June 5, 2012

Greens Update

We've finally crept into early June, although we've been playing golf for a solid 2 1/2 months already, it might as well feel like its the 4th of July compared to last year. 

Now that the greens have finally healed up from the damage the Poa sustained over the winter and have hopefully established some solid rooting this spring, it is time to start getting a little agressive with the mowing frequency and height.

That means that we were able to get the walk mowers out and going this week.  We have 3 Toro GM1000 walk mowers that I believe are about 12 years old now, but are still plugging along nicely.  Although there have been some significant advances in greens mowers in the last decade, our 45 year old greens don't have any extreme rolls or knobs in them, so we are able to get away with using the fixed head cutting unit of the GM1000 as opposed to the newer flex style head mowers.  While these mowers are a little older, they still provide an extremely true and quality cut.

Utilizing the walk mowers has some very distinct advantages over using the triplex mower.  First and foremost, everyone loves the lines on the greens!  Secondly, the triplex mower tends to create compaction and wear patterns from the tires being on the greens every day, where as the walk mowers won't do that.  Lastly, the quality of cut on the fixed head GM1000 is quite superior to the floating flex heads on the triplex. 

Unfortunately, on a course with a pretty small budget for labor and payroll, we just went from utilizing about 3 man hours every day mowing greens with a triplex, to about 10 hours to do the same job with the walk mowers.  That is a significant increase, but I feel like the increase to the health and quality of the greens is well worth it.

Lots of new guys on the walkers this spring, it is definitely a "practice
makes perfect" sort of skill.  It will certainly take a bit for everyone to
get their lines dialed into lasers.

I don't normally disclose such tight lipped trade secrets like height of cut, but I feel like a little tutorial here would be fun.  We are currently mowing the greens at .140" and will likely creep down to our target height for the summer of .125" (1/8") and may creep down a few more thousandths of an inch on some tournament days to .120" or .115".  Those will only be short term as we will likely stick with that .125" number most of the summer. 

While our mowers are certainly capable of cutting even lower than .100" (1/10") the turf on the greens most certainly would not tolerate that for any length of time.  The lower the plant is being cut, the less leaf surface is present for the plant to photosynthesis with, which means less food for the roots that are already starting to die off during the summer as is.  The shorter the plant is mowed, the smaller and shallower the roots, making the turf less tolerant to drought and heat, and in the long run leads to a much weaker plant that is significantly more prone to be damaged by disease, insects, or just general wear.  There is essentially a very fine line we walk daily between keeping the greens rolling at a decent rate, and mowing too low and killing the greens completely.  For us .125" is our magic number, which should produce green speeds around 9.5 to 10 feet on a relatively daily basis.

Just for comparison, when the USGA introduced the stimpmeter in 1978, the average mowing heigth for a putting green was .180" to .200" and the average green speed was about 7 to 8 feet.  We've gone a long ways downhill, literally, in the last 35 years....

Other factors playing into green speed is surface firmness and uniformity, moisture content of the rootzone, and fertility and overall growth rate of the plant.  All subjects for a later blog. 

Fortuntaly though, we now have much better control of surface firmness with our new Tru Turf roller that we picked up over the winter.  We will likely be rolling greens 3 or so days a week thoughout the summer.  I think everyone will see a pretty dramatic difference in faster, firmer, more consistent greens while also having more healthy turf in the long run.

Kenny Boy getting the hang of the new roller, however he decided
against sporting the umbrella hat for such a monumental occasion.

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