Just over a year ago, Richard Johnstone took over as course manager at Nairn Dunbar. He had been at the club for 15 years working his way up the ladder from Greenkeeper to Course Manager, and rather than settling into his new role, he got cracking on with ringing the changes.
Spring is a busy time of year. What do you have planned?
“Spring can be quite cold with us in the North of Scotland until about May time. We have just applied some moss killer, then after 10 day to 3 weeks we’re going to verti-cut the greens to remove the moss. When the ground temperatures rise, we will be over-seeding our greens with fescue seed and finish off with a light top-dressing to provide the ideal germination conditions”
Is this part of a long-term plan?
“Yes. We’re trying to restore the natural links characteristics of the course. We’re trying to firm up the surfaces on the greens, aprons, tees and fairways while promoting bents, fescues and other fine grasses throughout the course. It is a five-year plan to restore the course’s links characteristics by removing some of the gorse and trees that currently hide the natural dune habitats and encourage the finer grasses to flourish.”
That sounds like an ambitious plan.
“It is. We’re looking for a species composition change in our surfaces. When I first took over, I was told the greens profile wouldn’t allow fescues to establish. Now that we have applied 220 tonnes of Hugh King sand to our greens in the last 12 months to dilute the thatch, the soil profile is a lot better and is now capable of taking fescues which will allow us to improve the sward composition.”
How important is firming up surfaces to the overall project?
“It’s a very big part of the project. We want to give the golfers the links course they came to play. We want the greens to be firm and true, and we have spent a lot of time on the approaches making sure we get a lot of sand into these surfaces so that balls chase on as you would see on Open Championship venues, rather than landing and stopping short of the green.”
When did you start using Hugh King sand?
“The decision was made when I took over just over a year ago. The last load of sand from the previous supplier had large stones in it and caused about £2,000 worth of damage to our top spreader. We were also paying for wet sand which wasn’t going in great and we struggled to get it into the canopy without it lying on the surface for days. So the decision was made for me to find a new supplier”
Why go for Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand?
“We wanted to find a sand with particle sizes that would be compatible with the sandy loam beneath our greens and help dilute the thatch layer. The Washed Dune sand was perfect and it arrives really dry, so when we put it out, it goes on as a very fine dust – 10 tonnes every 10 days. We either brush, use vibrating rollers or a drag-mat to get the sand into the canopy.”
You applied 220 tonnes of Washed Dune sand last year. Do you plan to apply the same amount this year?
“A large reduction in fertiliser last year has allowed me to budget for this, so as much as we can. We have a thatch issue in the profile beneath our greens so I am trying to combat that as quickly as I can without upsetting the members – combined with pencil tining, light and often is the way to go.”
What impact has the sand made?
“There are fewer pitch marks on the greens. Rather than the balls plugging in greens, they’re now sciffing and chasing forward. You can hear the difference when the ball hits the surface – you now hear a thud rather than it hitting the ground and settling not far from it’s pitchmark. I had spoken to a few course managers before starting the project and they said that sand and aeration would be key. If the greens are soft and holding onto water in the top 2 inches, getting as much sand as possible into the profile will make a big difference. So I took their advice, and it has worked.”
What is your assessment of Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand?
“It is a fantastic sand. We use the Washed Dune sand for our greens. When you apply it, the sand disappears into the canopy very easily which helps when we’re cutting because it doesn’t blunt the cutting units. We normally allow 15 minutes before going over it with the vibrating rollers, which vibrate the sand into the canopy while giving the surface a roll. Our members could be playing on the greens almost instantly and they would never know sand has just been applied.”
And have the members noticed a difference?
“The members like what we have achieved so far. Some of the “older members” were sceptical about the restoration project but once we unveiled some natural dune systems with views out to sea and with the help of my course maintenance blog they now understand what hope to achieve over the next 5 years. It’s nice to hear the positive comments from the members – they have noticed a big difference to the course in the last year.”