By far the best selling of my eBooks available on this site is Performance Bowling Greens; it out sells all of the others by 10-1. Bowling green performance can seem a bit sketchy and hard to tie down to any sort of measurable parameter, but that's more to do with the lack of a joined up approach to the subject in the industry than it is a lack of measurable components. This article introduces the subject of the Performance Evaluation of the Bowling Green.
The watering of bowling greens is one of those critical issues in bowling that splits opinion across the game.
Some purists would see no artificial watering of greens regardless of how dry the weather gets. Some are in favour to different degrees; some would argue that the green should only be watered enough to keep it alive, while others demand that the green be watered heavily and often to keep it green.
For me the critical issue is as always performance.
We can argue about the right way to water or not water greens until the cows come home, but green performance is the only measure we should really be worrying about and that means we need to deal with individual greens on an individual basis.
Some greens, mainly those that haven’t been subjected to years of sandy top-dressings dry out evenly across the surface. As the weather gets drier, these greens get faster and smoother and everyone is happy. However, there is a point of no return for these greens also and a complete drought will see them go Read more
A very general title for today’s article, but it reflects the current industry desire for a fix all solution to achieving a good bowling green.
Most clubs are unhappy to some extent with the performance of their bowling greens.
This leads to an open ended search for solutions where the searcher i.e. the bowling club or bowling club management official simply looks for information from whatever source to help with the perennial problem of the bowling green.
If this is you, if you simply don’t know where to start in your quest for the truth about achieving a consistently good bowling green here is my suggested reading in order of importance. This content is for members only.
Have you ever played a great game of bowls when everything on the green was perfect; you read every twitch on the rink and it seemed like you had finally got the green the way you wanted it.
The disappointment when you return to the green the very next day, prepare the rink in completely the same way but get totally different and inferior results is maddening.
What went wrong? or maybe what went right?
Like green speed, there is much debate about surface consistency, both in terms of consistency across the green surface and consistency of playing conditions over the season.
In order of their impact on green surface consistency these are the top 7 factors that you should bear in mind. Obviously there are others such as weather patterns, level of play etc, but these are largely out of the greenkeepers control and in any case do not figure highly in the management of green consistency.
- Fertiliser Policy; yesterday we talked about the role that Bio-Liquid fertilisers can play in producing Performance Bowling Greens. The use of these products is recommended primarily in order to help in the improvement of the underlying soil; but this has a knock on benefit of smoothing out the peaks and troughs of fast and slow growth to a more steady and slow growth pattern. I’ve made this my number 1, issue in achieving green surface consistency.
- Irrigation Management; understanding the water requirements and in particular soil water balance is an important aspect of green management. The finer grasses we seek to encourage can root more deeply than the weed annual meadow grass and as such our watering policy should be deeply, not daily.
- Localised Dry Patch Management; the scourge of many greens over the last 2 decades due, primarily to the overuse of sand top-dressings and the neglect of the soil/plant relationship. Localised Dry Patch is a condition (not a disease) that causes the soil to become hydrophobic (water repellent) and can cause major disruption to the surface levels. Localised Dry Patch is also a season long problem in most cases regardless of how much rain or irrigation there is; once it takes hold it is usually very difficult to overcome.
- Mowing Frequency; we looked at this issue in more depth last week. Mowing frequency is at least 100 times more relevant to green consistency than mowing height. Shaving the green down to 3mm is damaging to the grass plants and counterproductive in producing a performance green in the longer term. If we truly want a consistent green, we need to make some hard decisions on how we are going to manage the workload.
- Thatch Layer Control and Management; closely related to, and the catalyst for most other green maintenance problems, thatch is only a problem on intensively managed turf such as bowling greens. One of the most commonly discussed topic on this site.
- Compaction Control and Relief; one of the major catalysts for the build up of excessive thatch is the process of compaction of the soil. This causes the soil to become lacking aeration pore space and oxygen as a result.
- Sward Composition (grass types); a low priority on this list but none the less important in respect of the overall aim of the Performance Green Program. By doing the work required to encourage a tight sward of finer grasses we automatically do the things that encourage a healthy living soil and that is the key to a performance bowling green.
Where grass grows on soil of any type the health of the turf/soil eco-system can be assessed by looking at the thatch layer.
On grass areas where there is little or no human interference in the form of excessive compaction, fertiliser, pesticides and mechanical work (other than mowing) such as in meadows or parks the thatch layer will almost always be at the optimum level for a continued healthy turf/soil eco-system. This is due to the soil/plant relationship being in balance; a strong and sufficiently lively soil microbe population releases nutrition from the thatch layer as it decomposes naturally.
