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I’m a Greenkeeper – Get me out of Here!

Features, News, Sport / 4th December 2018

I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here is on TV so that means Christmas is just around the corner, yet many areas of sportsturf are still reeling from the 2018 UK heatwave and remain devoid of grass density. STRI agronomy manager, Paul Woodham, sits around the campfire and discusses the trials and tribulations of the summer.



Summer madness

Whilst golfers sweltered in the summer heatwave and enjoyed the fast running conditions of parched dormant growth conditions, greenkeepers across the UK battled to maintain sward density, manage disease and retain sufficient rootzone moisture.


Typically however, little thought was being given at the time to the long-term impact of drought and intense heat stress, and how recovery would unfold from what many have referred to as a ‘one in fifty summer’.


Parched turfgrass on the golf course


Heatwave history

The last major drought causing heatwave in the UK was in 1976, during which, temperatures exceeded 30⁰C over 18 consecutive days.


There are very few greenkeepers and groundsmen still actively working in 2018 who experienced this firsthand, but the memories of this time remain vivid for those that were.


It is interesting to learn after speaking to turf professionals now retired from the industry that full surface recovery was not seen until two years later.


Fulford Golf Club exhibiting great course management during the heatwave



Sports venues already operating on a tight budget, are unlikely to have made provisions within the annual maintenance at the start of the year for recovering major drought damage. As such, dealing with the challenges of this years weather conditions will have had a direct impact on annual spend.


Purchase of additional resources such as wetting agent treatments, seed, turf for repair of heat and wear damaged areas, as well as the cost of purchasing additional supplies of mains water, will have had to be accounted for.


It would be reasonable therefore to expect 2018 budgets to have depleted contingency allowances, and to have required >5% increase on the projected budget. Additional monies may have been taken from other areas of the course or club budget.




Recovery of unirrigated areas without overseeding has been very slow, and to compound issues, disease activity such as anthracnose has led to further damage and sward thinning.


Dead and decaying swards have commonly left a choking layer of plant matter on the surface whilst underlying thatch/soils remained dust dry and frequently hydrophobic heading into autumn.


You can see why recovery has been unreliable. Even seeded areas have struggled, especially in sectors where protection from wear is not afforded.




What’s next?

Worm cast activity is waiting to add to the issues of bare ground, especially in heavily played areas.


Thin swards and forecasted wet weather conditions will be the trigger for moss and algae issues and who knows what spring 2019 will throw at the poor greenkeeper.


Wet conditions will be the trigger for moss and algae


These are challenging times and player expectations are unlikely to be too understanding.


Sympathy and seed will be required, also taking a good look at next years budget to ensure that there is an adequate level of support for many of the traditional maintenance operations which have also become a casualty of trimmed budgets.


Make sure your venue understands the challenge ahead and identifies the resources and actions which will be needed. This next ‘one in fifty year weather’ may well be 2019!




If you have any thoughts on this article, you can contact me on Twitter @striturf_paulw.


For information on STRI consultancy services, call +44 (0) 1274 565131 or email enquiries@strigroup.com.