I believe every employer has a responsibility to help all concerned through these difficult times. The good times will come back.
The challenge to clubs will vary depending on their financial circumstances. Whilst we can’t offer any guarantee that courses will continue to be played, we hope that this will continue with safe controls. This appears to be the case for now and that’s the best news we can hope for.
If you have any questions or comments on this article, contact Gwynn Davies on Twitter.
For agronomic advice at your golf course, contact STRI on +44 (0) 1274 565131 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.