Greenkeeping in Finland
The first shot of golf was played on a football field called Sahara. The oldest course is Helsinki, Tali course was established in 1932. Until the late 1980´s we had less than 20 courses. During the golf boom 50 more courses were constructed. Today the amount of golf courses is 128. Due to recession only one new 18-hole-course was opened in 2009 and another one was opened 2010. Also two nine-hole courses are under construction. A lot of clubs are renovating or expanding their courses and the scale of renovations is varying from new holes to new bunkers. Also irrigation systems are rebuilt.
Only one course has been totally renovated; practically a new course was built on the same place. On most of the courses it is normal to build some new tees or bunkers yearly or to renovate 1-2 greens.
At the end of 2010 Finnish Golf Union had 142 205 registered players in 128 member clubs.
The amount of players has been growing 5-10 % yearly since 1990 and 5000 new players joined 2009. Average playing season starts from May and ends in the end of October. Winter greens are often used in April and November. Some courses keep the greens open whenever it is possible = ground not frozen. This spring the first courses were opened on greens on the 8th of April. More than 20 courses opened their greens in April.
10 000-33 000 rounds are played on 18 holes per season.
Sizes and amounts of courses:
Total amount of courses 127
9 holes -- 37 courses
18 holes -- 64 courses
27+ holes -- 26 courses
= 2800 playing and practice greens
+ “pay and play” & par 3 -courses: 43
= 300 smaller greens
Normally the soil and water pH in the nature are low. Most courses have constructed their greens and tees according or close to the USGA recommendations, but the rest of the area is often on clayish soil. The total area of a course varies from 40 to 70 hectars per 18 holes. Irrigation water is taken from lakes or rivers. Same kind of machinery is used in Finland as in the rest of the Europe. The greenkeeping staff usually consists of a head greenkeeper, an assistant headgreenkeeper and a mechanic, who normally are hired all year round. Seasonal greenkeepers are working from 3 to 8 months per year. The maintenance level of the courses varies a lot and this also affects to the amount of greenkeepers. This year we had at least three 9-hole-courses, that had only one or two workers during August, September and October. On the other hand some 18-hole courses have more than 10 workers in the mid-season.
The courses are normally share-owned. The course company is the owner of the course, responsible for the economy. Golf clubs are "hiring" the course from the company. The share owners are normally also members of the club, and they pay an annual fee for around 600 euros to cover the management costs. Players also pay a 50-100 € membership fee to the club which includes an insurance for the player.
In winter the mean temperature remains below 0°C but warm airflows can raise the daily high above 0°C at times. Winter usually begins in mid-October in Lapland and during November in the rest of Finland. Winter is the longest season lasting for about 100 days in southwestern Finland and 200 days in Lapland.
North of the Arctic Circle part of the winter is the period known as the polar night. The sun does not rise above the horizon at all. In the northernmost extremity of Finland the polar night lasts for 51 days. In southern Finland the shortest days are about 6 hours long.
The lowest temperatures in winter are from -45°C to -50°C in Lapland and eastern Finland; from -35°C to -45°C elsewhere.
Thickest snow layer is in the Northern and eastern parts of the country, maximum is about 1 meter.
Ice and snow management
Continuous observation is made especially on the greens during the winter. The quality and duration of snow and ice cover is checked and samples are taken to find out whether there is snow mold or anaerobic conditions under the ice or snow. A few courses are using winter covers: bubble plastics and impermeable covers are assembled in November and collected away in April. We have had good results on this except on the two warm winters 2007 and 2008. The covers must be assembled on frozen ground and fungicide spraying is necessary.
Ice is also crushed in different ways. Some have tried using turf aerating machinery for this but it resulted only to damage machinery. The ice can often be so hard that we call it "steel ice", as it doesn´t let air to flow any direction. Greenkeepers have built different kind of spiky drums that are driven with a tractor to break the hard ice. On some courses they are using snowcats to break the ice layer. The ice is not totally taken away but it is enough that you get a contact between the plants and air. Small injuries do not matter: If some "green ice" is found on the crushed areas it doesn't shock the greenkeepers. The crush is then ploughed away from the green and sometimes snow is blown back to cover the greens. If there is no snow the spring covers (agricultural covers. like Lutrasil, a spunweb ) may be assembled already in the winter.
