Data-driven consistency

Now we’re finally into the summer, Ganton course manager Simon Olver looks at how greenkeepers deliver consistent high standards on the golf course

After a long, wet winter it has been great to get into the swing of summer greenkeeping – when our focus switches to delivering consistency and the day-to-day polishing which elevates the golf course to its best.

At Ganton, we work to present the course in tournament condition throughout the year – prioritising consistent presentation from tee to green over a single highlight in the schedule. To do this, we gather measurements daily and use our extensive bank of data to analyse everything we’re doing out on the course.

One of our main priorities at this time of year is regulating growth in fine turf areas to control the way surfaces play throughout a given day, and day to day. We also want to control moisture in order to deliver green firmness and speeds within our target range.

Today, levels of consistency are far greater because of the data we can capture and the tools we can use to interpret this and build programmes of maintenance and inputs. Every day we use the POGO to collect green moisture, surface temperature and soil temperature as well as measuring firmness, smoothness and trueness. On each day we cut the greens, we also measure the volume of clippings from each green to calculate the millilitres of clippings per square-metre of putting surface.

All of this allows us to understand what’s really going on. For example, we know if we’re taking more clippings off, we need to react to maintain smoothness and speed. We also know when specific areas are high or low in terms of moisture and can tailor our irrigation and hand-watering to bring these areas back into the window we’re looking for. How much you can control this depends on the weather conditions as well as the construction and grass composition of your greens – and each site will have a different target range which is achievable for their team.

Basing our decisions on quantifiable data and having a data-driven style of management has been a huge change in the industry. The list of data points we work with – from moisture and speed data to continuing to track things like the height of cut and rainfall – is extensive, but it gives us a far more detailed picture of what’s happening out on the golf course and equips us to achieve consistency across the whole site on a daily, weekly and season to season basis. Add to this our soil sampling programme, which takes place annually and informs how we control organic matter, thatch and sand applications, and we can take an incredibly detailed look at the course and make adjustments to deliver what we’re looking for.

As well as delivering playing surfaces within our target range, it’s essential to stay on top of maintenance so you can deliver your programmes – particularly irrigation. It’s important to check the system is delivering the right amount of water to the right areas – both to keep conditions in your target range and to ensure you’re not wasting water through leaks or by over-saturating areas.

Long gone are the days of chucking a bit of grass in the air and seeing which way the wind is blowing!