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The Course Manager’s Calendar – March

The greens at Crieff Golf Club have never been drier. We catch up with course manager Charlie Macdonald to find out how kiln-dried sand has helped realise the club’s ambitious improvements.

Charlie, the last time we spoke, you were completing a big drainage project. How did that turn out?
“Well, at the back end of last year, we verti-drained down 10 inches and applied a tonne and half of Hugh King kiln-dried sand on each green. That really helped the greens drain especially after we put in all the drainage. We’re just tying up the drainage with the verti-draining, so together it will make a huge difference. The greens are absolutely bone dry. There’s not a green on the course that’s wet.”

How long did the verti-draining take?
“We started in the middle of October and it took us roughly two and half weeks to do all the greens because we hand-brushed the greens after. So it took five members of staff about two hours to do a green. It was a tough job, but it was worth spending that time to get the sand down deeper into the profile. The top two inches is already quite full of sand because of the amount of top-dressing we’ve put down.”

How long have you been using Hugh King’s kiln-dried sand?
“We’ve used the kiln-dried sand the last five or six years. We use it in September or October and then we use Hugh King’s medium coarse blend sand for top-dressing during the summer. We’ve used about 40 tonnes on the greens this winter.”

Was this done on both courses?
“Yes, we’ve got 29 greens. We did the nine-hole course in September. It has smaller greens so they probably took about half a tonne a green. It didn’t take us long; we were getting through five of them a day.”

What impact has this had on the greens?
“The greens are looking really healthy and dry. All the verti-drained holes have recovered so we have full grass coverage on all the greens. They’re looking pretty strong going into March which sets them up well for the spring. If your greens are dry throughout the winter, they’re a lot healthier going into the start of the season.”

Job done?
“Nearly. With the kiln-dried sand we have left, we’re going to give them a solid tine down to about 3 inches. We’ll probably use another 15 tonnes of sand for the 29 greens. We’ll be doing that in March weather permitting.”

And then you’re into the playing season.
“It’s a constant programme. You’ve got to keep going. If you stop, the thatch layer will start to build up again, so we’re constantly going over the greens every five or six weeks with vert-drains going down 9 inches followed by an application of sand and a rolling.”

How does that affect play?
“With the sweep-and-fill brush, we can get rid of the sand no problem. It just disappears. It’s great to use a sand that disappears with a few brushes. And it literally is a couple of brushes and it’s gone. If it’s dry first thing, one brush after a light application is good enough. Then we give it a cut and a roll and after that the surfaces are back to normal. Some of the golfers don’t even know it’s been done. The golfers don’t moan about it, which is a bonus.”

Those greens have been well looked after!
“We use a lot of sand, and we have always used dried sand at the back end of the year so the sand can penetrate down into the profile which has made a huge impact. The greens are firm and dry 12 months of the year. We have a parkland course in the centre of Scotland, so it just shows you how dry they are when you can ride a triple over them right through the winter. The sand has definitely helped. It’s been fantastic.”

How would you rate the service you’ve received from Hugh King?
“Hugh King has been fantastic. We get bunker sand, rootzone, topdressing and dry sand, and it is all so consistent. We’ve never had a bad load of any sand. It’s been absolutely spot on. I wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t good, and I wouldn’t tell you it was good if it wasn’t.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – February

West Kilbride Golf Club is undertaking a thorough and far-reaching bunker renovation project. We catch up with course manager Jim Paton who is two thirds of the way through reconditioning and reshaping the club’s 84 bunkers.

We last caught up with you nearly two years ago when you were in the middle of renovating and reshaping 38 bunkers. How did that go?
“It went well, but we’ve done more work since then on another 18 bunkers. We’re getting through them, but we still have a lot to do. The main thing is the members like the work that’s getting done.”

How are the new bunkers performing?
“Really well. We’ve had some issues with sand blow, so we’re changing to Hugh King’s Bunker 7 which is more gritty than the Bunker 8 sand we were using. It’s a wee bit heavier. We started that process at the end of last year so we’ve only had a few loads but we are starting to fill the bunkers now with the new sand.”

What have you got planned for February and the run-up to the start of the season?
“We’ve not been as wet as the 2017 winter, which was awful. From that July until February; that was the wettest period we’d had for a long time. This winter has been a lot drier. We’re building towards the start of the members’ season which will also coincide with the Scottish Boys’ Strokeplay Championship in April. We’ll be preparing the golf course by top-dressing it with Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand to get the surfaces to their optimum.”

