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Top Dressing Bowling Green

The Great Top-Dressing Debate

Towards the end of every bowling season thoughts start to turn to the autumn renovation program or the “closing of the green” as many clubs call it. Bowling clubs throughout the UK will take delivery of between 3 and 10 tonnes of very expensive top-dressing compost, which will be applied to the green after hollow tining or some other aeration operation, in the belief that this will ensure that the green is in perfect condition next season. However, too much top-dressing can actually  harm the green and in many cases, clubs simply shouldn’t be doing it at all…but why?

The answer is simple yet full of complexity. At it’s 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.

The complexity comes in when we start to consider that top dressing is recommended by most experts and consultants and that this advice is religiously followed by the vast majority of bowling clubs. However, a brief look at the facts facing many bowling greens after decades of this type of maintenance makes it perfectly clear that top-dressing is not a good option for the majority of bowling greens in the UK.

In the remainder of the article I want to explore the issues I have experienced with greens that have been routinely top-dressed using high sand top-dressing composts over the past 30 years. I will explain the problems with Localised Dry Patch, Thatch, Soil Exchange, Green Levels and Surface Smoothness, Irrigation and water
management and the dilemma that all of this leaves many clubs facing.

So lets’ start with Localised Dry Patch or LDP.

Localised Dry Patch

Over the last 20 years Localised Dry Patch (LDP) has become a major problem on bowling greens, and although this is not wholly attributable to top-dressing, the excessive use of sand in the top-dressing mix has caused water retention problems on a lot of greens.

It is of course desirable to have a free draining soil profile on a bowling green to help to encourage deep rooting of the grasses and to maintain a reasonable green speed for play. However, continued application of bulk sandy dressings is of limited benefit to most greens and actually harmful to many due to their already high sand content and related lack of soil microbial activity.

Thatch

Natural plant decomposition results in a release of nutrients from dead plant material, but soils low in microbial activity tend to suffer from a build up of organic material (thatch) at the soil surface, which will become much more water retentive than desired. However, the answer to this does not lie with dilution of the organic layer with huge amounts of sand, but rather in reducing this layer through judicious and very regular aeration and core removal and the ongoing encouragement of soil microbial activity.

Soil Exchange

Where the soil is less than perfect for fine turf production, soil exchange programs consisting of hollow tining followed by top-dressing with a more desirable growing medium will still be required, but this is an entirely different subject.

Green Levels versus Surface Smoothness

There is a great difference between “Surface Smoothing” and “Surface Levelling”. Surface smoothness in this context relates to very minor discrepancies in the surface which can be rectified by a combination of surface aeration, rolling and light top-dressing.

Surface levels on the other hand cannot generally be greatly improved through even “Heavy” top dressing work. This term relates to much more severe changes in level which can be measured by laser survey and can be seen to have a visible affect on a wood’s traverse across the green.

“Heavy Topdressing” usually defined as dressings over 6 tonnes will not have a dramatic effect on surface levels and are more in keeping with the type of operation required by new greens for the first 2 to 3 seasons to achieve the final levels not ironed out during construction.

I say this because if you do the calculations, a 10 tonne dressing over an average green (1400 m2) will result in a maximum coverage of 4mm, which is only suitable for smoothing out the smallest of imperfections.

By far the biggest culprit in poor levels is excessive thatch which moves, swells, compacts and contracts continually. Trying to keep up with this with top-dressing is futile.

Irrigation

Going back to the main issue of greens drying out, the average bowling club in the UK is finding it difficult to find the money to irrigate the green sufficiently during dry weather. Again when we look at the numbers, the average automatic irrigation system throws out approximately 1mm of water for every 2 minutes of run time.

Now I visit a lot of bowling clubs and I know that many of them rely on “rule of thumb” measurements like 4 minutes per head etc when timing irrigation. Well, on average a green will lose 25mm of moisture to evapo-transpiration (a measure of the combined effects of soil evaporation and plant transpiration) and that’s from a  healthy green in a normal dry week. This doesn’t take account of excessively high sand content, drying winds or existing dry patch problems etc.

To simply replace the moisture lost from one day’s evapo-transpiration you need to run your irrigation system for 8 minutes per head, that’s double and in some cases several times what many clubs are doing. Over a 7 day period this equates to 50 minutes of run time per head.

Catch 22

Turning back to Localised Dry Patch. This is a condition that causes large sections of the green surface to turn brown due to lack of moisture. No amount of irrigation will make these areas re-wet. They are literally hydrophobic or water repellent. Careful use of wetting agents and hand watering can make some improvement, but usually it takes a wet winter to bring about full re-wetting. The main trouble with LDP is its tendency to make the green bumpy. This happens when the baked dry thatch layer on top of the soil starts to shrink below the surface of the surrounding healthy turf. Irrigation makes the problem worse as the healthy areas grow more and the dry areas recede further.

To crown it all, continued heavy use of the irrigation system in the desperate effort to bring these areas back to life, starts to encourage thatch fungus, which eventually sinks and causes an even more uneven surface.

The Alternative

The Performance Bowling Greens program isn’t completely anti-top-dressing, but I have found that very few greens, at least in the UK, can actually cope with the damage that would be inflicted by applying more sand. The program recognises that some greens will still require top-dressing and gives advice on this.

However, the most important aspect of the programs I recommend for most greens is that they focus on returning bowling greens to healthy, living eco-systems that are not only disease and pest resistant, but also in a condition that helps the club to provide their members with a consistently high performance playing surface that can be set up predictably over the entire playing season.

The Performance Bowling Greens Program is set out in comprehensive detail in Performance Bowling Greens, a practical guide.

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

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

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

Bowls Green Levels; what can be done?

 

Survey?

Laser surveying will tell you exactly where discrepancies occur down to about 1cm of change. This can be done on a 1 metre grid so that you end up with a very clear colour coded picture of the green surface.

However, once you have a survey result in front of you, what do you do with it?

Top Dressing?

Well you could embark on a program of localised top-dressing as I have seen some clubs do, but this is a largely futile process, as you simply can’t make a big enough impact in a reasonable timeframe for it to be truly noticeable or beneficial or worth the investment. In to the bargain, as you are doing this the green is changing all of the time.

Rolling?

Heavy rolling should be avoided, but regular light to medium weight rolling with a tru-level type roller is very beneficial.

Decisions

In the end you must Read more