Heavy rains overnight at the site of this week's Open Championship, Royal Lytham and St. Annes, complicated the final day of preparations before the tournament begins in earnest tomorrow. Our man inside the golf course maintenance operations there, Warren Bevan, filed this report earlier today. Remember, you can also follow Warren's Twitter updates by checking out @lancastergc:
When I arrived back at Royal Lytham and St. Annes yesterday afternoon, the heaven’s had opened. The greenkeepers compound was standing in water and walkways for the public around the course were getting very muddy. The great British summer had struck again.
During the past eight weeks, it has been very wet in the United Kingdom. Exceptional rainfall has been recorded all over the country, breaking many records. The jet stream has sat right over the UK, bringing with it a lot of storms. At my own club, we have recorded rainfall events of 18 mm (7/10 of an inch) in an hour, then the next day 27 mm (just over an inch) in as many minutes. The staff were on standby, however, the greens here are exceptional and they took the rain very well. Once the course was empty and ready for the evening work, the rain had stopped and the evening sun shone across the links. The dark shadow on the horizon was a report from the Met Office (the national weather service for the UK) that a storm front was coming in overnight.
We were abruptly woken up in the early hours this morning by heavy rain lashing against the roof of our cabin. Paul Smith, the head greenkeeper at Royal Lytham, wanted to start this morning’s roudns earlier and have everyone in the shed at 3:45 a.m. Once Paul could assess the course, it was clear we would not be able to cut this morning. There was standing water on the fairways and semi-rough, so the fairway cutting team along with myself was sent out to squeegee these areas and pump water from the low spots. As I said, the greens were perfect so these were double cut, but missed a roll this morning. The tees were also cut. The BIGGA support team did a great job raking all 205 bunkers to prepare them for the final practice day. Just as we thought it was time for breakfast, we were informed the tented village was flooded and large areas of the public hospitality areas were under water. Again, the team mobilized and pumped water to drains, and mopped up puddles with water hogs.
Because I have repeatedly mentioned the condition of the greens, I managed to grab five minutes with Smith to ask him about the management of the greens. Royal Lytham takes around 25,000 rounds each year, providing good quality surfaces for a full 12 months. This has been possible because Royal Lytham is committed to an on-going sward improvement program to increase the proportion of indigenous links grasses, notably fine-leaved fescues and brown top bent. These species require the least inputs of water, pesticides and fertilizer. They are also ideal to the conditions of wind and drought that are associated with coastal environments.
Considerable effort over the last few years has been put into reducing Yorkshire fog levels on the greens by hand scarification, which is thinning and controlling this undesirable turfgrass species. The routine verticutting and periodic scarification work also helps. The greens are now dominated by browntop bent (30-40 percent) and fescue (30 percent or more), with annual meadow-grass and Yorkshire fog making up the rest.
The aim of the fertilizer program was to apply the minimum nutrients to achieve healthy and desirable playing surfaces. Royal Lytham is a very traditional club and one tradition still used today is the type of fertilizers that were in use when the Open was first held here in 1926. Annual amounts of fertilizer are quite low for such a prestigious and heavily used course. A single application of lawn sand is made in early March to strengthen grass growth before more conventional fertilizers are applied as growth picks up. The fertilizer is an organic powder, lightly spread with no application exceeding 1.5 grams per square meter. Later in the growing season as conditions on the coast become drier, they may switch to liquid form of fertilizer, which performs better in drought conditions. The greens annually receive 60-70 kg of nitrogen per hectare (about 54-62 pounds per acre). The tees receive 80-100 kg/ha (about 71-89 pounds/acre). The greens and tees cover more than two hectares (about 5 acres) in total. The fairways, which occupy by far the largest playing area, of approximately nine hectares (about 22 acres), receive no fertilizer inputs.
After the heavy overnight rain, I’m going to check on my own course and then set out to cut approaches this evening with the tired but dedicated staff here at Royal Lytham.