What is your topdressing regime?
“Well, the club took on a major programme of hollow-coring tees, greens and approaches last year. We used 120 tonnes of Washed Dune sand on the greens and another 40 tonnes was put on the approaches, so we’re looking at over 200 tonnes for the tees, greens and approaches. We also topdressed six times during the year, so that was another 120 tonnes, so we’ve been using a lot of sand.”

That’s a lot of sand going down.
“We’re trying to firm up and level off the surfaces. The objective is more consistent, firmer playing surfaces. And we’ll continue with our topdressing programme over the growing season.”

How long have you been using Hugh King?
“I’ve been here for 38 years and we’ve been using Hugh King all that time, and they still provide a very good service. It’s important to have a reliable and consistent product. Hugh King has and continues to deliver that.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – January

In the middle of a three-year bunker renovation project, Ian Kinley is shaping the future of Royal Porthcawl. The experienced course manager is also 12 months into a new sand regime that is creating significant year-round benefits.

It’s been a busy time for the club. Do you ever get a break?
“We’ve actually got two years’ grace after hosting two Senior Opens and an Amateur Championship in quick succession. That gives us the opportunity to look at all those things you put on the shelf. All those things you’ve wanted to do, but had to wait for. For instance, we’ve been given the green light for a new maintenance facility which will future-proof us for the foreseeable future. We should get spades in the ground around March or April.”

And on the course…
“We’re in the middle of a three-year bunker renovation project. We’re changing from traditional revetted pot bunkers and going back to a naturalised style with free-form edges. We’re in year two of that project, so we did some last winter and we’re doing a load this winter. Next year we’ll have two shapers come on site to do the bits that we can’t do.”

Does the new style cut down on maintenance?
“Yes and no. We only have eight naturalised bunkers so far and they are anything but maintanence-free. Grass tries to creep in and revegetate some areas, so keeping the bunkers clear of vegetation has been the biggest challenge.”

And how are you approaching your topdressing these days?
“This year, we slightly changed how we’ve been using Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand. We started topdressing the greens once a week every week. We work the sand in using dew brushes or irrigation. We do this once a week with six tonnes of sand. It’s a small amount, but because we do it over 52 weeks, we’re actually increasing our sand input.”

What prompted the change?
“We wanted to increase our sand usage on the greens to 300 tonnes per hectare. In order to apply that amount of sand, we calculated we would have to apply sand every week. We worked out that six tonnes every week for 52 weeks would be just over 300 tonnes. We’ve got just over a hectare of greens, so with our course maintenance fortnight during which we apply over a 100 tonnes of sand, we would be in excess of that figure.”

What impact has this increase had on the greens?
“It means all the benefits of topdressing are apparent 365 days of the year. Firmness is the key element we are driving towards. It’s a correlation between moisture content and firmness. We’re trying to dilute the organic content at the profile as much as possible to provide the firmness we want. A spin-off is the smoothness, trueness and speed – they all go hand in hand.”

Are there any other benefits?
“We’re applying the sand little and often, which means it doesn’t affect our cutting units as much and the golfers are unaware that we’ve topdressed. It’s been a big positive. Also, because we’re using dew brushes to incorporate the sand into the sword, it’s not abrasive to the finer grasses, so it’s favouring the finer grasses as well.”

In 2018, you used 420 tonnes of Washed Dune sand. How would you describe the service you received?
“The service has been very good. We’ve never had any significant issues. We use Hugh King’s sand because it’s the best sand for our environment. It’s a links sand, so it fits perfectly with our environment and what’s under the turf.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – December

Closing from November until March, the 17-strong greenkeeping team at Kingsbarns has a busy winter ahead. As course and facilities manager Innes Knight explains, it makes quite a change from looking after over 100 guests a day.

How does the closed season differ from the playing season at Kingsbarns?
“During the summer, we are mainly carrying out routine, low-disruptive maintenance. There’s a lot to do, but we are very sensitive not to disturb the playing surface. There are daily chores that have to be done, but ultimately you’re polishing. During the winter closure, we’re able to be more aggressive with the surfaces and it also allows us to tackle major renovation projects. You’re changing from looking after over 100 golfers a day to having a free reign to be creative. It’s nice to have both. It keeps it interesting.”

What have you got planned for your closed season?
“We’re going to verti-drain all the fairways and then, weather permitting, topdress all the fairways with Hugh King sand. That’ll help keep the surfaces dry. We’ve also verti-drained all the greens and we’re going to core and sand all of the tees. And then there’s the gorse maintenance, irrigation repairs, 25 bunker revetts, renovation work on the pitching green and driving range and improvements to worn pathways; so that should keep us busy.”

