It is just over a week since we returned to the club to once again start playing golf.
With this, we are also aware that the main talking point at the moment is the worms and the course condition.
I think it is important to give some background to the present situation, particularly during these winter months.
Earthworms are considered a ‘beneficial species’ due to the good work they do recycling nutrients within the soil. However, as of September 2017, there are no chemical controls for casting earthworms approved for use on golf courses, leaving greenkeepers with a dilemma as to how to combat them.
What can we do?
To be honest, there is not a quick fix solution. However, the things we have put in place are for long term gains.
Winter Hill GC is built on what used to be farmland and as such has a high organic matter percentage in the soil profile.
After many conversations with various ‘experts’, The British and International Golf Greenkeeping Association (BIGGA) which is the voice for greenkeeping professionals, the decision made is to go down the cultural method and reduce the amount of organic matter and thatch. The reasons behind this are to try and reduce the food the worms feed on, ie thatch and organic matter.
How are we doing this?
Earlier on this year, the golf club purchased a large verti-drain machine, this is a large aerator. In April and again in October, the fairways were ‘hollow tined’. This process takes out cores; these cores are predominantly thatch, thus reducing the thatch in the ground.
The same aerator can be used to solid tine. This is the same process we use for the greens and tees, albeit with a smaller machine. This process is called ‘deep tine aeration’, and this will help drainage and root development. With the roots going deeper there is more access for the plant to find water. This is particularly important in the summer when the course starts to dry out. This should allow us to rely less on the fairway watering system. Excessive watering can lead to thatch build-up and encourage worms to the surface.
Another method we have adopted this year is to ‘box off’ the fairways. This means that we now collect the grass clippings when we cut. To do this we have purchased a new mower as well as grass boxes. The downside is this now takes longer to cut fairways. The reason that we are collecting the grass clippings is again to reduce thatch.
The fairways were sprayed more during the summer months with PGR’s (plant growth regulators) and wetting agents. The PGR’s are used to slow the growth of the fairways, and the wetting agent allows us to use less water.
On top of this, where conditions allow, the fairways are being brushed to disperse the worm casts.
What is the long term plan?
The long term plan is to carry on with the processes above, reducing the thatch and organic matter in the soil. However, If something comes to market that we can legally use, we will.
It is important to note that we share your frustrations. There is nothing more soul-destroying than seeing the course look and play so well in the summer, yet in the winter have the challenges we do. The Greenkeepers are working incredibly hard and doing all they can. If anything, it has made maintaining the course so much harder. Every process now takes much longer than it used to.
This though is an industry-wide problem and many other golf courses are in the same situation. If you play another course that does not have worms, the reason for this will be:
The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association Ltd (BIGGA) have produced an information poster and a four-page leaflet discussing this issue. Please use the links to download these materials. If you wish to explore further reading, please see below: