Understanding Organic Matter Testing


As I have written about before in a previous post, the build up of thatch or organic matter is one of the most important if not the most important aspect of our roles as turf managers in consistently maintaining high quality playing surfaces across many sports disciplines, but has our knowledge and understanding of it and it’s management changed over time?

There are countless research, articles and opinions available when it comes to organic matter management, yet it still remains and will continue to remain a dominant issue in our maintenance and renovation programs. Through accurate assessment of organic matter, the turf industry’s knowledge of its development and maintenance is evolving.

Using devices like the Trufirm (pictured above) or the Clegg Hammer, the turf manager can accurately measure the firmness of their respective playing surface and track the progress over time. Maintenance programs can then be modified where necessary to achieve the desired results.

Using devices like the Trufirm (pictured above) or the Clegg Hammer, the turf manager can accurately measure the firmness of their respective playing surface and track the progress over time. Maintenance programs can then be modified where necessary to achieve the desired results.

Failure to deal with organic matter and allowing it to increase, results in a long list of negative consequences to the playing surface and the turf health, such as:

  • Reduced surface firmness

  • Reduced soil infiltration rates

  • Higher moisture retention

  • A more favourable environment for disease development

  • More favourable conditions for pest activity

  • More favourable conditions for moss, algae and other weeds

  • Increased Poa annua content

  • Decreased tolerance to play during frosty conditions

  • Reduced playability during wet conditions

  • Reduced playability during the Winter months

  • Increase in pitch mark severity

  • Decrease in root length

It doesn’t matter if you are the turf manager, club manager, financial controller or club owner, excessive or increasing levels of organic matter is not good for the long term health of the facility. For some clubs this may be a contributing factor and for others it could be the root cause of their biggest maintenance challenges and poor playing quality experienced by the players.

However, knowledge, awareness and understanding of organic matter and its management has increased in recent years and when understanding increases, it becomes apparent where past shortfalls in dealing with it have been present.

It is difficult to visually measure the organic matter content in a diluted soil profile accurately.

It is difficult to visually measure the organic matter content in a diluted soil profile accurately.

Quantifying Organic Matter

The industry has been quantifying its organic matter levels through various methods for a number of years. For the most part, these methods have been largely unquestioned and have included low, moderate and high opinion based observations or, in recent years, reviewing its depth in millimetres.

Such methods were fine in years of low costs and plentiful budgets, but we are in a new era now, and accurate decisions year on year are required by club managers, boards of directors and even committee members. These periodic ‘guestimates’ often fail to provide suitable/accurate information on which serious and costly decisions can be made.

Clubs are spending thousands of dollars every year on sand top dressing and renovations to deal with organic matter and this does not include the labour hours and bespoke machinery required for organic matter management. We are now seeing a hunger for accurate, objective information on which to base the decisions turf managers are making on behalf of their clubs.

Testing Organic Matter Concentration via Loss on Ignition (LOI) at 440 Degrees Celsius

Organic matter can now be measured using laboratory testing via weight loss on ignition. We prefer to use LOI at 440 degrees celsius as it gives more of a full burn, with no visible signs of organic material remaining and feel it is more accurate as opposed to LOI at 360 degrees. This testing method enables course managers and clubs to determine their exact levels of organic matter at varying depths in the soil profile year on year. Such testing, combined with onsite experience and surface performance targets allows the turf manager to clearly identify the target area or organic matter level in the soil, then create and tailor a cultural program to achieve the clubs surface performance targets over time

Soil samples being tested for organic matter content by loss on ignition

Soil samples being tested for organic matter content by loss on ignition

Organic Matter Accumulation at Differing Depths

With an ever increasing arsenal of machinery and tools to manage organic matter content, knowing exactly how much is present at exact depths is of high importance and financial consequence to clubs.

The nature and depth of organic matter can vary from course to course, and even green to green, and visual assessments are not always able to pick up such variations, unless present in extremes, by which point it is often too late and is causing a notable difference in the quality of the playing surface.

By breaking samples into pre­determined depths (0-20, 20-40, 40-60mm) exact percentages of organic matter can be determined at each 20mm depth in the soil profile. On request, we can even measure depths of 0-10mm or deeper at 60-80mm if required.

This allows us to determine the exact percentage content at each depth, establishing clear strategies for management programmes to be determined, optimum selection of machinery used and avoidance of any unnecessary works and labour hours.

The bulk concentration of organic matter accumulation is usually contained within the upper 0-40mm with Poa annua and ultra dwarf bermuda grasses tend to have organic matter production concentrated in the top 0-20mm. Most turfgrasses tend to produce organic matter through 0-40mm of the soil profile. 

As clubs move to deal with organic matter quickly and achieve improved playing surfaces, layers of buried organic matter at 20-50mm deep in the profile, are becoming more common. These layers cause a lot of the issues listed earlier in the article including reduced infiltration rate and shorter root length. Where possible, light applications of sand top dressing should be applied regularly with quantities adjusted as per the growth rate of the turf with the aim to dilute the organic matter through the profile and avoid the creation of layers.

The Value of LOI Organic Matter Testing

Our industry is evolving. For many of us, budgets have reduced, and now as never before, has spending it wisely been so important. The need for course managers and clubs to allocate and spend their resources accurately has never been higher.

Through LOI testing, decisions can be formed accurately and annually. Where resources over and above our normal budgets are required, clear and concise communications can be had within our clubs, providing clearer levels of understanding.

Knowledge of long term results and requirements to get from your existing levels of organic matter to bespoke ideal ranges can now be costed accurately, budgeted years in advance and scheduled in long term plans. With the technology available now, turf managers can now accurately measure every performance characteristic of their surface and diagnose almost all turf health issues and make decisions based on this objective data; this is a position the industry has not been in before.

If you are interested in LOI organic matter testing, please see our analytics page for more information or contact us for special offers.

