The R&A - Working for Golf

Managing for healthy grass

Implementing basic turf management principles gives reliability and performance.

Developing true, firm, dry and healthy playing surfaces should always be the primary objective of any turf management programme.

Golf courses vary greatly around the world in terms of their soils, grasses, climates and available resources. Turf Management as such, can never be a prescriptive one-size-fits-all discipline. Yet despite this great diversity, there are still several key principles which, if adopted and applied, will always help to deliver healthy growing conditions, high standards of playing surface and reduced annual management costs:

  • Using native grass species. Maintaining turf species - usually native grasses - which are best suited to your particular climate, soil type and water availability will significantly reduce your requirement for additional maintenance inputs such as fertilisers and chemicals. There will also be less climatic stress and pressure from pests and diseases. Working closely with an agronomist or consultant will help you to determine the best options for your particular golf course
  • Understanding water. Efficient and effective water management is a prerequisite for growing healthy grass. A good water management programme is about striking the right balance between irrigation inputs and practices to promote good drainage. Giving the grass the water it needs, but neither more nor less than this, is a fine art and an approach which can be greatly assisted through implementing a good monitoring programme and working with modern technology. Modern computerised irrigation systems can allow irrigation to be applied accurately down to the second
  • Promoting natural soil biology. Good greenkeeping is based on good soil husbandry.  A vibrant soil biology will support healthy grass.  Providing adequate nutrition through the promotion of natural processes in the soil and, where necessary, a little supplemental feeding, should produce only enough grass for the desired standard of playing surface. Good surfaces for golf are based on the quality of grass, not the quantity.  Excessive lush growth, from the over-application of water and fertilisers, can be very costly to control and can also make your course more susceptible to outbreaks of pests and diseases
  • Managing organic matter. Over-use of water and fertilisers can promote excessive organic matter  accumulation, leading to soft, wet surfaces which play poorly for the golfer. Such unhealthy surfaces can also dry out very rapidly in hot weather, resulting in undesirably hard surfaces and uncontrollable bounce of the golf ball. Preventing the over-accumulation of organic matter should be a key aim of your management programme. Minimal watering and feeding, combined with mechanical removal of excess material and subsequent applications of sand-based top-dressing, can go a long way towards building a healthy soil profile.  Desirable soil microbes require oxygen to thrive and excessive thatch is not conducive to this provision
  • Controlling shade. All closely mown turf, particularly greens and tees, needs plenty of air movement and good access to sunlight. Improving the growing conditions for your turf may require you to look at shading (tree management) and topographical layout. These issues are easiest to assess during the design phase of the project

Working to keep the grass on your golf course as healthy as possible throughout the year is a key management decision. Unhealthy grass will be wholly reliant on water, fertiliser and pesticides and extremely costly to maintain. In addition to the financial issues this creates, there are also growing environmental and social cases against such intensive approaches to management.

It is extremely important to outline the aims, objectives and strategy of your turf management programme in a  Course Policy Document, which usually covers a five year period.