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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.”

Tillicoultry Quarries acquires Hugh King & Co

The Course Manager’s Calendar – October

With 36,000 rounds played annually over a narrow stretch of land bound by Scotland’s east coast, one of Paul Armour’s priorities is to prepare the course at Dunbar Golf Club without disrupting play. Another is cutting organic matter by applying as Hugh King sand


With summer coming to an end, what’s next for the greenkeeping team at Dunbar?
“Throughout the winter we level-off tees. We do two every winter. We’ll strip the turf and relevel the tees using Hugh King’s root zone and then put new turf down. The root zone is very similar to what we already have, so it knits in nicely. It’s consistent with the land we’ve got.”

Do you have any specific plans for October?
“We’ll start focussing on our winter work; stripping any bare areas and turfing any areas where we’ve lost grass. We’ll finish off overseeding the fairways and topdressing, and we’ll start to cutting back and collecting the rough. It’ll be busy.”

You left your role at The Old Course in St Andrews two years ago. What changes have you implemented since then?
“We’ve been increasing everything we do and still aiming for minimal disruption to the golfer. So we spend a lot of time in the evenings and early mornings trying to work around golf rather than during it. We’ll come in on Sunday nights to get the week started early so there’s minimal disruption on Monday morning for members and visitors. The course extends over a narrow strip of land, so when you’re driving about in vehicles, everything can get congested. So we try to work around golf as best we can.”

You say you’re trying to increase everything you do. Can you be more specific?
“We’re overseeding a lot more because we’re trying to get more fescue and bent into some of the greens. We’ve also set a target of reducing our organic matter down to 5%. We got it down, but because of the dry summer and the watering we’ve been doing, we’ve seen a slight increase. This autumn, however, we’re topdressing every second week with 10 tonnes of Washed Dune sand from Hugh King. We eased off during the main golf season, but we’ll be doing that until the weather allows, which should be well into November. This year we’re looking apply 160 tonnes per hectare.”

That will be about 240 tonnes in total.
“Over 1.5 hectares, it soon disappears. That’s one of things I like best about the Hugh King sand; the consistency, and how well it rubs into the profile with minimal disruption to play and the mowers, which is just as important. Because the sand is so good and rubs in so well, the golfers don’t even know if we’ve topdressed the night before. It also means that when we’re mowing the day after topdressing or that afternoon if it’s dry, the mowers don’t collect sand which could blunt them, so there is no need to sharpen them as often as we would if we were using a different sand. If the sand wasn’t as consistent as Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand or had stones through it, that would affect the mowers, which would mean downtime to get them sharpened, which costs money.”

So with the increased tonnage of sand to tackle the organic matter, has this increased mower maintenance at all?
“No, it’s remained the same – even though we’ve increased the amount of sand used, the mowers are still maintaining their cut quality.”

Has Hugh King helped in other ways?
“Because we work around golf, we like to take advantage of any spaces on the tee sheet. Hugh King helps with this because they are very good with prompt deliveries. We’re also restricted to deliveries before 9am because the car park gets too busy to allow in articulated lorries. Hugh King will be here at 8am as long as you give them a wee bit of notice, which is great. Hugh King is part of the journey.”