The Importance of a Smooth Transition


When looking to move on to a new management role at a new facility, which do you think is more beneficial to your career? Leaving the turf neatly trimmed and green or ensuring the turf performance and course conditions remain in top condition long after you have left?

Most course managers will generally aim to present the course in as best condition as they can prior to departing in an attempt to leave a lasting impression of their skills as a greenkeeper. Unfortunately, that condition is only temporary, just like the memory of your greenkeeper skillset.

As a department head, your skills as a greenkeeper most likely account for maybe 20% of what you do on a daily basis. Today's facility management, board of directors and your own department demand you to be more than just a greenkeeper. You must be a turf manager. A department head. A leader.

So why leave the club only showcasing 20% of your abilities?

As today's leader, you are also an expert in Human Resources, Project Management, Agronomy and Finance. You are the guide for your department and the club on the path to achieving their vision.

Why not leave the club with a comprehensive document outlining every detail of how the course has, is and is planned to be maintained? This document is usually called a handover report. More and more facilities are asking for a report like this during a leadership transition in not just their turf management department, but other departments as well.

So what is a handover report?

Put simply, a handover report is a detailed report that a departing manager writes for the club/organisation prior to departing their current position. It is to be used by the club/organisation and the new incoming manager to continue to progress the facility forward. It is aimed at reducing the time it takes for a new turf manager to acclimatise and ensure the facility continues to run smoothly.

The report should contain the following: 

  • A detailed description of your current and past agronomic techniques

  • The status of any current and future projects as well as any important information regarding past projects

  • Current irrigation practices

  • Daily routines

  • A brief evaluation of the turf maintenance team. Both individually and as a whole

  • Any employee development programs in place

  • Soil fertility, organic matter and water quality test results

  • Asset status. Machinery, irrigation system etc.

  • Current budget and planned purchases

  • Any site specific details you feel are important to pass on in order to continue to maintain the facility in top condition

  • Your contact details

  • Any other information you feel necessary to pass on

Why should you write a handover report?

With most leadership transitions, there is what some may call a "honeymoon period" for the incoming manager but it is really a time of great uncertainty and change for the department and club. People handle change in different ways and it is up to the new manager to best manage that process in order to prevent the facility from regressing. 

How much easier would that be for the department, club and new manager with a detailed handover report like the one you've just created?

How much value do you think the club would place on a report like that?  

How much more valuable do you now look to future employers?

These days, you really need to stand out from the rest when it comes to landing a new job. What better way to stand out to future employers with a statement that says, "I don't just care about myself, I won't just care about you while I am there, I am also looking forward, towards your future, ensuring your business continues to succeed long after I have left."

It may seem daunting to sit down and write a detailed report such as this, you may be thinking you don't have enough time or why should you owe the club anything when your leaving anyway, but if you spread it out over a few days, weeks or months you'll find it won't take long at all and can always be updated if you feel you would like to create one early before you leave.

If they are not already, more and more facilities will start asking for a report such as this as commonplace from their department heads. So why not start now?



2018 Course Renovations @ Nikanti Golf Club

The 2nd of April saw the beginning of the annual course renovations for Nikanti Golf Club. The aim of the process was to remove the excess organic matter that has accumulated over the last 12 months, relieve any compaction and present the surfaces in top condition for the clubs biggest event of the year, the BMW Golf Cup which begins on the 10th of May.

We have created a set of Course Quality Objectives for the club which include target ranges for various performance parameters including firmness, green speed, infiltration rate and soil organic matter levels. These parameters are aimed at maintaining a high performing playing surface consistently through the year. 

Renovation practices like what we completed this year and in previous years, allow the club to achieve those goals and target specific areas that have been identified as underperforming. Since incorporating the Course Quality Objectives, the main focus during renovations has been removing the maximum amount of organic matter from the fairways. The fairways are harbouring a dense organic matter layer at their surface which holds excess moisture and results in a softer surface.

Soil organic matter levels in the greens were tested by Loss on Ignition at three different levels. 0-20mm, 20-40mm and 40-60mm. From these results, we could effectively target the problem area for maximum results. The test results showed that the OM levels are still within the target ranges. The decision was then made to use a solid tine rather than a coring tine and focus the verti-cutting on the top 5mm of the soil to remove the OM which had accumulated over the previous 12 months. The club will also incorporate more regular verti-cutting and dusting in their regular program through the year.

A step by step video of the golf course renovation practices at Nikanti Golf Club in 2018

Below is a summary of the program in chronological order for all surfaces including approximate costs. 


  • Vertical mow at -5mm up and back on the same line in 3 directions
  • Double cut at 3mm
  • Aerate with 9.7mm solid tines in a 1.5" x 1.5" pattern
  • Top-dress by hand
  • Level lawn when the sand has dried
  • Double roll
  • Brush with a medium-soft hand broom
  • Apply fertiliser and irrigation. Ammonium sulphate (21-0-0) and Eon 75 (humic acids)

After 4 days...

  • Vertical mow at 0mm
  • Aerate with 6.3mm solid tines in a 1.5" x 1.5" pattern
  • Brush with a medium-sof hand broom
  • Apply fertiliser and irrigation. Mono Ammonium Phosphate (12-60-0), Potassium Nitrate (13.5-0-44) and a retention wetting agent.

