Against the grain
Controlling grain on your golf greens is an important step in ensuring that they putt true to their contours. Grain can be defined simply as the direction in which the grass is growing, or laying, as the case may be. Repeated mowing in the same pattern and direction is one of the primary causes of grain development.
Good reasons exist for controlling grain. Left unmanaged, grain can develop to the point where it may unfairly affect putts. Greens with strong grain tend to pull the ball off of its natural course, as well as affect the speed of the putt.
The newest bentgrass varieties exhibit more upright, dense growth and tolerate mowing at ⅛ of an inch throughout the season. This reduces grain-related problems. Similarly, new varieties of bermudagrass — which tend to be grainier than the bent greens — are less grain-prone than older types. Nonetheless, grain is still a factor that many superintendents need to deal with. Thankfully, several good tools are available to combat it.
Vary your mowing
The most important factor in controlling grain is varying your mowing pattern every day. If you mow left to right one day, then you should mow right to left the next, and so on. This is a big step in preventing the grass from laying in one direction. Visualizing a pattern with clock numbers is an easy way for crew members to remember the direction they are supposed to mow. For example, 8 to 2 would be left to right, and 4 to 10 would be right to left. Proper training of the crew using this method will help reduce grain in a relatively short amount of time.
Another tool for reducing grain is a greens-mower attachment called a groomer. The greens groomer precedes the reel and “tickles” the turf before it is mowed. This helps the turf stand up and allows the mower to get a much cleaner cut, rather than just pressing the grass flat without trimming the leaf blade to the intended height.
Brushing greens prior to grooming can be effective as well. Brushing stands the grass upright, allowing the mower to perform its job properly.
Verticutters are another aid in the fight against grain. Using a verticutter to slice through the top mat of turf chops the grass stolons, forcing the grass to grow more upright rather than laterally. This is critical in controlling grain.
If severe grain is already present, verticutting in several directions and then topdressing with sand may be the best option. The sand will help smooth the putting surface back out and also help protect the crown of the plants that were just injured by the verticutting. While verticutting can be rather hard on the grass plants, in the long run the benefits will greatly outweigh the drawbacks.
Integrate your strategies
In order for any of these options to work effectively, you must be persistent with them and implement them properly. If you can verticut, groom and topdress on a weekly basis, you can virtually eliminate the buildup of grain on greens. It is important to use all of these strategies together; no single one will reduce grain on its own.
Inspecting the greens daily after they have been mowed is also essential to ensure that the mowers are properly adjusted and the pattern is being mowed correctly. Keeping a putter in the cart is not a bad idea either. Putt the greens daily and see for yourself how they are rolling. Greens that look good but roll badly are no better than greens that both look and roll badly.
Grain is an issue that you can deal with relatively easily. With good cultural practices, golfers will never complain about grain on your greens.
Tim Wegner is the River Course superintendent at Blackwolf Run Golf Course (Kohler, Wis.).
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