That’s a lot of work. What’s your ultimate objective for the playing surfaces?
“The aim is to dilute any thatch that’s been building up, improve the drainage and level out the surfaces.”

How does the weather affect your plans?
“It’s been very wet so far, so you just don’t want to go anywhere near any construction work. And if it’s frozen solid, that’s another problem. Somewhere in between would be nice. When you have challenging weather, you have to change the maintenance plan because there’ll be certain areas you just can’t go near, so you end up jumping around different jobs. Then, when you get the weather, you can move back into the subbase and you can do all the changes you wanted to do with the diggers. It’s called reactive management.”

How much sand will you use?
“In total, about 300 tonnes across the whole course. For instance, we topdress the greens 10 times during the season and once or twice during the winter depending on what the weather’s doing. We’ve been using Washed Dune sand from Hugh King to do this for 12 years now.”

Why have you kept with Hugh King for so long?
“Consistency – when we receive a load of Washed Dune sand, we know we’re going to get a consistent, stone-free batch every time. If I was to get 20 loads delivered one after the other, I would know the first one and the last one would be exactly the same. We have tried other companies and they’re not as dependable.”

Why is the consistency so important to you?
“You gain confidence when you know a product has been tested and it’s going to be the same quality for all the deliveries you’ll get. That means a lot.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – November

Barry McCulloch is man on a mission. Since starting at Caldwell Golf Club in January, the new course manager has been determined to tackle the effects of one of the wettest seasons on record by using kiln-dried sand.

After working at Whitecraigs Golf Club for 13 years, was it a big change coming to Caldwell?
“I started in January and it was slightly different. There is more rain here and the club experiences different temperatures, but I’m fairly used to those kind of conditions. When I arrived, we had just come off the back of one of the wettest seasons in 2017, so my aims and objectives were centred around getting the course open and in play as often as I could. I wanted to dry the place out as quickly as possible.”

How did you go about doing that?
“Having used dried sand at Whitecraigs, I believed that was the way to go, so we opted for Hugh King’s medium course dried sand to help with the surface drainage and worked it into the soil profile as quickly as possible. Using it from the silo was definitely the best way for us. Having worked with a silo at Whitecraigs, I knew it was the best way to progress and help improve the profile of the greens.”

Did you do anything else?
“We’ve done a bit of drilling and filling going down to 250mm and back-filling the holes with the kiln-dried sand. We wanted to dry the surfaces out as quickly as possible and keep the course open for play, especially the greens.”

How much dried sand have you used this year?
“We had the Hugh King silo delivered in February and we’ve taken delivery of 160 tonnes for this year, of which I have put 110 tonnes of sand onto the greens since February. We’re using Hugh King’s TD4 sand.”

What are the advantages of going for dried sand?
“Kiln-dried sand is moisture-free and taking it straight from the silo onto the greens as quickly as possible means we can apply more sand quicker. We were able to achieve 26 tonnes of sand – topdressing and brushing it into the greens – in one day. We had invested in new machinery, but that was only achievable because we had dried sand from the silo.”

What impact has this approach had?
“We’ve seen the results rather quickly in terms of the work that we’ve done so far. The members are certainly seeing the results and have spoken about the putting surfaces being firmer than before and have complimented us on the pace of the greens as well as the smoothness. These improvements have also been reflected in our STRI report with regards to the smoothness, trueness and hardness of the greens, which are all within target. The club has backed my goals and have invested in new machinery and the silo. Our membership has increased by 8% this year and we’re hoping that will increase over the next few months.”

Those are incredible results, especially since February.
“It’s had a big impact. The sheer quantity of sand we’ve put on the greens and the speed at which we apply it is really only achievable, I believe, because we have the silo. Being able to apply 26 tonnes in one working day is down to the machinery and, more importantly, the pure dried sand.”

You’re really going for it!
“We’ve just cored the greens in the middle of September and we are now grading them. That would be 70 tonnes of sand applied to the greens in eight weeks. By the time we’ve finished the grading, that will be 80 tonnes on the greens. That will be concluded by November, so during September and October, we will have applied 80 tonnes of sand to the greens.”

What impact will this have on the course next season?
“We’ll see a big difference in the playability of the putting surface. By the start of the season the greens should be firmer and allow us to prepare earlier for the season ahead.”