Approximate costs (initial 2 days):

  • Sand = US$1238.71 (60m3)
  • Labour = US$1,043.98 (31 staff)
  • Tines = US$1,045.20
  • Fertiliser = US$616.88 (21-0-0 = $36.23 + Humic Acid = $580.65)


  • Vertical mow at -5mm up and back on the same stripe in 3 directions (Triplex)
  • Graden at -5mm in 1 direction (collars and other small areas)
  • Double cut at 9mm
  • Top dress
  • Aerate with 9.7mm solid tines in a 1.5" x 2" pattern
  • Rub in with coconut drag mat
  • Heavy roll
  • Apply fertiliser and irrigation. Ammonium sulphate (21-0-0)

Approximate costs:

  • Sand = US$1,48.39 (75m3)
  • Labour = US$811.69 (25 staff)
  • Tines = US$537.10
  • Fertiliser = US$45.29


  • Circle cut at 7mm
  • Graden in 1 direction at -20mm
  • Drag with a steel mat (after Rak-O-Vac)
  • Cut at 7mm in 1 direction
  • Top dress
  • Rub in sand when dry with a coconut mat
  • Apply fertiliser and irrigation. Ammonium sulphate (21-0-0)

Approximate costs:

  • Sand = US$9,290.32 (450m3)
  • Labour = US$503.05
  • Fertiliser = US$271.74


  • Cut from 40mm to 20mm
  • Top dress and aerate high traffic areas with 16mm coring tines in a 2.5" x 2" pattern
  • Rub in with a steel drag mat when dry
  • Apply fertiliser and irrigation. Ammonium sulphate (21-0-0)

Approximate costs:

  • Sand = US$412.90 (20m3)
  • Labour = US$226.2
  • Fertiliser = US$301.94


Tees were completed two weeks later as part of our regular maintenance routine. The program below is completed on the tees every 4 weeks and has provided fantastic results allowing the club to forgo a major renovation.

  • Cut at 5mm
  • Light top dress
  • Aerate with 6.3mm solid tines in a 1.5" x 2" pattern

Approximate costs

  • Sand = US$495.48 (24m3)
  • Labour = US$78.13 (5 staff @ US$1.56/hour)
  • Tines = US$508.10

A huge thank you to the team at Nikanti, it was a tough week but they did an expert job allowing us to finish on schedule with a fantastic result.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding any of the processes above.

Nikanti Golf Club - Reaping Benefits of Recent Irrigation Upgrade

Nikanti Golf Club in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, just outside of Bangkok, is reaping the benefits of their recent irrigation upgrade.  Even though the course hadn’t even been officially opened the inadequacies of the original installation showed up quickly.  The limitations included:

  • Undersized mainline and pump station resulting in excessive watering window.
  • Dead end mainline on some holes resulting in limited flow capacity and low pressure in many areas.
  • Excessive and irregular spacing with poor uniformity.
  • Poor sprinkler locations and nozzling with fairway sprinklers throwing well onto green surfaces.
  • Multiple sprinklers paired together (2 – 4) compounding the poor sprinkler spacing and low pressure.
  • Poor green sprinkler layout, locations and uniformity.  Sprinklers from off the greens throwing onto the greens, limited surround sprinklers around and behind many greens and poor green sprinkler locations causing overwatering of the approach and green surfaces.
  • Poor tee and fairway sprinkler layout and excessive spacing.

As a result, the course was suffering from:

  • Wet and dry spots
  • Excessive salt buildup
  • Algae on greens, approaches and fairways
  • Inability to apply adequate irrigation during peak demand
  • Excessive power and water use
  • Poor turf quality
  • Unsatisfactory playability

The golf coursedesign at Nikanti Golf Club is not your typical flat course as many in the Bangkok area are.  The course features significant undulations in the fairways, roughs and even some greens with large runoffs from many of the elevated greens.  The irrigation system in conditions such as these requires an even higher degree of control to have the capability to adapt the application rate to meet the diverse conditions.  The original irrigation system was not designed to meet these challenges.

Significant Undulations In the Fairways, Roughs and Even Some Greens With Large Runoffs From Many of the Elevated Greens Create Many Irrigation Challenges

ATI was initially contacted by Hamish McKendrick (Agronomist) and Brad Revill (Golf Course Superintendent) to perform an Irrigation System Analysis and Long Range Plan.  The purpose of the analysis was to help independently identify the problems and make recommendations to the ownership to remedy the problems. Unfortunately, at the time the system was less than a year old and the course not yet open for play.  Accepting these limitations and significant additional costs was difficult to explain and for the ownership understand initially.

However, after reviewing the findings of the system analysis submitted by ATI and seeing the poor conditions the ownership wisely committed to implement most of the ATI recommendations. J & J, the local Toro distributor, was contracted to implement the upgrade designed by ATI.

ATI prepared an irrigation renovation plan to include the following:

  • Installation of a new Watertronics 681 m3/hr at 8.27 bar (3,000 gpm @ 120 psi) with capacity for a possible future expansion. A significant increase from the original 375 m3/hr at 8.27 bar (1,650 gpm @ 120 psi pump station.
  • Supplemental mainline and increased mainline size in selected areas to increase flow and reduce pressure loss. The additional main provided looping of the previous dead ends as well.
  • Conversion to individual sprinkler control by adding additional decoders. To accomplish the individual control supplemental decoder communication wire was required due to limitations in the capacity of the original wire installed.
  • Installation of complete new green and surround irrigation.

Fortunately, the contractor and golf course working together allowed these significant renovations to be installed with limited disruption to play.

One year after completion of the renovation the results are obvious when you drive into the property not to mention the tremendously improved playing conditions.  The benefits in the investment in the irrigation system include:

  • Healthier turf
  • More consistent and not excessive soil moisture.
  • Greatly improved playability
  • Reduced water useand electrical consumption
  • More uniform greens moisture and no algae on greens, approaches or fairways
  • Reduced salt buildup in the fairways and roughs

Improved Turf and Playing Conditions

The new system has given Brad Revill the tools he needed to dial in the course conditions.  Brad and his staff can now implement much more controlled and precise water applications. They only irrigate what is needed and not until it is needed. This improved water management is accomplished through a combination of the following management practices:

  • Constant visual observation and awareness
  • Soil moisture sensing
  • A disciplined irrigation scheduling regimen
  • Hand watering as needed for small areas

The improved water management was the result of the disciplined management provided by Brad Revill, the golf course superintendent.  Golf courses in Asia in general and Thailand in particular suffer greatly from significant overwatering.  The reason for this general overwating can vary from course to course, but are a result to some degree of the following factors:

  • Fear of brown grass
  • A lack of understanding of playability and golfer happiness
  • Fear of computers combined with a language barrier to operate the software
  • Apathy

In order to overcome the urge to overwater the staff at Nikanti required a change in their mindset.  Brad laid down strict guidelines to not irrigate anything until necessary which required “training them up or kicking some ass,” according to Brad.  He instructed the staff not to panic when they saw a dry spot.  Before, if one fairway had one dry spot, then ALL the fairways would be irrigated and not just the area(s) in need. Brown spots are a good sign, not a bad sign. They show that we are where we want to be and then implement the appropriate action to only that area in need and only the amount needed.  Keeping the course on the edge of dryness rather than excessively wet requires:

  • An understanding of soil moisture levels and their effects on turf
  • Keen attention to the status of the soil moisture and turf condition
  • Discipline to only apply water where it is needed, at the right time and at the right amount
  • Knowledge of the irrigation system to determine the best method of action to replace address dry areas, whether by hose, by a single sprinkler or a group of sprinklers. Start with the smallest option and work your way up.

At Nikanti, the soil moisture sensing begins in the morning with the Spectrum TDR moisture sensing probe to gather the data for the greens.  When they hand water the greens in the mornings from a quick coupler and hose, the minimum soil moisture level is dependent on weather conditions, but generally ranges from around 15% to 17%. A decision is made on this daily.  At midday, a Pogo moisture sensing probe is used to further measure the soil moisture.  If the reading is 10 – 15% or less the dry areas are hand watered again and evening irrigation scheduled.   When they schedule the irrigation at night using the Pogo Cloud GPS mapping they only turn on the sprinklers that directly influence the dry areas.  The Pogo offers the benefit of easily tracking and recording the data in the computer.  The Spectrum TDR is used in the morning since the time required is less than with the Pogo.  The two instruments take measurement at different depths which is helpful with the Spectrum measuring at a deeper level.  As a result the readings are slightly different but both are beneficial.  The use of the soil moisture sensing removes the subjective nature of the process which makes the task much easier for the staff to understand.

Soil Moisture Sensing With Pogo

Hand Watering of Greens When Needed

The improved irrigation on the greens provides much more uniform coverage of the water than before.  Eliminating water from fairway and other sprinklers throwing onto the greens makes the management of the green soil moisture much easier to control.  This coupled with the improved water management has eliminated the algae on the greens.  Additionally, the approaches to the green are much drier than before so the playability of the course has greatly improved.

The weather station is used to track the weather and evapotranspiration rate (ET).  The correct amount of water required is then scheduled for the other areas of the course.  In the dry season the maximum they would apply at peak would be 7 – 9 mm.  A full irrigation cycle can now be applied in dry season from 7:30 pm to 4:00 am to the entire course as a result of the increase pump and mainline capacity.  Before the renovation it wasn’t possible to adequately irrigate the entire course in a single evening during peak demand.

Daily Field Adjustments of Individual Sprinkler Run Times

The upgraded individual sprinkler control now allows the staff to adjust the sprinkler run times up or down on a daily basis as needed for each sprinkler based on their visual observation during the day.  The graphic as-built map added to the computer when it was programmed by ATI is a significant benefit to the operation of the system. After identifying wet and dry spots the use of the graphic as-built map with the IPad makes the task revising the program much quicker and simpler to accomplish.  .

Most of the recommendations from the ATI System Analysis and Long Range Plan were implemented during the initial irrigation renovation.  However, a couple of other improvements are still on the list to be accomplished as soon as the funding becomes available.  The rough areas around the tees are planted with a combination of landscape and native grasses.  This is a great idea to help conserve water, reduce maintenance and provide an attractive contrast to the turf.  Unfortunately, during the initial irrigation installation these areas were irrigated with the same sprinklers as the turf.  Water is now wasted in these areas and the unnecessary water promotes weed growth causing additional and unnecessary work for the staff.  Nikanti plans to upgrade the irrigation in these areas to tee top only irrigation as soon as possible.

The Addition of Tee Top Only Irrigation In the Future Will Further Improve Water Efficiency and Reduce Unnecessary Growth and Weeds

Also, many of the bunkers at Nikanti have steep grass down bunker faces so they dry much quicker than the surrounding turf.  They require constant supplement hand watering to keep them in good condition.  As soon as possible Nikanti intends to start adding supplemental sub-surface drip irrigation to the bunker faces in need.  This can be added by the staff one at a time as time and money becomes available.

The investment in the irrigation system combined with the professional water management provided by Brad and his staff has paid off in improved course conditions, increased play, lower operating costs and improved customer satisfaction.

Uniform Turf and Improved Playability

If your course experiences similar problems or is not at the level of condition you desire a good start is to get a system analysis from ATI performed as soon as possible.  You can then know what is required to give your staff the tools they need to do their job at a high level.

Unfortunately the poor spacing and location of the sprinklers in the fairways and roughs cannot be easily overcome.  Fortunately for Nikanti some of the other mistakes could be repaired but improving poor sprinkler layout requires nearly starting over.  The best answer for golf course, like most important tasks, is to do it right the first time.


Written by James Schumacher, President of Aqua Turf International. Original article can be found at http://www.aquaturfintl.com 

MLSN @ Nikanti GC. Reducing Expenses and Inputs Since 2016

Is it possible to reduce fertiliser expenses by 69%? I certainly wouldn't have thought so 2 years ago. I used to dig my heels in a little at monthly P&L meetings when management would ask to reduce our expenses, but once I started to embrace it as a challenge, it was like new motivation! To maintain our surfaces at the same high standard or better, for a fraction of the price. 

In my previous post regarding Phosphorus and our use of the MLSN guidelines, I mentioned that apart from the improvements in turf performance, we have seen some positive results on the bottom line and that is what I would like to share with you now.

