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The Course Manager’s Calendar – January

Iain MacLeod has headed up the greenkeeping team at Tain Golf club for 43 years. During that time, he’s seen more than his fair share of testing weather conditions, and has developed a few techniques to deal with them.

Happy new year! What’s up in January?

“January is when I will do quite a lot of aeration on greens and fairways. On the greens, I’ll be putting reasonable-sized holes in and then back filling. I’ve got a few tonnes of Hugh King’s kiln-dried sand which I will use to fill the holes to create extra drainage pockets right through the profile.”

How big are reasonable-sized holes?

“20mm. The idea is go down as deep as we can, especially on our 18th green which was built in 1911 on suspended clay which holds the moisture a bit too much for my liking, so I’m trying to break through that with channels of sand to take the moisture away. Only two greens are getting done completely; 17 and 18. They are our wettest greens. And we’ll also do any low-lying areas. Some greens won’t get done at all.”

Seems like a good time of year to do this work.

“Yes. We’ll go in late December until early January with 20mm tines which you can fill straight away without too much spill. We’ll use three tonnes of the kiln-dried sand and then, if we get any decent days, we’ll start light dressing, putting about eight tonnes of Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand on all 20 greens. We try to put down about 130 tonnes of Washed Dune sand over the year.”

How often do you topdress at this time of year?

“It really depends on the weather. If we get really good, dry days, we’ll get at least two applications on in January and two in February. Because there is so little growth, you can’t go mad. Once we get into the growing season, I’m happy to put on sand weekly if the weather is right. In January, I’ll look to put on a couple of applications with the same in February and then three in March and build from there.”

What are the advantages of using the kiln-dried sand?

“Because the product is so dry, you can pour it into the aeration holes. It just falls in and fills up really quickly. You can pack it in if you want, or just leave it. The surfaces at this time of year are very rarely dry so you wouldn’t be able to do that with normal sand.”

How does that benefit you?

“Once you’ve filled up the holes, you have a drainage channel right through the profile. But the holes are quite big so, theoretically, a ball could sit in a hole. The sooner we can fill up the holes the better. As golfers like to play throughout the year these days, I like to do this work in December and January because it’s not too busy. Once we get into February or March, more and more people are playing and we might get some visitor play. December and January is the time to any deep aeration and back-filling.”

What effect will this have on the greens come mid-season?

“The work we’re doing now will make our greens more free-draining which will help them stand up to heavy rain, which unfortunately we get sometimes in Scotland. It will help keep the surfaces playing even in inclement weather. When you have a competition, the last thing you want is to suspend play because of flooded greens.”

How long have you been using the kiln-dried sand?

“I think about seven or eight years. Sometimes when we’ve done some light coring in the spring, we’ve brought in a 29-tonne-trailer load of kiln-dried sand. I know on a dry day, we can get that into the holes. I’ve been using the Washed Dune sand for over 10 years. We’ve started filling the holes with the kiln-dried sand more recently.”

How did it start?

“We tried a couple of tonnes and liked it, so we order it now when we need it. After this round of work, we won’t need to use it for a couple of years or so.”

You’ve stuck with Hugh King for over decade. Why is that?

“When the sand arrives from Hugh King, it’s always the same. Even the colour is the same. We used one supplier years ago and each time the sand arrived it was a different colour. We’ve had loads from other people that had stones in them because something had gone wrong with the processing. With the Hugh King sand, it’s the same colour and quality every time. The consistency is always there.”

How would you rate the service you receive from Hugh King?

“When I order sand from Hugh King, I’ll get it within two days. From other suppliers, I’ve had to wait weeks. So you know you’re going to get it when you want it, and it’s always the same product.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – December

Iain Barr has spent 21 years at Largs Golf Club. Now, as course manager, he discusses his approach to winter maintenance in the west of Scotland.

So what are your plans for December?

“We’re releveling one of our tees, we’ll continue with a drainage programme and we’re renovating some of our bunkers. Those are the plans for the next month, weather permitting. The weather will be a determining factor in how we prioritise the jobs.”

Tell me about the drainage programme.

“It’s an ongoing drainage programme that we started because we were having problems with tree roots in the drains. So we’re extending some of the drains and replacing them with new, twin-walled pipes to try and keep the tree roots out. When the roots get into the drains, they act as a water source blocking the pipes. We’re using a new twin-wall pipe because it is a bit thicker. They are also smooth on the inside, so there is less for the roots to cling on to. They seem to work quite well.”

Are you doing the whole course like that?

“No, we’re looking at specific areas where we’re experiencing problems. We’re getting more rain and more intense rain these days, so some areas are getting larger-capacity pipes which helps move the water a lot quicker. We started with the twin-wall pipes about three or four years ago. They’re more expensive, but because we’re in the west of Scotland, I think it’s needed.”

How many bunkers are you rebuilding?

“It depends on what time allows, but hopefully we’ll do about 10. We’ve got 51 bunkers in total.”

And the new tee?

“The eighth back tee is a bit uneven, so we’re going to lift it. When we reconstruct it, we’ll level it off and use Hugh King’s Root Zone 2 for the top-level root zone. We’ll put on about 75mm of that to give us a good sandy layer before we re-turf it. That will give us a drier surface for moving forward.”

Are you using the same root zone for the drainage work?

“Yes. On the drains, when we’re finishing off the top level, we’ll put on King RZ2. In the lower, wetter areas, we will put the King RZ2 on top of the gravel carpet which is on top of the pipes, so we’ll have a gravel layer, a binding layer and the rootzone.

And for the bunkers?

“We’ll put on some King RZ2 before we turf them. We don’t revett the bunkers; we roll-face them which is often the case for parkland style courses. So we use a bit of rootzone for the final shaping and for turfing. It’s a nice sandy medium which is ideal for the turf to grow on. We use that rather than recycling some poorer quality soil.”

And how about topdressing during the winter?

“We actually do a summer maintenance week towards the end of August when we do our aeration, coring and verti-draining work, and we get four tonnes of Hugh King sand on each green. We use the King Blend Medium Coarse sand. We do all our top-dressing early rather than during the winter because we want to keep the surfaces for the players during the winter months.”

That’s an interesting approach.

“Yes, but we’re also getting a lot of buggies and trollies, so we did an aeration, sand-capping exercise on our walk-ways which is proving to be quite successful. We’re trying to keep them firmer and drier in order to retain the grass cover during the winter. We did that in September and started doing this about three years ago. Most golf courses aren’t really designed for motorised buggies and trollies, so we’re having to improve the ground conditions and adapt some areas to take this traffic. We’re putting in pathways as well, but we’re trying to apply more maintenance to the main play areas, and that involves extensive aeration and topdressing with King Blend Medium Coarse sand that gives us drier, firmer surfaces which encourages the grass to grow better.”

You mentioned before about having the right quality of sand. What did you mean by that?

“The sand has to have the right particle sizes and distribution of particles so they don’t compact together but instead provide drainage for air and water to move through the soil profile. Hugh King’s sand is highly specified and rigidly tested so they maintain that consistency which is very important when you’re applying the same sand month after month, year after year. When you build up that profile, you’re building up that consistency. If you have one or two bad layers, you create a block in the drainage system. That consistency is vitally important for what we’re trying to do.”

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.”