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The Course Manager’s Calendar – September

There’s been a lot going on at Auchterarder Golf Club with the introduction of an irrigation system and a new bunker sand. Course manager Archie Dunn talks us through the changes and what impact they’ve had on the Perthshire course

What prompted the club to invest in a new irrigation system?
“We had such a bad time last year; we got burnt out really badly on the greens. That was the catalyst to get the irrigation system installed. In February, we got a brand new system on greens, tees and approaches.”

What impact has the new system had?
“The main benefit is we’re able to put on our top-dressing and irrigate it to wash in the sand much quicker than we did previously. The top-dressing is working much better for us because we have the ability to apply water and get it working straight away.”

So the new irrigation system isn’t really about water.
“Because it’s been such a wet summer, we’ve used the irrigation system more for maintenance procedures than actual irrigation. For instance, we put the top-dressing down, drag brush it and put on some water and most of the sand is gone. Before we were totally dependent on the weather. It’s up to us now – we’re not waiting on the weather to do the job for us.”

So you have more control. Are there any other benefits?
“We’ve got much more consistency because we can keep the moisture levels where we want them. It’s much better. The benefits, however, won’t really be apparent to our members until we get a dry spell, but that’s not happened this year. We’ve had four times the amount of rainfall this year between May until August as we had last year.”

You also introduced King Bunker 7 sand. What prompted that?
“We were using a local sand in the bunkers, but it wasn’t doing the job. It was good, but it compacted too easily. We’ve got old bunkers that are low-lying, so they can become quite wet. Bunker 7 is much better for us. It drains better and we end up with much more playable bunkers.”

How did you find out about the sand?
“We introduced it last year after a recommendation from a friend who had been using it for about four years. I looked at his course and the kind of results he was getting and thought we should use it as well. Years ago we used a white sand in the bunkers, but people complained about the sand splash on the greens. Hugh King’s sand isn’t that brilliant white, so it’s not as noticeable.”

Have you introduced King Bunker 7 throughout the course?
“We’re working our way through the bunkers as we renovate them, putting in the new sand as we go. We’ve done about 30% so far – we only have 40 bunkers. We’ve done most of the greenside bunkers which are the most important ones. We wanted to get these done first because that’s where you want a better quality surface.”

You’re also using King Medium Coarse sand on tees and greens. When did you start using that and what impact has it had?
“We’ve been using it since Hugh King introduced it four or five years ago. The greens are much better and are firming up. It brushes in and spreads well. After it’s been brushed in, it disappears, so we’re really happy. We would have gone for Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand but we have a very heavy clay profile, so we needed something that would help improve the surface drainage and get some percolation off the top of the surface.”

How would you describe the service from Hugh King?
“It is absolutely excellent. We can order a delivery through our distributor Go Green and we’ll have it the next day or the day after. It’s a very good service which hasn’t changed under the new ownership.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – August

After 11 years at the helm of the greenkeeping team at Portlethen Golf Club, Neil Sadler has seen his fair share of challenging seasons. As the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable, he shares his secrets of summer success

What are your plans for August?
“We’ve got a couple of big tournaments coming up, so there won’t be anything major happening. We’ll just continue doing what we’ve been doing throughout the season which has been verticutting and topdressing.”

How often do you verticut and topdress?
“Because we’ve had a lot of growth, we’ve been verticutting weekly and putting down a dressing behind that. We’re trying to make a smoother surface, and this year we’ve also kept the cut height up a little bit. Normally we’re below 4mm and this year we’re keeping it at 4mm and we’re getting results. It’s better all round.”

What results are you getting from keeping your cut height higher?
“The roll of the ball is fantastic and the speed is great. The plant is a lot healthier and happier at that height.”

Are you topdressing weekly throughout the year or just during the season?
“It’s weather-dependant. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been doing it weekly but next week we’re not doing it all, and then we’ll get back into it the week after that. It all depends on the weather. We’ll go out and look at the greens and if we can’t see the verticut marks from the time before, we’ll go out and do them again in a different direction. At the moment we’re getting thundery showers which is fantastic because they just wash the topdressing down into the canopy. Last year, we didn’t get much topdressing done because it was so dry. This year, it’s a different animal all together.”

That must make planning difficult.
“You’ve got to be flexible. You can’t plan from one day to the next at the moment. It’s really tough to plan things because the weather is up in the air.”

How much sand are you putting down?
“We’re putting down about nine tonnes onto the greens so it’s just a light dressing.”

Light but often. Is that due to the growth you’re experiencing?
“Yes. We’re keeping on top of the growth with the verticutting and topdressing. It’s helping with the refinement and with any thatch build-up down below. It’s keeping it clean and maintaining the air movement.”