While the MLSN Guidelines have played a major role in reducing our expenses, they can't take all the credit. There is another major change we made that shares equal weight with our decision to follow the MLSN and that is to use only soluble fertiliser compounds. We no longer use any liquid or slow release granular fertilisers as part of our normal fertility program across all of our surfaces and in doing so, have seen huge savings. Now, I should clarify and say that we do still use a liquid and granular humic acid product on our greens with great results, but apart from that, everything else is a soluble compound fertiliser.

As this post is mainly about sharing some positive consequences after following the MLSN Guidelines, I will perhaps write another post further expanding on our use of soluble fertilisers. For now, I will leave you with this great article from the team at the Green Section Record titled "Does the Grass Know the Cost?"

Figures shown are for greens only. P and K figures are displayed as elemental P and K and not P2O5 and K2O.

Figures shown are for greens only. P and K figures are displayed as elemental P and K and not P2O5 and K2O.

The above graph illustrates what may be some typical results after following the MLSN guidelines. These figures will vary from course to course depending on what nutrient reserves are currently in the soil but I am sure that anyone who begins following the guidelines will report a reduction in fertiliser application. I do apologise for not having our application figures for 2015 but they were lost during a transition to a new computer, however I do remember that they were only slightly higher than the 2016 figures.

Some of you may comment that the N:K ratio is not correct and we are not supplying enough K, this is due to the fact that we had enough K in the soil reserve at the start of the year and in fact applied zero K for some time. We now apply K regularly as the grass requires in a ratio of 1:0.7 for Bermuda and 1:1 for Paspalum.

My goal when first starting to follow the MLSN Guidelines was to reduce the soil reserve of each element to the MLSN value and observe the results. I have since done so with the elements above except for Calcium, as there is a large soil reserve and Magnesium, as this is ever present in our water supply in high amounts. I have not seen any detrimental results thus far as a direct result of following the MLSN Guidelines. I have only seen positives.

So, is it possible to reduce your fertiliser budget by 69%?

Figures converted to US Dollars from Thai Baht at a rate of 34 Thai Baht to US$1.00

Figures converted to US Dollars from Thai Baht at a rate of 34 Thai Baht to US$1.00

We are still a long way from the minimalists of the world like Jason Haines and the results they are achieving. Check out his writings on his experiences and results following the MLSN Guidelines and the results that can be achieved.

But again, each course and their circumstances are different and I hope this can provide some motivation/inspiration or at the very least, something to think about the next time your preparing your budget, fertility program or being asked to reduce expenses.

How Much Phosphorus Do You Actually Need?

Zero! Except after a scheduled aeration. I exaggerate but that is indeed how much I thought I needed to apply in the early days of my career. Phosphorous is bad, it makes the plant puffy and the leaf soft. (Sigh) Don't really know what I was thinking back then but I am so happy I have now educated myself and know some great people that are so willing to give their time to answer my questions.

So it has been around 8 months since we started following the MLSN guidelines and we have been very happy with the results, not just from a turf performance point of view but from the financial side as well! It is easy to think you are now an expert at this point, growing great turf and saving the club a lot of money which can be spent elsewhere but it is easy to make mistakes as we all know. I will now share with you some of mine, so that you may learn from them as I did.

One particular point I had overlooked with our new approach was the relationship between the MLSN guidelines, soil pH and the testing methods of the laboratory. The particular lab we use for our soil fertility analysis uses the Ammonium Acetate method for the Ca, K, Mg, Na and for Phosphorus they use the Bray method for our Fairways as the pH is below 7.5 (most likely due to the amount of ammonium sulphate we apply) and the Olsen method for our greens and tees as the pH is above 7.5. This is important as in some cases the figures vary greatly which will  impact on your turf performance.

The MLSN Guidelines. Figures are in ppm.

The MLSN Guidelines. Figures are in ppm.

The Mehlich 3 figures are sourced from the latest MLSN Guidelines from 2014 while the Bray and Olsen figures are sourced from the 2012 MLSN update.As for the Ammonium Acetate figures, I will leave it to the always helpful Micah Woods to explain from a recent email conversation below

For K, Ca, and Mg, I expect ammonium acetate is used by the lab for every
pH. So you can make an estimate by using conversion equations such as


I think there may be a little bit of trickiness involved with that,
because those units are lbs per acre, and the MLSN guidelines are in ppm
and we make those recommendations for a 4” (10 cm) soil depth. This is all
understandable once one works through it, I assure you.

From the Cornell equation, for K, it is written as:

(M3-K in ppm * 0.84) x 2 = Ammoniumacetate K in lbs/acre

If you have ammonium acetate K in ppm already, that means the lab already
divided the lbs/acre by 2. So to convert to estimated values of Mehlich 3
K, you take your potassium (K ppm) and divide in by 0.84. That gives you
the estimated K ppm if it was done by Mehlich 3.

And that same process could be done for Ca and Mg.

Another oversight was while I was having no issues with the calculations to determine the amount of an element I needed to apply and the forecasted use of the element by the plant, I could not understand why my forecasted ppm value for P was so far off the actual P quantity in the soil test reports. I then realised my mistake, which some may call amateur but what I realised was that I was using the Phosphorus quantities on the fertiliser bag (P2O5) instead of actual P to make the calculations and once I adjusted the equation, my forecasted figure was less than 1ppm from the actual result of the soil analysis! Read this blog post from Micah for more info regarding the P2O5 conversion.

Now back to the question at hand. How much phosphorus do you actually need? Well it largely depends on the lab testing method and your pH. For me, I only need to stay above 6ppm in my greens and tees and 30ppm in our fairways. Also, you should always remember that the MLSN Guidelines are in fact only guidelines and the figures quoted below are the minimum amount required for the plant, you should always aim to be above that minimum.

