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Disturbance Theory reloaded

Features, Sport / 31st January 2018

by @striturf_richw and @striturf_adamn

STRI’s anthology, ‘Disturbance Theory’, provided strategies for managing sward composition of putting surfaces. Ten years on, senior agronomists Adam Newton and Richard Windows, review how our thoughts have changed in the intervening years.


Disturbance Theory – MK1

To belatedly celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Disturbance Theory, and help reinvigorate the subject of grass species composition, we are updating the articles but with a modern twist. Some of the faces behind the articles are new and therefore we are looking at them with a fresh set of eyes. Our plan is to interrogate the original articles and reconsider them with the benefit of experience.





Game changers

The greenkeeping industry has changed significantly in ten years. There are better machines from mowers, rollers, top dressers and refinement equipment all making the various greenkeeping jobs easier and more efficient to achieve. The range of materials have changed with some pesticides being lost and others gained.

Worm control and insect grub chemicals have gone but growth regulators and graminicides have been gained. The fungicide iprodione is due to removed later on in 2018 and with this goes the last contact fungicide meaning a preventative approach is now the sole method of disease control.

Grass cultivars constantly improve and those at the top of the BSPB Turfgrass Seed Booklet ten years ago have been superseded by yet better cultivars. So, do these changes make us think differently about elements of the Disturbance Theory? We will develop these points in the articles.





Team changes

The process of agronomy has changed over the past ten years. Of course, the STRI Agronomy Team has changed with plenty new faces; many with practical experience of greenkeeping along with the experienced old hands.

STRI now has a global reach, with the experience within the group extending into different climatic regions, a wider range of sports and therefore a larger pool of information to draw upon. For agronomy, the biggest change has been the introduction of objective data into the agronomy process. We now measure playing and agronomic performance as part of routine agronomy.

What we now call the STRI Programme was born out the Disturbance Theory and was developed following greenkeeper feedback asking us how do we measure progress. This, among other things, led us to develop the STRI Programme method of agronomy.

Since its launch in 2010, we have objective measurements from major golf championships plus a huge amount of data (over 10,000 measurements from over 2,500 greens) routinely taken from our golf course agronomy visits. We will look at the Disturbance Theory against the additional scientific knowledge we have gained through the process of objective measurements.

With data comes improved understanding of the situation. Combine this with better education for greenkeepers over the past decade. There are more degrees, more people with professional qualifications such as BASIS, FACTS etc. and all this brings better analysis and questioning to the thought process. This improved knowledge can be used to better interrogate the principles of the Disturbance Theory.





Climate change

All these issues could be considered the positive changes, of course there are more. However, there have been some negative changes. None more so than the weather perhaps due to the changing climate.

There have certainly been more extremes of wet, short periods of dry and more intensive storms. These issues provide great challenges to golf, especially in vulnerable parts of the country. Allied this with threats to the game itself with participation dwindling and ongoing issues regarding the time it takes to play the game.

The combined effects put pressure on golf facilities and therefore those that manage them. Add to this the threat of tighter regulation and potential loss of more materials such as iprodione, how do these threats make us think about the Disturbance Theory?

Perhaps with these issues in mind, the burning platforms have been created to encourage greater focus towards sward species composition change. With this comes playing surfaces that are more sustainable to manage, are less vulnerable to changes in weather and offer more consistent surfaces that can support year-round play.




Sociological change

The final change over the past decade has been the use of digital media within the wider world and the greenkeeping industry. Originally the articles were published in printed form over various publications and not necessarily in the order they were written. Dissemination, comment and feedback was sought via roadshows throughout the country.

Now the articles will be distributed with the aid of various forms of digital platforms through the STRI websites and social media channels. With these methods, it is hoped the articles reach a wide audience and aspects of discussion can be made more easily.

We do hope you enjoy the articles and find them interesting and thought provoking. Improving greenkeeping practices, allowing the production of better playing surfaces and helping you achieve your goals is our passion and we hope the re-release of the articles will help play a part.