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Top Dressing Bowling Green

The Great Top-Dressing Debate

At its most basic, the answer is that excessive use of sand on bowling greens causes the under lying soil to become inert; lacking life or the complex web of interactions that go to make healthy, high performance turf. The natural balance of the soil/turf ecosystem is upset and the green will never be capable of consistent high performance for as long as the folly of top dressing is allowed to continue.

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Feeding the Roses with Pound Notes

Most clubs have great looking roses!
Most clubs have great looking roses!

I have lost count of the words I have written, conversations I have had and arguments I have inadvertently started about one of  greenkeepings greatest follies;  routinely top-dressing your green with high sand content top dressing composts year in and year out. During my greenkeeping career over 3 decades and during countless hours of research I have been amazed to find clubs where 5, 7 or even 10 tonnes of top-dressing is being applied every autumn.

The really tragic thing about this practice is that in every case the club are paying for a contractor to hollow tine (core) the green and then apply this material.

Let me ask you where the cores from your green go after they are lifted?

I would hazard a guess that you either spread them on the rose beds around the green or give them away to members for their gardens.

Now hollow tining is typically carried out to a depth of 100mm (4 inches) and usually only 10-15 percent of the core is unwanted thatch.

So that means that 85-90% of each core is made up of all of the expensive top-dressing you have been applying over the years. No wonder the roses look so good!

With top-dressing now costing around £160 per tonne, its easy to see how hundreds of pounds are wasted like this on nearly every bowling green in the UK every year.

In addition to this there are a lot of negative agronomic impacts associated with this practice.

Localised Dry Patch is exacerbated by excessive sand content. This causes areas of the green surface to become impervious to water and dry out completely. The end result is an un-healthy, bumpy green which becomes susceptible to disease, moss infestation and loss of grass cover.

This is just one instance of good money being thrown after bad at just about every bowling green across the land.

Now this is not to say that top-dressing is never required or isn’t a valuable tool in the greenkeepers arsenal. There are times when top-dressing is absolutely the right thing to do.

However, there is generally no need to blindly apply several tonnes every autumn, only to keep the roses looking good!

Soil Chemical and Peak Sand (Texture Analysis)
Soil Chemical and Peak Sand (Texture Analysis)
Comprehensive Chemical Analysis and Peak Sand (Texture Assessment) of your green's soil (rootzone). You will receive a soil sampling kit with instructions for taking and returning (freepost) your soil samples to the lab. The results will come back to you from Bowls Central with a full report detailing all Primary, Secondary and Trace elements, Cation Exchange Capacity, Base Saturation, Electrical Conductivity, Organic Matter, pH and your soil's position on the Soil Texture Triangle (assessed by the Laser Diffraction method and alerting you to your greens proximity to Peak Sand). Includes a full report written by a Master Greenkeeper with comprehensive 12 month greenkeeping program for your green. Unlimited support and further advice will be provided as required.

Bowls Club Survival and Turnaround

Bowling Club Survival and Turnaround

Our eBook Bowling Club Survival and Turnaround is now available.

In this much awaited text John breaks down the process of saving your bowling club from financial trouble and moving on to great success into 7 clear steps:

  1. How to stem the flow of cash out of your club starting today and how to prime a pump that will see more cash flowing into your club effortlessly.
  2. The remarkable 10 Minute MBA or how to build a business model that works for your club.
  3. An amazingly simple but powerful formula that will ensure your club stands head and shoulders above all of your competition.
  4. In a revolutionary take on the Marketing of your rejuventated club we turn the commonly accepted view and perceived “wisdom about Marketing firmly on its head! In this remarkable section we demonstrate  “paint by numbers instructions for achieving all of the members you want with a vastly reduced Marketing budget.
  5. Step 5 provides what can only be described as ABC style instructions and guidance to turn your club into a smooth, efficient and profitable machine.
  6. In step 6 you’ll discover a  remarkable system for adding 20-30% of your current income straight onto your bottom line profit!by dealing with waste in your club.
  7. “Step 7 is essentially a method for bringing all of the previous steps together into an automatic club improvement system. Even after you’ve applied the first 6 steps and have a thriving, profitable club; this step pretty much guarantees that even a very efficient club will improve bottom line performance by at least 10% every 3 months

The ebook is available now just click here

Survival of the Fittest

Delivering excellence and applying strict financial control will be key to the survival hopes of many clubs
Delivering excellence and applying strict financial control will be key to the survival hopes of many clubs

There has been a lot of speculation of late about the decline in bowling memberships and the subsequent impact on individual clubs and their chances of survival.