As we move to areas that are subjected to progressively higher maintenance and wear activity, the thatch layer is susceptible to becoming thicker and denser and therefore needs more intensive management if the turf/soil relationship is to be kept in balance.
This can be observed by taking samples from a variety of grassed areas and comparing them to your bowling green’s thatch layer; rough meadows and areas such as the roughs on golf courses being the most natural and healthy areas and greens usually being the least healthy and in need of the most remedial work to keep them right.
When turf is used for bowling or other activities, the soil becomes compacted which is literally the expulsion of air from the soil. This throws the natural balance in the turf/soil relationship and makes it necessary for us to intervene to correct things.It is important to remember that thatch is always being produced and the more vigorous and intensively used and managed the turf is the faster it produces thatch. The desireable fine bent grasses and the common weed-grass, annual meadowgrass are prolific thatch producers.
If we don’t do the right things to correct this effect or indeed if we don’t do them often enough the green can very quickly fall into the circle of decline we looked at in an earlier article.
Concentrate on minimising lateral grass growth for greater speed and smoothness.
OK, so this is probably a bit late for this year, but keep a note of it for future reference.
This has been a popular question on the site.
The readers who searched on variations of this theme were essentially asking, “What can be done immediately before a game to improve the playing surface?”
Green speed is hampered by excessive thatch build up, which saps some of the momentum of the bowl, so although there isn’t much that can be done about this 5 minutes before the match starts, making thatch reduction and control a major part of the maintenance strategy will help a great deal.
The other major problem in achieving speed is the control of lateral grass growth on the green. This is when grass grows along the ground instead of straight up. The grass plants develop this tendency in order to avoid damage from the mower blades. It’s an evolutionary process; the grass plants that grow this way survive to create more vegetative growth.
So we want to discourage this habit and promote survival of the more upright plants.
To do this we can employ regular grooming, brushing and verti-cutting.
Using the groomer set to 1.5mm above cutting height for the cut immediately before the game will help a lot with this. The groomer attachment on your mower is designed to tease up lateral growth just prior to being cut by the cylinder.
If you don’t have a groomer on your mower you can usually fit a static brush just behind the front roller and this can also do a good job of teasing lateral growth to the upright position prior to cutting if set properly.
Regular verti-cutting will slice through the lateral growth and tease up blades that would otherwise not be cut properly
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
As always this season has started off with many greens playing “slow”. The usual reasons apply of course; mowing heights are still above summer level, the frequency of cutting is still low in many cases due to a really slow start to growth in many areas. Many greens are also thatchy and there has been a lot of moss about as we come out of winter, due partly to the excessively wet end to last summer and more significantly to long term Localised Dry Patch problems which are inherently linked to persistent moss problems. Oh yes and of course we are all still Read more
Whatever the season, mowing remains the most important job in the maintenance of a Performance Bowling Green.
Often overlooked due to the everyday nature of the task, there is a lot more to mowing than meets the eye. It is particularly important to follow the correct mowing regime to ensure green consistency and speed. More detailed information on green speed and consistency here.
At this time of year in the run up to the new season, it’s especially important that we get the mowing program right.
During the winter the green surface should have been maintained at a mowing height of around 8mm. In very cold winters, you will see some recession in height and this is difficult to avoid. However, in mild winters, like the one most of us have had this year it is quite normal for the green to keep growing throughout the winter months and this growth needs to be kept in check to minimise the outbreak of diseases and other problems associated with lush winter turf.
Now that the new bowling season beckons we need to gradually lower the cutting height and I would suggest taking it down to around 7mm this month, aiming for 6mm by opening day and 5mm by the end of May, all dependent on soil temperature and prevailing weather; we can still be in the grip of icy cold winds at Easter.
Mowing frequency will be dictated largely by growth rate, but once a week now should be the minimum, bearing in mind that you don’t want to be removing more than a third of the leaf at any one time. So, if the green is growing vigorously, then more frequent mowing will be required.
Of course its tempting to keep the work to a minimum, but mowing will also help to lightly roll the green surface, so it might be beneficial to mow more frequently than is actually required.
The most important factor in mowing is ensuring that the mower is razor sharp and that there is zero contact between the blade and cylinder to give the cleanest and least damaging cut to the grass leaf. More detailed information on mowing can be found here.
Tomorrow we will look more closely at the pre-season renovation work required on the green, with a look at some do’s and don’t’s.
During dry and hot weather the need to water your green properly can’t be over emphasised. Although it can be tempting to let the green burn to achieve speed, this can turn to disaster and cause the green to fail later in the season.
So what is the right way to water your green?
Whatever method of watering you are using, whether it be an automatic pop up system, hose and sprinkler or simply hand watering with a hose, the rule you should follow is Read more