Back to basics

Simon Olver discusses the core maintenance practices which go into making golf courses perform and deliver consistently throughout a golfing year

The aspects of greenkeeping I often discuss look at big picture ideas. While these are key to every course, it’s important to remember that at its heart, greenkeeping is about a programme of core practices whether you’re hosting national championships or weekly sweeps.

What golfers see us doing most, and what takes up the most time, is mowing. We aim to control growth and maintain the surface in a way that’s suitable for golf as frequently as possible. While a simple process to understand, the quality of your machines and routines is key. We work closely with Tom Stidder of Turf Care Equipment Consultant Services and his setup work is fantastic. He ensures we’re running the cylinders and machines at the right speed, with the correct blades in the correct position, and we’re ready to achieve the best quality cut possible. I can’t stress how important it is to get this step right. It’s also vital to set routines. This should include relieving stress on green surrounds by reducing the number of perimeter cuts, choosing rolling over mowing to further relieve stress, and generally having a programme which leads to healthy plants.

After mowing, we look to refine fine turf areas – primarily the putting surfaces.

Verti-cutting – using blades in a vertical position – reduces lateral growth. Grass grows laterally as well as vertically and cutting through this cleanly refines the sward and improves trueness and smoothness. Verti-cutting also helps reduce the amount of grass removed by daily mowing, which leads to greater consistency.

Top dressing – spreading sand or another desired material – done lightly and often also aids trueness by filling in surface inconsistencies. It is also a key tool in diluting organic matter, which I’ll cover next time.

Rolling, or ironing, surfaces is also a key tool. Using weight and smooth rollers, we even out the surface. The turf irons also allow us to not cut as often while maintaining performance, giving the plants time to rest and recover.

Aeration is also key, creating space in the ground for air, water and roots to move and allowing nature to assist in managing organic matter levels. This is generally done with solid tines, though other equipment may be used, which I’ll touch on next time while covering some of the other techniques we can use.

Think of the core processes described here as a diet. The grass takes in all the water and nutrition it can while utilising temperature, and we take it to the gym to ensure it remains strong, healthy and in peak condition. Too much input, or not enough exercise, and it no longer performs – so more invasive steps are required. A holistic, low-maintenance and sustainable approach creates an environment for desirable grasses with fewer invasive practices, producing healthy plants which perform and are tolerant to diseases while managing levels of organic matter and compaction. Ultimately, this leads to long-term performance, less disruption to play, and less time spent undoing hard work.