Its true that bowling club membership is on a sharp decline and that many clubs will suffer or close as a result of this. After speaking to many clubs across Scotland it is clear that the ones that will survive and prosper will exhibit two very clear qualities:

  1. They will exceed their members and prospective members expectations for quality.
  2. They will squeeze every last bit of value from every pound spent by applying strict cost control .

Since the green is the biggest cost centre at any bowling club and of course one of the biggest assets (we think there is a bigger one and you can read about here), without which there would be no club, we talk a lot on this site about getting the greenkeeping right. However there are many other aspects of club management where you can make changes to improve your club’s finances and future prospects.

Club Optimisation is the process of evaluating every aspect of your management processes and making small incremental changes and measuring the results. When a change brings a benefit, try tweaking it again.

Some aspects of your operation you might want to start thinking about are as follows:

Essential supplies like beer, wines and spirits, food, cleaning supplies and stationery can all be re-negotiated or sourced through new suppliers.

Essential services like electricity, telephone and gas can be switched to new suppliers for better deals.

Some less obvious items are collecting email addresses from all members to cut down on postage costs, direct debit subscription payments.

Then there are staffing issues. Its important to look at every wage or payment to ensure firstly that it is absolutely essential and secondly that it represents best value for money. Can jobs be combined to make best use of resources, e.g. bar work and cleaning.

We then come to the question of value to customers. Until now most clubs have had the luxury of not having to try too hard to retain members. It is now very different with many clubs struggling to maintain membership numbers and needing new strategies for sustained club growth and prosperity. This I would suggest requires a “business like” approach to club management, and thinking of members as customers.

This means thinking like a business in all of your management decisions for your club.

By engendering a feeling of belonging and by adding value at every opportunity, you can offer your members something they can’t get anywhere else.

Finding ways to add real value at low cost needn’t be difficult, it just requires a bit of lateral thinking in many cases. For example, some of your members will operate their own businesses, it might be possible to work with them to add special offers to the membership package. This type of arrangement can be very beneficial both to the club and the vendor.

Thatch Problems

Rootbreak is a common feature on greens where thatch is out of control

As bowling green maintenance specialists we get lots of questions every week about thatch. So here is a quick crash course on it; what it is, what it does and how to deal with it:

What is it?

Thatch is the name given to the mat of dead roots and shoots that accumulates on the surface of the green. Where moisture, nutrition and cultural practices are optimised for the desired grasses, thatch rarely becomes a problem. However, when soil air content is low, or if drainage is poor and the fertiliser program is not Read more


Thatch is the mat of fibre between the grass and soil on your green. Although some thatch (5-6mm) is desirable too much can have  a devastating affect on the  playing surface.

When thatch builds up beyond the optimum level it can quickly cause problems with surface drainage, which in turn can encourage fungal diseases like fusarium patch and this can kill off huge areas of turf if left unchecked. Recovery from such attacks can also be troublesome and expensive.

This tendency to encourage disease is related to thatch’s ability to Read more

Bowling Club Turnaround-Free Report


Bowling Club Turnaround

5 Actions Your Club Must Take Now!

Bowling Club Turnaround 5 Actions Your Bowling Club Must Take NowFirst it was a double dip and now it seems that the UK is on for a Triple Dip recession! With all this doom and gloom around, its no wonder that many bowling clubs are like rabbits caught in the headlights.

It seems like there is nothing we can do to ensure the survival  of our bowling clubs never mind actually increasing revenue and building a successful, thriving club for the future.

Well, its easy to get caught up in the misery of it all, especially when you look out of the window and see grey skies and rain. Then the news comes on and its all flood warnings and danger triangles! Long summer evenings on the green seem like a universe away!

