7th April

Hi All,

Another week of lock down and furlough for many, life is tough for people used to being outside. Probably just when we didn’t need it, the weather has picked up, air and soil temperatures have risen sharply and growth will kick off in earnest, not least on outfield height turf. This will undoubtedly present a real headache for clubs were the furlough numbers are set low, maybe too low to cope with a week when we put on 40 – 50 GDD ?

In fairness it is difficult to know where to set the bar in this new world order.

We then have the equally thorny issue of what constitutes ‘essential maintenance’

Again this one is difficult to put together in a ‘one size hat fits all’ type solution. Certainly in terms of number of cuts per week, the potential use of a PGR to lock down areas where lack of staff means maintenance is impossible to undertake effectively and further down the line maybe (with no play and therefore no wear), surface organic matter maintenance.

Across the North Sea in my Motherland Denmark, the Danes have taken the bold step to re-open golf on a 1-2 ball basis provided the participants are from the same household. Now it is worth remembering that Denmark was one of the first European countries to go into lock down and their Covid-19 figures have been stable for a number of days.

They are in a very different situation to us in terms of the timeline for dealing with this virus and they have a population density half of ours (134 vs. 274 people per km). Time will be their judge on whether this is a well-thought out move or a premature one but who knows it could serve as a template for our industry. There are many arguments for and against, not least that opening up a golf course for such limited play isn’t worth the potentially increased risk of person to person transfer. On a lesser note, it also means maintenance has to be stepped up for a very low return for the golf club in question economically. Like I say time will tell….

There are some key stages in this crisis. We are in stage 1, where the emphasis is on getting it under control, number of infections and deaths stabilised and above all, buying our NHS service time to cope with the demand and its lack of resources. That said, we will at some point need to start looking at stage 2 and this throws up similar questions to what the Danes are asking themselves now…where do we go from here once we have achieved this ? How long can a government fund furlough ? How long will our economy be able to cope with such a profound downturn before it is irreparably damaged ? The Danes are looking into relaxing their lock down situation over the coming weeks and to put a proposal to the people at the end of this week. Maybe we can learn from their experiences, good or bad as we hopefully reach the same point in the coming weeks, months ?

It isn’t all negative, there has been some upsides to this whole Corona virus situation, a revival of a sense of community (my Close like many others has started a Whatsapp group and it’s been brill), an over-subscribed call for volunteers to help the NHS and many local and national initiatives. One chap round the corner from me has re-purposed his 3D Printers to make face screens for local shops, care homes and the NHS.

The concept of holding meetings will never be the same again with the advent of Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Last week I sat in on a 2 hr research meeting hosted by a U.K University, involving attendees from across Europe. Normally this would have entailed air travel, hotels, car travel and the like, but this time we did it on Teams and it worked great. There will be a big environmental benefit from decreased travel and increased video conferencing when this is all over, but of course there will be losers from this as well.

For my own selfish part, if I can avoid just one Stansted redeye on Ryanair , I’ll be absolutely delighted as it is surely the most impersonal experience known to mankind.

Continuing the positive vibes, it looks like 2 out of 4 of my Hedgehog survived the Badger incursion into my garden with two dying. I’ve shored up defences and have installed a can trap to alert me of any future incursions (hopefully it’ll also dissuade some of the neighbours cats from visiting at the same time 🙂 )

As I was undertaking my single permitted outside exercise of the day recently I noted that old Viking invader, Danish Sea Scurvy (white flowering plant on edge of roadsides), in full flower. It tends to coincide with a GDD figure of around 100-120 from January 1st over here in The Midlands, so I’d say it is a reliable predictor to the start of Poa annua seedhead development, but more so the annual rather than the perennial biotype.

It is an interesting and very successful plant, not least because it is able to grow in the areas that have received very heavy salt loadings during the winter from gritting lorries. It can do this because it is a halophyte, a plant species tolerant of salt. I did my last years thesis at College on germination of another halophyte, Crambe Maritima (Sea Kale), so halophytes are kind of close to my heart 🙂

OK onto the weather and grass…

General Weather Situation

So we start the week with low pressure to the north west of the U.K ushering in a south westerly air stream and one slightly cooler than the balmy ‘Sunday’ we enjoyed yesterday. There’s been some rain around as well and will continue to be with a line of showers heading across the U.K & Ireland as we speak. As we go through this week high pressure will push up from the south and this will confine any rain to the north and west of Scotland through to mid-week. It will also usher up some warmer day temperatures  particularly through Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. As we go past mid-week, things start to take on a bit more of a cooler and unsettled theme, beginning across Ireland and extending into the U.K for the end of the week with cooler temperatures and more risk of rain through the latter part of Thursday. By Friday we will see rain across the west of the U.K and this will then track eastwards across the U.K. This cooler, wetter, more unsettled theme will extend into the weekend with a change in the wind from south west / westerly to north west (a godsend for the government then as the entitled Snowflakes won’t want to get their quiffs wet in the park at the weekend or smudge their make up). Saturday doesn’t look particularly wet, but it will feel cooler because of the wind direction but Sunday sees rain push into the north west of Scotland and England and track south and east across country through the day.

This rain is tracking down the right-hand shoulder of an Atlantic high pressure system and this feature seems to be a theme for the weather in April.

Weather Outlook

Above is the projected GFS output for next Monday and as you can see we have a very warm Atlantic high pressure sitting out in The Atlantic ushering in warm westerly wind across Ireland and the south of the U.K. Scotland and the north of the U.K will continue with that cooler and unsettled theme with a north westerly air stream. As we progress through the first part of next week, that warm high pressure tries to assert itself over the U.K, so that means dry and settled however the position of the high pressure is key and there’s a suggestion it may pull easterlies in from the continent, so not particularly warm during the day. As we move into Thursday, that high pressure is projected to slink off south east towards the continent and that’ll allow a cooler and more unsettled theme to establish. There’s actually a lot of disagreement from mid-week, next week in the various GFS / ECMF projections with some pointing towards a much cooler and unsettled for the end of next week / weekend.