Some of you may be asking "What about root growth?". Well I can only tell you from my experience following the MLSN over the past 8 months is that we have seen a steady increase in root depth over the last 12 months which I attribute to suppling sufficient amounts of Phosphorus (no visual P deficiencies observed), our cultural program and our heavy focus on maintaining a consistent daily volumetric water content of between 15 to 22% in our greens. 

Now while these results may not be staggering, they are realistic.

If you are new to the MLSN Guidelines and want to know more or perhaps how to start at your facility, you can see how we started the journey in this previous post and for more information on the calculations check out this post.

2017 Course Renovations

From the first week of April we began our course renovation practices which would include re-landscaping some large focus areas. We were lucky enough to have the course closed for 10 days as there were also some maintenance scheduled on the clubhouse.

This was a big opportunity to go a little more aggressively in some areas (predominately the fairways and approaches) than we have done in the past and will allow us to achieve the surface performance standards that we have been targeting.

It was also great to have Nigel Taylor stop by on the first day to see how we were doing and to take some great footage of the process.

A chat with Nikanti Golf Club Director of Golf Course Maintenance, Brad Revill about his annual course renovations.

Thanks for that Nigel! If you haven't already seen it, check out Nigel's Vlog on Youtube. He gets to visit some pretty amazing courses around South East Asia and meet the Superintendents who are responsible for them.

I have also made my own video chronicling our renovation process below

2017 Course Renovation Program:


  • Vertical mow at -5mm in 2 directions up and back on the same line
  • Blow off debris and cut at 3mm with a firm brush in front of the mower
  • Topdress
  • Wait for sand to dry and then aerate with 10mm solid tines at a 1.5" x 1.5" spacing
  • Use the coco fibre mat and hand brooms to work the sand into the holes
  • Heavy roll
  • Fertilise with 21-0-0 @ 100Kg/Ha + Eon 75 (Humic Acid) @ 60Kg/Ha
  • Irrigate
  • 3 days later - Aerate with 6mm solid tines at a 2" x 2" spacing
  • Double roll
  • Fertilise with 18-22-5 @ 140Kg/Ha
  • Irrigate


  • Cut at 5mm
  • Topdress
  • Wait for the sand to dry and hen aerate with 12mm solid tines at a 2" x 2" spacing
  • Use the coco fibre mat to work the sand into the holes
  • Heavy roll
  • Fertilise with 15-15-15 @ 200Kg/Ha
  • Irrigate


  • Cut at 7mm
  • Scarify with the walk behind Graden at -25mm
  • Clean up debris
  • Topdress
  • Wait for the sand to dry and then aerate with 12mm solid tines at a 2" x 2" spacing
  • Use the coco fibre mat to work the sand into the holes
  • Heavy roll
  • Fertilise with 21-0-0 @ 160Kg/Ha
  • Irrigate


  • Circle cut at 7mm
  • Aerate with 16mm coring tines
  • Aerate and topdress using the Koro Recycling Dresser at -125mm
  • Separate the sand from the debris with a steel drag mat
  • Blow off and collect the debris
  • Brush in the sand
  • Heavy roll
  • Fertilise with 21-0-0 @ 120Kg/Ha
  • Irrigate


  • Cut from 40mm to 25mm
  • Cut from 25mm to 20mm
  • Fertilise with 21-0-0 @ 120Kg/Ha
  • Irrigate

We are also in the process of re-landscaping the majority of the out of play areas on all 18 holes in an effort to reduce maintenance and frame the hole. During the closure we managed to plant 25,000 Red Fountain Grasses (Pennisetum rubrum) along hole 18 and we are currently half way through planting 27,000 Lemon Grasses (Cymbopogon spp.) along hole 1 and 6. 

A huge thank you to my team and the 120 caddies that came to assist us with the landscaping!

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask anytime!

Using ROI to Justify That Project or New Machine

If you're like me and have found it quite difficult to get approval for a new machine you really need or that project that is always getting shoved down the list, try using a ROI (return on investment) figure as a tool and it may just get you over the line.

This may be relatively new or unheard of for some or a regular tool in the arsenal for others, but it has helped me recently with a few new projects we were planning as well as some machinery purchases so I thought I would share a few things I have learnt that you may find useful too.

I will use the new machinery purchase as my first example as it is relatively clear to see. Last year we trialled a new implement on our fairways in the hope that if it passed all of our tests it would then replace our fairway topdressing program. Well, it passed our tests but now I had to show the club management why it would be a worthwhile investment.

Now for some facts. Traditionally we topdress our fairways annually which costs around 300,000 Thai Baht (approx. US$8,570) and the new machine in question costs 950,000 Thai Baht (US$27,140). Now simply map out those costs and savings in a table over time as pictured below.

ROI = (Net Profit / Cost of Investment) x 100

ROI = (Net Profit / Cost of Investment) x 100

This is just a simplified version, you can be as detailed as you want with the costs and include estimated fuel usage, maintenance costs and any changes in the price of materials or just keep it simple like I have. 

Another example is a project we are currently looking into and involves changing the grass type on our course to one that is better suited to our location and site specific circumstances. The project would take approximately 2 years completing 9 holes each year and so any potential savings wouldn't be realised until the second year as shown below.

You can also calculate Net Present Value and Internal Rate of Return and add them to your presentation to further assist in the decision making. There are many helpful calculators available online free of charge and are quite simple to use. If you are looking for more information on ROI I have found this site to be quite helpful.

This was a slightly different blog from what I usually write about but I hope it was helpful all the same! 

Stay tuned for a new Vlog of our course renovation practices!

The End of Coring?

Organic matter management. Probably one of, if not the most important aspect of our role as turf managers in consistently maintaining high performing playing surfaces.

Do we need to core greens? Can we manage organic matter with sand top dressing and the use of solid tines only? How much sand is needed and how often do we need to apply?

