Knowledge is power. And for Geoff Smith, Course Manager at Abridge Golf & Country Club in Romford, an Open qualifying venue, his use of the POGO Pro soil and turf management meter “provides an unprecedented level of information into my greens’ moisture and salinity levels, as well as canopy temperature, for example, to enable me to make more informed and much better decisions about irrigation”.
Geoff’s investment in POGO Pro was spurred by the installation of a new irrigation system and reservoir, costing in excess of £500,000, of which the most recent stage was completed earlier this year at the long-established (since 1962) 18-hole Championship course that occupies 240 acres in Essex.
“I could immediately see the benefits of POGO Pro and I knew it would give me an accurate insight into the current state of the surfaces, as well as enable me to build a true history of exactly what’s going on beneath in the top layer.”
In addition to measuring the most influential variables governing turf performance – moisture, salinity, canopy temperature , nutrition and turf stress/disease, for example - POGO Pro also connects remotely to any Apple or android device and its integrated GPS features include precise location, geospatial condition analysis, cup placements, sprinkler positioning and patterns, area measurement and custom mapping.
Geoff continues: “We have push-up greens on solid clay and watering was very random before the new fully computerised irrigation system with pop-up sprinklers to all greens, tees, approaches, surrounds and 12/14 fairways. We often simply turned on the water for a few minutes at a time and almost guessed that what we doing was enough, not using a moisture meter.
"Looking back on last year’s very hot spell, I probably over-watered (and I’m guessing I was not the only one!) but now, with POGO Pro, I’m making much more informed decisions on greens where I maintain moisture levels of 26/30%, and on other areas I have also started recording moisture levels and adjusting irrigation accordingly.
"Today, that sometimes means certain greens need only hand watering, and that will undoubtedly save us money and means far better and more responsible water usage.”
The use of POGO Pro occupies one of Geoff’s eight-man team for two-three hours at a time, he says, “but we will be including the fairways and approaches as we go forwards”. That investment in time will, however, be well worth it, he says. Once the information taken by the POGO Pro is updated to my computer, I can create maps of dry and wet areas. I can create visuals in either map form or graphs showing the history of each green (or all greens) and see definite patterns which means that between my deputy and myself we will be making make much more informed decisions on watering and feeding programmes.”
Geoff, aged 52, joined the club 20 years ago after 12 years in financial services, joining Abridge as an assistant and becoming deputy head greenkeeper approximately two years later after originally learning his trade at the London Golf Club.
Upon taking up the Course Manager’s reins at Abridge 13 years ago, he immediately set about instigating, under the guidance of the STRI, a regime to minimise what was thick thatch in the fairways sward and other areas. It’s a process, he says, that has continued ever since.
It initially included Koroing the fairways (for the first three successive years), followed by overseeding and thereafter heavy scarifying by using a Trilo machine twice a year, plus a regular regime of verti-draining three/four times a year
Tees and approaches have been subjected to the same process and greens receive verti-draining twice a year plus a spring, summer and autumn regime of coring/solid spiking, verti-cutting and topdressing every three-four weeks. Combined with improved cultural practices and reductions in fertiliser rates, the results are very clear to see, he says, “by concentrating on what’s going on underneath the surface” and tools like the POGO Pro help Geoff to understand this even more.
The greens are hand-cut most days – usually to 4.1 mm in summer and 6/6.5 mm in winter – while the tees are to 9/10 mm and the fairways 15 mm and sometimes down to 13 mm in the summer.
His long-term use of Rigby Taylor amenity products – including the Apex, Microlite and Polypro fertilisers, Breaker Fairway wetting agent and the made-to-order Propel-R/Activate-R wetting agent mix, as well as Greenor herbicide, Magnet Velocite liquid iron and Seaquest seaweed extract – complements his use of a variety of grass mixes: R9 ultra-fine dwarf rye; R103 Browntop bent; and the R25 CRT tetraploid, creeping and diploid rye blend.
While he affirms that the products “always do what they say they can do”, Geoff also says the input from Rigby Taylor’s Technical Sales Manager Mark Keysell has also proved indispensable “and that includes working together on a disease management strategy utilising bio-friendly products”. He adds: “I’m proud of the presentation and playability of the course and I want to keep it that way, so I ensure I maintain this partnership with such a professional company.”
He concludes: “I’m never satisfied; it’s a case of continual improvement here with, for instance, plans to complete the irrigation system (by installing it on two remaining fairways), as well as the construction of the 34,000 m3 reservoir that will eventually feed the complete system. We have also constructed a buggy path around the front nine holes and the back nine will be completed this autumn. We’re investing in the future success of the club and the course which this year sees 147 societies playing here and is enjoying a steady increase in membership.”
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