Agronomic Notes

Growth Spike

The first thing I’m going to talk about this week is the most pertinent and that is growth or more specifically, this week’s growth spike. I’ve put together last week’s and this week’s GDD / G.P prognosis from the same location in the south of England and you can see the change of fortunes we are now facing…

This time last week, we were looking at a total GDD projection for the next 7 days of 11GDD, that’s just over 1.5GDD per day. This week the stats are for a projected 53 GDD for the week at this location, averaging out as just under 8GDD a day.

If you want to speak in Growth Potential terms then last week we had a total projection for the week of 1.4, which means 0.2 G.P per day. This week the figures are for a total G.P of 5.0 for the week, averaging out at 0.7 per day or thereabouts. So cool season grasses will be growing at about 70% of their optimum at this location.

Comparing stats for last week and this week it looks like this ;

                                 w/c 30/3                         w/c 06/04

GDD / G.P                        GDD / G.P 

ENGLAND               11 / 1.4                            53 / 5.0                     

IRELAND                 11 / 1.4                            41 / 3.8

SCOTLAND               8 / 1.1                            25 / 2.2

WALES                    11 / 1.4                             41 / 3.8

Now obviously I’m limited to picking one location per country in this exercise but I don’t think that’s a particular handicap as you can see the extent of the increase, with the south of England one of the highest, Wales and Ireland just behind and Scotland the least. It also effectively highlights why ‘one size hat doesn’t fit all’ in terms of trying to fit a specific number of cuts per week is difficult. If you are maintaining a golf course on heavy, fertilie soil in The Midlands for example, you’ll be seeing your roughs, cut rough, fairways, bunker banks etc. motoring away. Less so in the north of England / Scotland. The same would be the case for racecourses, football / winter season pitches and cricket outfields.

I think the majority of growth we will see will be on higher-height-of-cut turf because fine turf will be less affected and particularly where Poa is involved. This run of cooler and drier weather from mid-March has put most Poa on its backside, so we will have to wait for some rain to kick this one off. (We missed Sunday nights rain here in The Midlands)

If the changing weather synopsis for next week comes to pass and we end up with an easterly wind direction / cooler end to the week then that should reduce the amount of growth generated. So at this stage it looks like a temporary rather than sustained growth spike.

GDD Summary – March 2020 – Thame Location

As is usual for the first blog of the month, I’ll do a quick look back at how March panned out from a GDD perspective.

Well, March 2020 will go down as a pretty cool one with a total GDD figure of 38 measured for the month. This was predominantly due to the north east and easterly wind direction pulling in dull and cold weather, particularly for the 2nd half of the month.

One interesting point to observe with March is that it produced less GDD than both February and January individually so if we were in a normal year and looking at March renovation, you’d be waiting an age for anything to happen because growth has been pretty limited. On the flip side, if you did squeeze in an aeration in January, you have had pretty good growing conditions through January and February to gain recovery. (We must remember that most sites were extremely wet though during this period)

Cumulatively for the year, 2020 is tracking as a so-so year, not exactly a good growing season, but not as as bad as some of those extended winter years like 2010, 2013, etc.

Once again my thanks to all of the contributors both in the U.K and Ireland for sharing their weather stats and allowing me to put together these graphs. It is and always will be appreciated, cheers lads and lasses 🙂

GDD & Rainfall Totals – U.K Locations

Looking across the locations we see the now familiar pattern (sorry Pete, James) of heavier rainfall for the south west of the U.K. Jersey picked up its fair share of rainfall as well which surprised me but then it is the first year that I’ve had stats from that neck of the woods (thanks Matt). Some big variations in growth recorded across the country with the westerly locations coming in with the higher GDD vs. central and easterly locations. This is down to the wind direction during March and that easterly bias, so areas across the east were first in line for that cold wind pushing in off The North Sea. Areas across the west and south west were milder because the wind lost much of its chill as it traveled across land. The rainfall stats show for the easterly and central locations, March was a dry month with a continuous dry spell starting from the 19th of the month, as if someone decided to turn the taps off.

GDD & Rainfall Totals – Irish Locations

For Ireland we see the same bias when it comes to rainfall with the west and south west picking up the majority of the rain and the east and south east much drier. GDD-wise the stats show a very similar spread to the U.K locations, with the west milder (further away from the effect of the easterlies) and the easterly locations like Dublin and Johnstown Castle (Wexford) right in the firing line of the easterly wind blowing off The Irish Sea. Again we see the same pattern for Ireland during the month with consistent rainfall until the 19th of March when the wind switched round to the east and little or no further rain was forthcoming.

Whole lot of purpling going on….

Lots of this going on currently (I’m not referring to the Graden lines !!!) across greens as the widely fluctuating day and night temperatures are producing a stop-start effect on growth and sugar production in the grass plant. This leads to an accumulation of the purple pigment, Anthocyanin, in the upper surface of the grass leaf. I’ve seen it on Poa, Agrostis and Lolium species and is absolutely nothing to be concerned about. As night temperatures come up and growth kicks in more consistently, it’ll disappear as fast as it appeared. You tend to see it on surfaces that have the most temperature fluctuation during the day, so more open sites rather than shaded ones. It occurs only on the upper part of the leaf because it is experiencing the temperature extremes whilst the lower part of the leaf is sheltered. Like I say nothing to be concerned about.

OK that’s me for this week, I wish you all the best in these strange times.

Mark Hunt