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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.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – April

Bob Meikle has been working at Crail Golfing Society for 27 years. Now the venue’s golf course manager, he joined straight from school and has seen one of the oldest golf clubs in the world flourish.

What are your responsibilities?
“I look after both golf courses, the driving range and all surrounding areas. Everything. If the light bulbs need changing in the clubhouse, I’ll probably get asked to do that. You have to be flexible.”

You’ve been here for 27 years. You must have seen some changes over the years.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes. Crail only had 18 holes when I started. They had bought the land for the new golf course, but hadn’t started building it. I saw the construction and grow-in of the Craighead Links course. It’s great to be a part of that, to see how they construct tees and greens and how they shape it. There aren’t many people who have witnessed that.”

What’s on the agenda for April?
“During the first couple of weeks on the Balcomie course we’ll start overseeding and putting down Hugh King sand. We’ll put about 12 tonnes down. We also try to put sand down during the winter because the weather’s not that bad for us down at the coast. It means we can put down some topdressing during the winter months as well. We’ve been able to put a couple of applications down at six tonnes per application. After that, we’ll put down sand fortnightly but with just four tonnes a hectare. We’re so busy during the summer, we can’t interfere with play, so we put down sand every couple of weeks at a low rate so we can just wash it in.”

How many rounds are played at Crail?
“The Balcomie course will have at least 35,000 rounds and Craighead will take 20,000 – it’s getting busier all the time, so we do very light applications. We don’t even rub in the sand, we’ll just wash it in so we’re not interfering with the surface. Golfers will come an hour later and not know we’ve even done it. The STRI recommended we do that because we are so busy. Light and often, so no one knows you’re doing it.”

How long have you been following that strategy?
“We started last year. Before that, we were putting heavier dressings on but not as frequently. The new way is a one man job. Once the guys have cut the greens, you’ll go behind with the spinning topdresser and put down a very light dusting. We put the sprinkler heads on for two minutes a head and that’ll wash the sand in. And that’s it. It’s an easier operation.”

What improvements have you noticed since introducing this practice?
“We’re trying to put as much sand down as we can, but we have to find a balance. I’m getting my way, but the golfers don’t know about it. We’re getting the greens firmer, drier and smoother. The last four years we’ve been aiming to put more sand on, and as a result we’re finding the greens are draining faster, playing better and we’re diluting the thatch more. It takes time, but we’re getting there.”

When did you switch to Hugh King?
“We’ve been using Hugh King for four years now. The Hugh King sand blends in better because it’s slightly darker. Every load we get is pretty much the same. It’s always clean, there are never any stones or contamination. It’s consistent. I usually get a call the day before they deliver and the driver calls when he’s half an hour away. We have that communication, which is really good.”

How would you rate Hugh King?
“We’ve never had any issues. We’ve had good communication with them. Every load has come in when they said it would and it is always very consistent. We’re really pleased.”

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.”