It’s almost the exact opposite of last year.
“Yes, but there’s less pressure this year. Last year we were worrying about where the water was coming from. This year we need to cut, cut and then cut again. It’s so different. Mother Nature really is in control and keeping us on our toes.”

What sand do you use and in what quantities?
“We use Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand and we’re looking to put on about 200 tonnes a year.”

How long have you been using Hugh King sand and what improvements have you noticed during this time?
“We’ve been using Hugh King for about five years now, and as a result we’ve got a firmer, drier profile and the water percolates down at a much better rate. It’s a better environment now for the finer grasses to survive in.”

That must have a huge impact.
“Without a doubt. Last year we got hit with a terrible bout of disease at the end of August. The poa just got annihilated. So we put in some more bentgrass and you could see it coming into the areas where the poa was. It was just fantastic. Now we can be a bit more choosy about what seed we’re putting in because our thatch levels are so low – I think they’re down to 4%, so we don’t need to do the hollow coring anymore.”

How much of that do you put down to the quality of Hugh King’s sand?
“Without doubt the quality of the sand is huge. It’s brushing into the canopy very well. The golfers aren’t getting upset with it. And with it being so uniform for drainage purposes, it’s very, very good. The quality of the sand is of massive importance.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – July

Two and half years into his job as course manager at Western Gailes Golf Club, Stewart Brown explains how a new topdressing programming is prolonging the life of his mowers

So how are you settling in at Western Gailes?
“Well, last summer was extremely dry which was unusual for the west of Scotland and that was followed by this year which has been extremely dry. We’ve been drier over here than they’ve been on the east coast, so I’ve brought the weather over with me. It’s all good.”

What kind of winter work have you done on the course?
“We have an ongoing programme of bunker work and levelling of tees. We’ve also done quite a lot of work on our walkways; widening them and adding grass. In May and June, we did a lot of the remedial work, such as overseeding. Through July, we’ll concentrate on presentation work with continual aeriation and topdressing programmes with minimal disruption.”

Of course you have a second set of tees at Western Gailes.
“Yes. We essentially have a winter course using a separate set of walkways and tees to get people round. We use that from November until February. It makes a massive difference and gives the surfaces a rest through that part of the year, especially in the west coast of Scotland which tends to be quite wet. Historically the tees were allowed to grow during the season, but we’re trying to upgrade the winter course, so we’re maintaining the winter tees as we do the rest of the tees. It means that when we switch over in the winter, it feels like you’re playing a proper golf course.”

So what do you have planned for July?
“It’s a busy part of the season, particularly with visitors. The priority is maintaining the playing conditions through July, August and September. We get a break when the Glasgow holidays start which means we’re quiet regarding competitions through July and into August, and then it gets busy after that. Although July is quiet with members, we get a lot of visitors, so it’s a busy period in that respect. It means maintenance-wise, we’re just trying to keep everything tidy while continuing with our usual topdressing programme.”

What is your topdressing programme?
“We’ve changed things slightly this year by increasing our frequency but bringing down the volume, so we’re sometimes going weekly but mostly bi-weekly with about five tonnes a hectare of Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand. We cut the greens in the morning, topdress them and with a turn of the irrigation heads; the sand’s away. We’ve got a lot more sand down this year using this process.”

How much sand?
“To date this year, we’re at about 350 tonnes of Hugh King sand on greens, tees, approaches and a select number of fairways. The idea is to put another 300 tonnes down, so our target is about 600 tonnes throughout this year. A lot of that is down to the damage we experienced on the fairways last year because of the drought. We’ve had to do a lot of work to recover them, so there’s been a big increase in our sand use this year.”

Are there any other advantages of following this new programme?
“We’re prolonging the life of our machinery a lot because the sand isn’t lying on the surface. We used to do a monthly, slightly heavier topdress at about 12 tonnes a hectare. Now the idea is to topdress to match the amount of growth you get, so you’re not really getting that build-up of material below the surface. This little and often approach seems to be working for us.”

What practical benefits does that have?
“We’re not picking up any of the Washed Dune sand with the mowers, so the blades stay sharper for longer. That’s made a big difference for the greens mowers and the approach mowers. It’s time-consuming and expensive to keep changing the blades. In fact, it’s not so much downtime, as much as the cost of replacing the blades. We’ve probably gone through half the amount of blades on our greens mowers than we would normally by this time of year. We’re getting a lot more life out of our machinery, which is a huge bonus.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – June

Although James Hutchinson has been head greenkeeper at Castle Stuart Golf Links for only two years, he has an intimate understanding of the much-praised Highland course.

