Although Stewart Brown grew up on the west coast of Scotland, he spent most of his greenkeeping career in the east. So, when an opportunity arose last year to head up the prestigious Western Gailes Golf Club, he jumped at the chance to go home.
What prompted you to move to Western Gailes?
“I knew the course from when I was young, so it was a chance to go back home to a Top 100 venue. But there’s a big difference in the courses over here. The main thing is the difference in the weather – it’s a lot wetter. The surfaces are pretty soft for a traditional links, so there was a lot to do on the course.”
What were the first jobs you tackled when you arrived?
“The decision was taken to concentrate on moving water through the soil profile more quickly because we were struggling with soft surfaces and puddling. In the past, the greens had only been dressed with Fen Dress, a peat based material, which by its nature holds onto moisture. To help us create a free draining profile where the finer grasses can thrive, we needed to make some changes below ground. Historically, the club has used some sand from Hugh King here and there, mainly for bunkers and to make our divot mix. So we opted to use straight sand from Hugh King due to the quality and consistency of the product and being situated close to the quarry, it was extremely cost effective.”
So the first challenge was improving drainage.
“The movement of water is the most important thing. We started off the process with drill-and-fill work using Hugh King’s kiln-dried sand in order to create a link between the surface and the straight sand below. We used a machine so the drills were only going down about 12 inches. We had to use dried sand for that, but we also carried out home-made drill-and-fill work at deeper depths during which we poured the dried sand by hand. We were addressing issues further down in the profile initially but we also needed to look at the top of the profile with water sitting on the surface after heavy rain. We did some Graden work and that also required dried sand.”
How important was Hugh King’s sand to the project?
“It’s a fundamental part of what we’re trying to do here. We are trying to restore firm and fast conditions, and Hugh King’s sand is a fundamental part of that.”
It is quite a direct strategy.
“We used 80 tonnes of Hugh King’s dried sand this year. There is also a longer-term strategy, but we had to start somewhere. We could have taken longer to do these things but the club wanted to get things moving.”
And the results are…
“We’ve already seen a difference in our percolation rates and a reduction in puddling so the water is definitely moving through the profile quicker. There’s a long way to go but we’re heading down the right track.”
You’re also using Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand for topdressing
“Yes. We’re trying to get sand throughout the profile, but in a general sense we use topdressing to smooth out surfaces and create a firmer playing environment throughout the season. We use Hugh King sand on the greens, approaches and tees applying it every three or four weeks throughout the year. We back off during the busy periods during June, July and August, but we’re trying to do more topdressing during the winter which should reduce the amount of applications during the playing season.”
You’ve also brought in 40 tonnes of Hugh King’s rootzone for construction. How have you found that?
“The decision was made to bring in some Hugh King rootzone, which is the ideal product for our tees and pathways. It is 80% sand, which is the main thing, but that 20% of soil helps with moisture retention and is similar to most of our current soil and rootzone. It means the rooting should be significantly better. We could lay the turf straight onto sand but we wouldn’t get the same establishment. We need the soil to give the roots something to work with.”
And how far on are you with your winter works?
“When we come back after Christmas, we should have finished more than half of our winter programme which involves rebuilding 27 bunkers and a couple of tees and some paths. After Christmas, we’ll work on the back half of that plan and hopefully get it all finished by the end of February.”