It is these questions I often ponder about on my 1-2 hour daily commute home from work each evening. Over the last 6 months, I have taken advantage of this commute time to listen to all the podcasts from TurfNet Radio and in particular, Frank Rossi's "Frankly Speaking" episodes. If you haven't yet discovered the TurfNet Radio podcasts, I highly recommend them.  It was one of these episodes in particular with Frank and guest Dr. Roch Goussoin who was the head of the Agronomy Department at the University of Nebraska, talking about managing organic matter in fine turf that first opened my eyes to at least the possibility that we didn't need to core! A possibility that I would never have thought of before as it is engrained into us that we core aerify and top dress in the Spring and Autumn to control organic matter build up and relieve compaction, amongst other benefits.

Negotiating the mayhem that is Bangkok

Dr. Roch discusses the survey that they conducted in 17 states and on over 200 golf courses over almost 3 years in an attempt to identify which greens consistently had the lowest organic matter and why. He explains that the results show that for all the greens that were surveyed, the dominating factor for the greens that had the lowest organic matter percentage was the amount of sand applied over the growing season, not necessarily if they cored or didn't core or how frequently or aggressively they pulled a core, but the amount of sand applied followed by the frequency in which they top dressed.

Dr. Roch then conducted a 2 year study to determine if the way you make a hole matters and if it was possible to manage organic matter with top dressing only. All test plots (180 altogether!) received the same amount of top dressing sand with different cultivation techniques including coring, no coring, solid tining, bayonet tines, planet air, hydrojecting and also looked at greens of different ages. He then goes on to say...

...we basically proved that core aerification does not lower organic matter any more then not pulling a core or using a solid tine.

Wow! This made me start to question everything we were doing in regards to managing organic matter. This theory was further backed up by Dr. Norm Hummel in another episode with Dr. Frank Rossi, titled Aerating and Topdressing High Performance Putting Surfaces. Micah Woods also has some interesting thoughts of managing organic matter and biomass in this blog.

Great, so was there anyone who has actually had any success trialling this approach? Luckily enough, Chris Tritabaugh, the Superintendent at Hazeltine National and recent host of the Ryder Cup, talks about his management techniques in this episode and the fact that he has not pulled a core since August 2013! He only uses deep solid tines, needle tines and dryjecting in combination with regular topdressing through the growing season to manage organic matter. I think it's safe to say that nobody was questioning the quality of surfaces that were presented for that event!

I also read an article titled "Unconventional wisdom" in the January 2017 GCM Magazine where Jamie Kizer who was the Superintendent at Hidden Falls GC, Texas had only core aerified his greens once in the past 7 years. He utilises a biological approach, brewing and applying compost teas to stimulate microbial activity in the soil combined with the use of the Air2G2 machine to inject air directly into the soil profile once per month to further stimulate the microbes and digest the organic material.

Irrelevant practice??

So is this the end of coring? I personally think there will always be a place for core aerification as a tool for compaction relief and to remove excessive organic matter in combination with machines like the Graden. But once we have that excessive organic matter removed, it makes sense to me that we should be able to keep it sufficiently diluted with regular sand topdressing, solid tining and/or in combination with a biological program and Air2G2 machine.

We do not have an Air2G2 at Nikanti Golf Club but with our last core aerification in June 2016 and average OM% sitting at 1.2% (Nov. 2016) in our 4 year old greens, we will definitely be testing the topdressing and solid tining approach moving forward. 

This OM% figure is taken from a sample depth of 100mm when we do our regular soil fertility testing. I would like to send some samples away in the next month that are taken from the top 5cm of the soil which I think will be much more relavent.

Current profile of our 2nd green

It was my hope to present you with some data on our cultural practices, fertiliser applications and performance data in this post but I admit I have not finished compiling the 2016 data. This just means you will be hearing from me again on this matter very soon. I will leave you with a quote from my first boss and Superintendent at Bermagui Country Club, David Thomson, which will stick with me forever...

When we stop evaluating everything we practice, that’s the time to leave the trade.

MLSN Update and Calculations

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a great time with friends and family. I was lucky enough to travel around Central Europe with my Fiancé, eating a ridiculous amount of food and soaking up some incredible sights like the one below.

Now back in Thailand, we have been experiencing some unusually wet and miserable weather for this time of year. Receiving a little over 46mm the past 5 days when we wouldn't normally see a drop. The turf has reacted with a flush of growth and an unfortunate consequence of a drop in green speeds. 

Spectacular view from our hotel in Austria

Before I left for Europe I published my first ever blog post and was blown away with the amount of feedback and page visits it received. There were a total of 480 visits since I published the article last month, with many people contacting me with questions and positive feedback. 

To start off the new year, I thought I would give a quick update on our fertility program, show the calculations I use to estimate soil ppm values and plan for future applications.

What I didn't mention in my previous post was that we are not only following the guidelines on our greens, but course wide. So I have shared my soil test results for the tees and fairways below so you can see where we stand on all playing surfaces at the start of the trial.

Tees above and Fairways below.

As I've shown in my previous post, the lab targets for Calcium and Magnesium always seem to be unattainable and only lead to frustration and what seems to be an over-application of fertiliser. It is still only early days, but the MLSN guidelines just seem to make sense. Why apply fertiliser if the plant is not showing signs of a deficiency or continue to apply if there is no measurable response from the plant after application?

You can see from the graphs that the Calcium and Magnesium levels in the tees and fairways are more than sufficient and still have quite a ways to go until reaching the MLSN while Sulphur I fear will always be an issue due to the high concentrations in our water supply. We will be starting to apply Potassium to our fairways this month and based on my calculations, we still have sufficient levels in our tees for at least another 2 months. We will also be making an application of Phosphorus to the tees this month which should bring the soil levels above the MLSN and have enough reserve to carry us through to our scheduled aeration in April.

Micah Woods has always been helpful in answering any questions I have had about the MLSN guidelines and I'll share his explanation below from a recent email on how to calculate how many ppm of a certain element you are adding to the soil.

