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The Course Manager’s Calendar – November

Despite being one of the world’s oldest golf clubs, Crail Golfing Society rarely stands still. After picking up his 25-year service award, Bob Meikle talks us through the changes at the Fife club and his busy winter schedule.

What are your plans for the winter?
“Well, we’re putting in a brand new irrigation system into the Balcomie Course, and we had to knock down our old greenkeeping shed to make room for the bigger irrigation tank. We’ve just put in a new shed extension which should be completed next week once we get the snagging list done. That’s been a big job, but it’s all linked with the irrigation. It’s been very busy. It’s exciting times.”

Sounds impressive.
“It’s good that the club is reinvesting – this is a massive project. It’s good that Crail is thriving so we can do this kind of project. Our visitor numbers are up as is our membership. We are really busy.”

The irrigation project must be a significant undertaking.
“The planning for this has been ongoing for six years – we went through the design stage, we confirmed rough budget costs before going to the members, we made a booklet and had a members’ forum to really get the members on side. There has been a lot of communication. And then we had a special general meeting to explain how it would be funded. We got everything signed off in April this year. It will be completed in March 2020.”

How will this affect play on the course?
“We’re going to have certain holes open depending on where the irrigation company is working. No medals will be allowed on the course. They will instead be played on our other course; the Craighead Course. Only bounce games will be allowed on the Balcomie. It should officially be closed but we’re trying to meet the members in the middle.”

Are you using this as an opportunity to do any other work around the course?
“When the course is closed, we’re going to rebuild bunkers and put more sand on the greens because they’re not going to be used as much. We’re going to smother the greens in Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand. We’ve just mini-cored and seeded them, and now we’ve put on three tonnes of sand per green in the last three weeks to fill the core holes and cover the seeds.”

How much sand are you using?
“Because the greens won’t be getting much play, we’re going to topdress again in another three weeks. So that would be nine tonnes per hectare. We try to apply 120 tonnes of sand a year, but that depends on the fixture list. This project gives us the opportunity to get a little bit more on.”

Why is it so important to get as much sand as possible on the greens?
“We trying to promote firmer greens and dilute the thatch, and with the new irrigation system, we’ll have better putting surfaces as well because we’ll have better water coverage and, hopefully, use less water because we won’t have leaks in the system. The old system had leaks. The glued joints were failing because they were 30 years old and had passed their life expectancy.”

In particular, how is Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand helping with this project?
“As well as topdressing the greens, we’re using the sand behind the irrigation company. When they’re ploughing or piping, there will be little defects that we’ll have to cover with seed and Washed Dune sand to level off the surfaces and help recovery.”

You’ve been using Hugh King for about six years. Why do you stick with them?
“It’s the consistency and the good relationships we have built up with Hugh King and their distributors. The sand gets delivered first thing in the morning so we can get it to where we want it, in the shed or in the bay, with no hassle. It’s a very good relationship we have with Hugh King. Every time we get a load, it’s always consistent. It’s always clean and not contaminated in any way.

The Course Manager’s Calendar – October

With an ongoing schedule of high-profile tournaments as well as an upcoming historic Open, Gordon McKie, course manager at the Old Course in St Andrews, is constantly pushing for improvement. But while there is no let up at the Home of Golf, one thing remains the same; the sand.

With events like the Dunhill and R&A’s autumn meet, this must be a busy time of year for you.
“In terms of tournaments and preparing the golf course, yes; it’s a busy time. But at the Home of Golf and, in particular, the Old Course, it’s a busy time any time of the year. During the autumn, there’s more to deal with in terms of infrastructure, tents and leaderboards, but in terms of greenkeeping, it’s very similar to what we do for the rest of the year.”

And how would you describe the year so far?
“It’s been an interesting year weather-wise, which we’ve tried to embrace as much as we can. It’s been one of the wettest summers I can remember. Between that and the heat; it’s been very different to what we normally have, and certainly a lot different to last year. We just have to take what we get and get on with it.”

How have you “embraced” the conditions?
“This summer, with the growth being so intense, it has allowed us to put on a lot more topdressing. So we’ve been topdressing on weekly basis applying about five tonnes of Hugh King sand per hectare. That’s about 12 tonnes of sand a week which helps us improve the surface in terms of firmness and the roll of the ball. It’s been a good year in that respect. The wet summer could’ve had a negative effect on the firmness of the golf course, but we measure the levels of organic matter and that tells us exactly how much sand we need apply to counteract the rain.”

Does this mean you’re further down the line with your topdressing programme?
“We’re ahead of schedule because we’ve been able to topdress on a weekly basis. Compared to last year, we’ve nearly doubled the amount of sand we’ve put down, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

What’s your target?
“We’re probably looking to achieve about 250 to 300 tonnes of sand on the green surfaces annually. We also sand our surrounds, approaches, tees and fairways. We sand our fairways twice a year, usually in the winter time with 100 tonnes per application, so that’s 200 tonnes on the fairways. In total, I am using about 600 tonnes of Hugh King sand across the course. So far this year, 200 tonnes have gone on the greens alone. We’ve put about 100 tonnes on the fairways and maybe 180 tonnes on the surrounds.”

What sand do you use?
“It’s wall-to-wall Washed Dune sand from Hugh King. We use it to aid firmness. Links golf is all about the bounce and running game, so the more sand we can get on, the firmer the surfaces will be.”

How important is Hugh King’s sand to the preparation of the Old Course?
“It’s very important. One of the reasons we moved to Hugh King sand was the compatibility with our surfaces and the colour – the brown colour allows us to get a lot more on without affecting the playability of the course or adversely influencing the golfer’s perception of sand being applied to the golf course. It’s been very important to us.”

The fact you’ve been using it for nearly 15 years says a lot.
“Our philosophy goes all the way back to Old Tom Morris; it’s one of the things we try to keep going – to do the right things that Old Tom started all those years ago. It’s a simple philosophy about how to maintain a golf course. Topdressing, therefore, is absolutely key to what we do here, and it always will be. It will always be a key component about how we manage the Links. We couldn’t achieve the firm surfaces we have now if we didn’t apply the amount of sand we do.”

How are preparations for the 2021 Open progressing?
“When the last Open leaves town, you give yourself 12-18 months to get the course back, and then the preparations start when you find out the next date for the tournament. So we usually have about three years to prepare. We’ve started doing some wee changes, but because we host The Open so often, we’re always trying to improve things so the professionals get a better experience when they come here. But we’re also trying to constantly improve it for our customer base to provide as good an experience as we possibly can.”

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.”