However, this is exactly the time when you have time on your hands to get your bowling club set up for a bright future.

Ignore the news and just take these 5 easy steps to turning your club around for the long term. I’ve written a new report detailing the 5 most important steps you Must take now to make sure your club is one of the lucky ones. There’s actually no luck involved, its just a matter of employing the right actions at the right time to set your club up for future success that many dismiss as impossible.

Enter your email address below to Download your FREE report NOW!

Your Privacy is important to us and we will never share your details with anyone. We will send you your free report immediately and occasional updates from bowls central.

Don’t Ignore Your Greatest Assets

Your greatest assets?
Your greatest assets?

When asked to name their club’s greatest asset, most club members will without hesitation say “the green”.

As a green maintenance company you wouldn’t expect us to put up much of an argument against that now would you?

Well, of course the green is of major importance to all clubs, but when your club starts to take a more business focused view on management as described in Read more

mowing is critical to greenspeed

Think laterally for bowls green speed

Green speed is always a hot topic at this time of year and the most popular methods for achieving increased speed are usually to turn off the water and set the mower down; both of which can cause long term damage to the green.

Mowing the green regularly below 5mm can really start to harm it in terms of sward composition, drought resistance and general turf health. Rooting depth is directly proportionate to the amount of leaf that remains above, so at the very time that the turf needs deeper roots to seek out deeper lying moisture, we restrict its ability to put down roots by shaving the leaf off to within a millimetre of its life! Shaving the green too low can cause irreversible damage to the crown of the grass plants, which causes bare areas or at least areas of weakened turf, which will inevitably be taken over by meadow grass, weeds and/or moss.

The other big mistake that many clubs make is to turn off the water in an effort to induce greater green speed. Although droughting will rarely kill a green off completely, we are seeing some very high temperatures this summer and it is possible that greens will fail if not given enough irrigation. But that’s another story which you can read about here.

So, what can be done to increase green speed without causing damage to the green?

Well, to really get the speed up we need to be thinking about reducing the lateral growth on the green. There are a number of factors that can help to increase green speed and consistency for play and we’ve set them out in our guide which you can find by clicking here.

Today however, I want to concentrate on lateral growth and its affect on green speed. On many greens I visit I am told that the green is being cut at 4mm and that the members are still complaining about the green being heavy! On most occasions when confronted with this, it is possible to take the palm of your hand across the turf and tease some of the grass up to 10 or even 15mm in height!…now think about that for a minute; how “heavy” would the green be if cut at that height?

This phenomenon is due to a problem called lateral (or sideways) growth where the grass plants exhibit a  recumbent growth habit and don’t stand up straight, meaning that they are not cut at the required height.

What’s the answer?

To overcome this problem we need to make allowance in our maintenance program for dealing with lateral growth. This can be achieved by several means, in order of importance these are:

  1. regular verti-cutting; I would suggest twice a month between April and September. Verti-cutting does exactly what it says, it cuts vertically through the turf surface to slice up lateral growth and tease up the turf prior to mowing, which is usually carried out straight after a verti-cut operation.
  2. use of groomers on the mower; again a very useful operation to be used sparingly. On many of my visits I see groomers being used as verti-cutters with the blades set well into the turf. You should never do this, as it can cause a lot of turf damage and even greater damage to the mower as it can put it under a lot of strain. Groomers are designed to be set slightly above the height of cut, to simply tease up the lateral growth or “nap” prior to cutting.
  3. brushing the green prior to cutting can improve the green speed also by teasing the grass up from its lateral growth habit prior to cutting.

There are many more tips on green speed in our green speed section here.

Take a Business View for Club Success

image021Committees are difficult structures with which to run a business, but there can be no doubt in any bowling club official’s mind that the only way for clubs to survive and prosper in the future will be for them to be managed as proper businesses.

In the trying times we find ourselves in, both in relation to the falling uptake of the sport and the general financial climate in the country, the commitment to this approach could quite possibly be the only deciding factor between success and failure for many clubs.

Although the traditional committee structure employed by most clubs can make it difficult to consistently apply the strategic approach needed for long term business growth and improvement, this can be eased by the introduction of Read more