Switching from its own in-house greenkeeping team external sports turf maintenance contractor Turf Tonics in 2019 has transformed the fairways at Flackwell Heath Golf Club near High Wycombe.
“At Flackwell Heath we look after everything outside the clubhouse including seeding, deep aeration, mowing and general upkeep of the club’s 6142 yards, par 71 golf course” said Steve Gardner.
“The club’s primary motive was to improve the year-round playability of the course’s wetter fairways which regularly had to be closed during periods of inclement weather due to waterlogging and excessively muddy conditions caused by worm damage,” Colin Wilson of Turf Tonics explains.
It took 12 months of hard work to improve the worst affected fairways: “We started by introducing a fairly aggressive programme of raking to remove as much excess thatch as possible from the worst affected fairways,” Steve describes. “We then overseeded with Germinal’s A5 seed mixture (a 50:50 blend of Escapade perennial ryegrass and Cabrio ultrafine perennial ryegrass) to give the fairways a renewed vigour.
“To the untrained eye Escapade and Cabrio give a similar appearance to a fescue, but, because they don’t develop such a pronounced crown or thick stem, they look much better than comparable ryegrasses grown to a typical fairway height.”
A total of 70g/m2 of seed was sown at the equivalent of seven passes over the initial 12 month period: “We over-seeded approximately 10ha of fairways in Spring 2019, making three passes with a Vredo 214 Compact seeder which placed the seed at 70mm spacings,” Colin explains. “The following autumn we over-seeded again using a Vredo 216 SuperCompact seeder at 35mm spacings in two directions which effectively achieved the same as making four passes with the wider machine. On both occasions, new seedlings emerged within just four days and the fairways were already looking much better. By the start of the following summer we’d successfully kept all 18 holes open despite that winter’s excessively wet weather and we’ve regularly received positive feedback from players who’ve commented that the course not only looks better but also plays better.”
To complement the ryegrass over-seeding programme, Steve and Colin have also focused on the course’s nutrient requirements: “As well as removing as much thatch as possible to enable good seed-to-soil contact, we’ve also ensured the new seedlings have received the necessary nutrients to keep them healthy throughout the year. We’ll typically apply an organic form of nitrogen at a rate of 200kg/ha/year to maintain a healthy rate of grass growth and to inhibit Red Thread, but we’re also using a molasses based liquid fertiliser during the growing-in period and spring to improve plant virility during the colder months when the health of the plants is more important than outright rates of growth.”
In addition to aggressive thatch removal and providing the right nutrients, Steve Gardner also advocates overseeding during the autumn: “Effective thatch removal really is the key to successful over-seeding."