Some courses especially at the coastline have more than 20 cm ice layer and the duration can be several months. There is no way to break the ice or it should be done several times per winter. One course in Northern Finland is starting from scratch with its greens every spring using creeping annual bluegrass and in the last two years also velvet bent. With good results, considering that the growing season is only 150 days. They have well playable greens every summer. This Poa annua 'reptans' has been rated 'bad' and 'ugly' in tests but somehow it seems to thrive in the long daylight time.
Golf is played on snow and ice during the winter. The longest tradition of winter golf is located in Rovaniemi. People have been playing on the ice of Kemijoki river since 1986. A 9-hole-course is made there every winter. One other course is packing the snow on its fairways and using the normal course also in winter. The greens are not used in winter so the "whites" are made elsewhere on the course area. The hole is painted on the snow or local rules may tell that if you hit close enough to the pin it is in the hole. Some are drilling a real hole into the ice. Different kind of machinery is used to pack the snow on the green and fairway areas: snowcats, snowmobiles, many kind of rollers, brushes and levellers. The snow makes a challenging "rough" outside the maintained areas.
Spring begins a month earlier in the south than in the north. Its duration ranges from 45 to 65 days. Growing season begins about one month after the beginning of spring: at the end of April in southern Finland and at the end of May in northernmost Lapland.
Removal of snow happens normally in March; at least from the shadiest greens. If it rains during the winter and the snow turns wet some courses try to plough the wet snow off the greens to avoid ice formation. The soil must be frozen when tractors are used on the greens. Snow and ice are normally melting in May-April and many courses are speeding up the melting by using brown sand, organic low-nitrogen fertilisers or soil amendments to get the greens free from snow and to dry at the same time.
The long spring forces us to use covers on the greens to avoid desiccation and to make the overseedings germinate a bit faster. As the soil freezes up to 40-200 cm in the winter it takes about one month or so to warm up. As soon as the soil is warm enough the irrigation system is filled. All kinds of tanks and containers are used for watering the greens until the irrigation system is working. Some courses ask help from the local voluntary fire brigades.
In summer the mean daily temperature is consistently above 10°C. Summer usually begins in late May in southern Finland and lasts until mid-September.
The regions north of the Arctic Circle are characterized by 'polar days' when the sun does not set at all. The northernmost parts of Finland have 73 such days every year. Even in southern Finland the longest day (around Midsummer) is nearly 19 hours long. The grass is growing night and day and it is also possible to play golf at midnight.
The highest summer temperatures are from 32°C to 35°C. Heat waves with a maximum daily temperature exceeding 25°C occur on an average of 10 to 15 days per summer inland in southern and central Finland and 5 to 10 days in northern Finland and on the coast.
In autumn the mean daily temperature remains below 10°C. Autumn begins around the last week of August in the northern Finland and about one month later in the southwestern Finland. The growing season ends around the last week of September in the northern Finland and late October or early November in the southwestern Finland.
The average length of the growing season is 180 days in the southwestern archipelago, 140 to 175 days elsewhere in the southern and central Finland and 100 to 140 days in Lapland. The first snow falls in northern Finland in September and elsewhere in October. Yearly precipitation is 600-700 mm of which approximately half is snow.
(more about the weather: http://www.fmi.fi/weather/climate_7.html)
Snow moulds are the main problem in the winter. In the summer the Fusarium patch appears on greens. Take-all patch is common on new sandy soil greens. Fairy rings are common on old turf. Red thread appeared in the 1990´s on hungry Festuca roughs and has been identified on velvet bent greens also. Neither the Dollar spot nor Pythium have been identified on turf in Finland.
Fertilising and environment
The Finnish Golf Union had a three-year environment project called GolfY. The project was designed to measure the amount of water and nutrients leaching through greens. At the same time were monitored precipitation, temperatures, fertilising, aerations, mowing heights and the speed of growth as well as the colour, density, health and playability of the greens. Soil and plant samples were taken several times per year. The results leaded to new recommendations to nitrogen and phosphorus usage, dosage and timing combined to aerations. The old recommendations were "inherited" from the forage production on soils that contain clay and a lot of organic material. It´s impossible to achieve high levels of nutrients in sandy soils. This has led to reduced N and P - applications.
Both liquid and granulated fertilisers are used; also many organic and biological products are included especially in the greens maintenance. About one third of the courses does not use any chemical pesticides. Every course has made an environmental policy, and 78 courses are committed to the national Golf Environmental Programme.
Finnish Golf Union briefly in English
Finnish Greenkeepers Association briefly in English