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firm, fast and smooth bowling greens

Firm, fast and smooth bowling greens in 2016

I promised a new book on how to objectively measure bowling green performance would be published here in late November 2015, but my work in China got in the way and now the book has grown in stature with much more detailed technical information informed by my teaching in November. The tyre lever and the golf ball will teach you what you need to know to achieve Firm, fast and smooth bowling greens in 2016 and beyond.

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green maintenance

Bowls Green Maintenance

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. You can click on these links for more in depth information:

  1. Top-dressing
  2. Thatch
  3. Compaction
  4. Green Speed
  5. Green Consistency



Bowls Green Maintenance – Green Speed

Green speed continues to be a very popular topic even though we are out of season.

The quest for speed is often reduced to shaving the green and neglecting to water it in dry weather. This approach guarantees problems later in the season and in subsequent seasons.

There is a comprehensive article on what you really need to do to achieve green speed here.

Green Surface requirements for high performance.

Performance Greens have specific surface attributes

Following on from yesterdays post on Performance Green Properties, the ideal bowling green then, will be uniform in terms of appearance, pace and consistency of play over the whole green and over the season. We will probably see an increase in pace as the summer progresses, but we shouldn’t see too many fluctuations in this pace during an average season.

This consistency is achievable, but only by first getting the green  into a condition where it has returned to behaving as one living eco system. This means that the green will demonstrate some very specific attributes. Today we will consider the surface properties  of such a green. It will need the following :


The grasses we use to produce the surface will need to demonstrate the following attributes:

  1. Fine leafed with an upright growth habit
  2. Slow re-growth after cutting
  3. Resistance to wear, disease, drought, and cold with a fast recovery rate from wear and damage.
  4. Deep green, uniform colouration

All of the above points us to the finer Bent and Fescue Grasses. So now that we know the kind of surface we need and the kind of grass sward we need in order to achieve this surface we can start to define the ideal growing conditions required by such a sward.


It goes without saying that there should be no weeds in the green surface and by weed I mean any plant life that can disrupt the playing surface. Now, most weeds are obvious because they are broad-leafed and show up in stark contrast to the grass surrounding them. However, there are a few less obvious weeds that can also cause inconsistency on the playing surface such as pearlwort and yarrow and these can sometimes be hard to spot and eradicate, Yellow suckling clover is another difficult weed to deal with.

In addition to the weeds proper referred to above, many greenkeepers who would also consider annual meadow-grass (Poa annua) to be just as bad a weed pest as any dandelion or daisy, but the hard truth is that many greens are so badly infested with this grass that to get rid of it quickly would be to get rid of the majority of the grass sward, leaving the green in a very poor state.

The good news is that the approach required to achieve a performance green outlined in this book will gradually make your green unattractive and unaccommodating to both broad-leafed weeds and weed grasses like annual meadow grass.

Diseases and Disorders

In addition to rogue grasses and weeds the surface can be disrupted by a plethora of different pathogens that directly interact with the grass, usually to its detriment and that of the green surface. These are almost always fungal diseases and some of the more common are fusarium, red-thread and snow mould.

Sometimes confused with diseases are a series of other green defects usually labelled as disorders. These are generally not pathogenic, so don’t directly damage the grass plants, but their effects can be just as devastating to bowling greens. These include slimes and squidge usually associated with acidic soil conditions and the very problematic Localised Dry Patch, associated with thatch, over use of sand and irrigation problems.

Again though, there is nothing to worry about because like we saw with unwanted grasses and weeds in the sward, the conditions required to produce a consistently high performance green will make your green extremely unattractive to these troublesome disorders and diseases.

Green sub-surface requirements for high performance.

The soil we use to support both the structure of the bowling surface and to sustain the grasses required for a high performance surface will require the following attributes:

  1. A strong, stable soil structure that resists compaction and wear.
  2. A healthy, living soil that retains sufficient moisture and nutrients to sustain a healthy sward of fine grass.
  3. A free draining medium able to cope with heavy periods of rain without puddling excessively and which drains quickly after heavy rainfall.

We will keep exploring this and tomorrow I’ll be looking at the sub surface requirements for performance; what goes  on beneath?

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

What bowls green maintenance should be carried out before a game?

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 pointers

The most popular subject in bowling green maintenance is…Green Speed.

The main factors affecting green speed are in order of importance:

  • Sward Composition
  • Thatch control and management
  • Mowing frequency
  • Control of compaction
  • Control of LDP
  • Mowing height


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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.