1 gram spread on one square meter is the equivalent of 6.7 ppm if it were to spread evenly through a 10 cm deep rootzone.

You can customize this however you like. For most situations, I like to work with a 10 cm rootzone and a soil bulk density of 1.5 g per cubic centimeter. If you prefer to work with a different rootzone depth, or a different bulk density, then you can make similar calculations as I show here for finding the correct conversion factor.

1 square meter on the surface has an area of 100 cm x 100 cm = 10,000 cm2

The volume of 1 m2 to the depth of 10 cm is 10,000 cm2 x 10 cm = 100,000 cm3 = 100 L

So we have 1 gram of fertilizer to apply across one square meter, and we want to know how much that should change 100 L of soil. Or we don’t apply fertilizer, and we try to predict how much the soil will go down based on the quantity harvested by the grass.

1 gram is mass. 100 L is volume. And ppm is mg per kg. So we need to convert the soil from volume to mass. Sand usually has a bulk density of about 1.5 g/cm3. So 100 L of sand rootzone will have a mass of 150 kg.

Now we have mass into mass. 1 gram at the surface = 1000 mg into 150 kg = 1000/150 = 6.7 ppm.

Based on the above method as well as the calculations in these articles from the USGA and ATC, a more detailed explanation in "A Short Grammar of Greenkeeping" and general ratios of each element in the leaf (table below) you can calculate the amount of each element used by the turf, remediate any deficiencies as well as predict how long the soil reserve will last for.

Element use per 10g of Nitrogen applied per grass species. Based on general leaf tissue ratios.

Element use per 10g of Nitrogen applied per grass species. Based on general leaf tissue ratios.

Hole 4 at Nikanti Golf Club - January 2017

Apart from the temporary reduction in green speed due to the flush of growth from recent rainfall, we have not yet suffered a reduction in turf performance due to the change in our agronomic program.

I will post another update on our use of the MLSN guidelines after we receive the results of our soil tests next month but before that I will share a few thoughts and strategies for managing organic matter. 

All the best for 2017!

The Start of Something New - MLSN!!

I am often found wondering on how to better myself and the techniques we use as turf managers, to obtain the sometimes unrealistic goals we place on ourselves in our endless pursuit of perfection. It is this pursuit however, this passion for turf and the science behind it which keeps me eager to learn and challenge myself, to always improve and develop a better way of how we do things. Whether that is to do with turf management and the environment, or leadership, budgeting and planning, communication, or employee management and education, I will often enjoy reading about new research and articles written about these subjects and look forward to testing them on the course and with my team.

It is these subjects, the trials, my past, present and future experiences in turf management and maybe a little about the life of an international superintendent that I will be attempting to write about in this blog. 

A little about me... I grew up on the South Coast of New South Wales, Australia in a small town called Bermagui where I also started my career in turf management. From there I made my way over to the U.S. for 12 months on the Ohio State program before coming back to Australia. I was then off again to South East Asia where I have been for 5 years with a stint in Brunei on the tropical island of Borneo and currently in Thailand as the Director of Golf Course Maintenance at Nikanti Golf Club, Bangkok. Just over 3 years ago and my second year in Asia, I attended a turf seminar and golf day held at Springfield Country Club in Hua Hin, Thailand where I was lucky to meet (sweep her off her feet) my fiancee Blue. As there are usually not many girls that attend such events, I was very lucky to find her. For which I am very grateful, she has been very supportive of everything I set out to achieve in my career and long story short, we will be married next February!

Over the past year we have conducted several trials with machinery, grass types and agronomic programs which has allowed our course conditioning to improve as well as decreasing the bottom line. Most recently of which is our implementation of the MLSN guidelines.

For years I have been following the recommendations from soil testing laboratories trying to create the "ideal soil" with the correct ratios of nutrients. After each soil test I would follow the recommendations, most of the time adding more and more calcium. After each test my ppm values would increase along with the "target" ppm values which kept getting higher and higher until it seemed I would never reach it. I grew frustrated with the recommendations and after reading article after article and research papers online, I came across the MLSN guidelines produced by Pace Turf and Dr. Micah Woods. If you haven't heard of it before, you can find the article by Pace Turf here and an article by Micah on how to use the guidelines here. Jason Haines has been using MLSN for the past 4 years and has some great data on his blog.

I was immediately attracted to the MLSN approach as it just made so much sense. You only apply the quantity of nutrients that the plant is actually using based on the ratio of nutrients in the leaf, the quantity of Nitrogen applied and clipping yield.

I have started adopting this approach from September 2016 and am currently in my 3rd month and have not applied an application of Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium or trace elements (except foliar Fe) in those 3 months. The graphs show our month by month ppm values and my aim will be to reduce them down to the MLSN guidelines before applying the nutrients as the grass needs them. You can clearly see how different and varied the target recommendations from the lab are (Ca, Mg, K) compared to the MLSN. No wonder I was confused and frustrated.

Typical Irrigation Water Analysis from our site

Typical Irrigation Water Analysis from our site

I should mention that even though we have only applied Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Humic Acids for the past 3 months, the quantity of Magnesium, Calcium and Sulphur in the soil fluctuate due to the high levels in our irrigation water. Our water source is a river which runs adjacent to the course which we have tested monthly as the levels of all elements constantly fluctuate. I suspect this is from the large amount of agricultural areas fronting the river upstream, including rice paddies, shrimp farms and pig farms as well as manufacturing plants.

Greens are still in good shape with 3 months of no K, only applying N and P with a little Mg and Ca from irrigation

Based on our November soil analysis, I am predicting I will have to start re-applying Potassium at the end of this month as the soil ppm drops to the MLSN level. We will be taking more soil samples early in the new year, so we will see how accurate my calculations are.

As I am posting this, we are on our way to Europe for Christmas so I am planning my next blog entry for the new year. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all!