Although you took over as head greenkeeper a couple of years ago, you’ve been at Castle Stuart from the start. How does that help you with your job?
“To be involved in a golf course from the very start, right through construction to the finished product is special. There’s a lot more underneath the finished product you’re able to understand, like the irrigation, drainage and rootzone. You know exactly what’s under there and you know what you’ll have to deal with later on.”

So what do have planned for June?
“We’ve been chasing a bit of grass on our fairways. Last spring and summer, we lost a bit of the fescue because we had to share our water supply with a local farmer, so we were restricted to how much water we could put on. We had to focus on greens and tees, and the fairways lost a bit of grass. So there has been a big over-seeding project and a lot of topdressing to get the fairway levels back.”

How does Hugh King’s sand help in this process?
“At the start of June, we’ll be applying a light topdressing. We tend to use more topdressing, but with light applications – we put a dusting on every fortnight. It creates a deep bed for all the seed we’re putting out.”

Do you put out heavier applications during your closed season?
“Yes. We open up in March and close in the middle of November, so by the end of February – towards the start of the season – we put out the heavier dressings to get the levels back after the winter work. Because we are a business, the greens have to be as good as they can possibly be. It’s about getting the course to the highest possible standards. So the lighter dressings mean the golfers don’t see the sand. They replicate what the dunes would do naturally on a windy day. You only get one chance. Whatever it takes to have the course immaculate, then that’s what we have to do.”

So light and often.
“Yes. If you apply too many heavy applications, you get layers and I don’t like layers. Little and often. With that you should stay away from the layers. We’ve also got a big wetting agent programme to complete in June which is even more important now as it will make sure we have recovery if we have another hot summer.”

How long has Castle Stuart used Hugh King sand?
“Since we’ve opened, it’s always been the Washed Dune sand from Hugh King. We use
150 tonnes a year.”

Why did you opt for Hugh King’s sand in the first place?
“The Hugh King sand was very similar to what we already had, so it helped with the rootzone plus you can put it out, cut the next day and it doesn’t hang about for too long. The sand gets down into the soil and protects the crown. It ticks all the boxes for us.”

How would you rate the service from Hugh King?
“Whenever we get in touch, there’s never a problem or a delay. In terms of the product, I have no complaints whatsoever. It’s clean. Even if it sits for a while, no weeds come up through it, and there are no stones in it. It is pristine.”

Castle Stuart, 18

The Course Manager’s Calendar – May

Keith Law, head greenkeeper Forfar Golf Club, has served his time. He started at the club as a trainee greenkeeper in 1992. After stints in Australia, Monifieth and Letham Grange, he returned two years ago and hasn’t looked back

What’s it like to be back where it all began for you?
“The last two years have flown by. It’s been great to get back. We’re trying to fine-tune and tidy the place up, which will be an ongoing project.”

What are your plans for May?
“I am waiting for the grass to grow. It’s been a bit slow this spring, but temperatures are set to rise which will make a big difference. They say it’s going to be 200C by the weekend, but I’m walking around with four layers of clothes on. We’ll wait and see. I’ve heard we’re
coming into a dry spell with warm temperatures. Here’s hoping!

How will that effect your approach to topdressing?
“If the weather plays ball, we should see a big difference. Everything is weather related. If the weather had picked up three weeks ago and we had got some good temperatures, the grass would have been growing and we would have topdressed our greens by now. Being in the north east of Scotland, growth can be quite slow at this time of year.”

Assuming temperatures pick up, what’s next?
“Within the next couple of weeks, we’ll start topdressing. I usually get someone to cut the greens in front and another guy goes out with a tractor and the topdresser. He’s followed by another guy who goes behind with a brush on the front of a set of vibrating rollers. He brushes it in. Finally, it gets watered during the night. It’s a real team effort.”

How long have you been using Hugh King sand?
“It must be five years that Forfar has been using Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand on the greens at about 60 tonnes a year. To be honest, this is the first time I’ve used Hugh King sand, and I am very impressed. Especially how easy it goes onto the greens and how easily it rubs in. It makes life easy.”

What do you mean?
“When we apply the sand on the greens, it is brushed and rolled into the grass and then watered at night. With other topdressings, you can cut the greens a couple of days later and hit all kinds of stones and pebbles which can blunt your blades. That’s certainly not the case with Hugh King sand. You can cut the greens the following day and there is no harm done to the machinery at all.”

How does that help you?
“It’s good for keeping costs down because you’re looking at £120 for a set of blades. If you’re topdressing six times a season; that soon adds up. It also has an impact on the golfers. We can put the sand down before the first golfers go out and get it all brushed in ready for play, and it will actually improve the surface that day. That makes my life just a wee bit easier.”