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Stephen Bache, Head Groundsman, Hampden Park – August

Stephen Bache is the head groundsman at Hampden Park; Scotland’s 51,866-capacity national stadium of football. With a busy schedule, he explains how dry-sand topdressing is improving the playability of the famous pitch

With the summer finally arriving, what have you got planned for August?
“The amount of events we have at Hampden Park, with Queen’s Park playing here, concerts and of course internationals; there is always something going on. And that means we are always top-dressing the pitch. We have a Hugh King on-site silo in for the beginning of August and hopefully we’ll get another two or three in during the rest of the year depending on the weather.”

Why is it important to top-dress so often?
“We’re always striving to continually improve the playing surface and top dressing is key to that. As our pitch is 100% natural (ie no fibre reinforcement) the more sand we can get down, we find that it is helping to improve the surface. It’s an ongoing thing but we’re already getting positive comments from the players.”

How does the silo help in this process?
“Because we can get the dry sand down, we can apply more sand which benefits the pitch. The main benefit of the dry sand is that it incorporates into the base of the plant a lot quicker. We can put down a lot more sand and you can’t really tell sand has gone down because it disappears into the rootzone. If the sand is damp, it tends to stick to the leaf of the plant and can be quite difficult to incorporate into the base of the plant.”

How much more sand are you able to apply?
“We’re putting down 50% more sand now, and that helps keep the rootzone clean and algae-free. It helps with the playability and the firmness of the pitch. It has made a big difference. So far we’ve used three silos which is 45 tonnes a time plus we’ve put down 80 tonnes of moist sand a fortnight ago. And that is since February.”

How long have you been using Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand?
“We’ve been using the Washed Dune sand for a couple of years, but we only started using the silo at the start of this year. We were using another sand before that, but it was quite white, so when we spread it on the pitch, you tended to notice it a lot more than the Washed Dune sand. If we had worn areas, they were highlighted. The TV cameras picked up on it more, so the quicker you can get the sand incorporated down into the base of the plant the better. If the sand is dry, that happens a lot quicker.”

How did you find out about the silo concept?
“We order sand through Greentech and they explained that a few golf courses had started using Hugh King silos, so we got one in to try and it worked fantastically for us. Because we don’t have a closed season, we like to top-dress the pitch as much as possible, but if the sand is damp it tends to be more noticeable on the pitch. Plus sand can be messy, so using the silo cuts down on the mess.

The Course Manager’s Calendar – July

Steven Wilson has been at Trump International in Aberdeenshire since the very start of the high-profile project. Working closely with the Trump family over the years, he has discovered that the company is entirely focused on attention to detail and the pursuit of perfection in everything they do.

You’ve been at Trump International from the start. What is your overall role?
“I have been here since the grow-in. I’ve seen it turn from dunes to a golf course. In a nutshell, I look after the golf course and the estate. The course is large and the estate itself is 1,500 acres. I look after about half of that; 700 acres. The rest looks after itself as it’s farmland. I have a good team of 15 guys that includes a mechanic and a landscape gardener.”

What is the Trump family’s approach to golf?
“Attention to detail. We work for a company that thrives on everything being immaculate. Every touch point for a guest has to be perfect and that starts with the minute they arrive onsite to their departure. The Trump brand is known for luxury and quality and you can see this right through every element of the golf experience at a Trump course. It’s all about the presentation.”

How does that manifest itself?
“All our course furniture, signage and bins are regularly taken down, cleaned and repainted. Our tarmac paths are absolutely spotless with no invasion of weeds. This is what makes us different, and sets us apart – the finer things. The visual things.”

You started using Hugh King’s RZ2 a couple of years ago. How are you applying it?
“We use Hugh King’s RZ2 for pretty much everything. We use it for divot repair on a daily basis on tees and our practice facilities. Believe it or not, we also use it in our bunkers. We put our own pure dune sand in our bunkers which can dry out, and if that happens the sand can blow about a lot. So we mix it with some of Hugh King’s RZ2 which tends to hold more moisture which keeps the sand a bit damper. It’s a great help. It means we don’t have to shovel sand about after a windy day.”

Do you also use it to rebuild tees and bunkers?
“During the winter we re-turf all our white and championship tees. We strip off the existing turf and use it to build revetted bunkers and then put rootzone down and re-turf the tees. We probably lifted 40 individual tees during the winter. The turf we took off the tees was used to rebuild bunkers – we do it every year. We get new tees every year but the turf doesn’t go to waste. The turf that comes off the tee is quite thatchy and fibrous which is great for building bunkers.”

What impresses you most about Hugh King’s rootzone?
“I really like the stuff. My biggest thing is it’s very clean and stone-free. It’s great for applying seed and the germination rates are fantastic. If I was putting our seeds into pure sand, it would take a lot longer to get any seeds to germinate. The added soil and moisture in the rootzone really makes a difference.”

So you notice a difference when you use the rootzone rather than pure sand?
“If we are divotting tees or fairways, the majority of the seed germinates whereas before because the sand was so dry, a lot of the seed would blow out. With Hugh King’s rootzone, it tends to bind everything together. If you’re putting on a bit of irrigation at night, it just holds the moisture. It’s great.”

This must help achieve the presentation levels expected at Trump International.
“When you put turf down, you look for your roots to grab. When you put seed in the rootzone, you want the seed to germinate in the soil. That’s why I buy in Hugh King’s rootzone because I get these results. We like to use the best of the best, and I think Hugh King’s rootzone is the best out there. Hugh King’s reputation is the best there is.”

The Course Manager’s Calendar – June

After successfully working on the ninth hole at Whitecraigs Golf Club in Glasgow, golf course architect Paul Kimber was asked to submit a further proposal for successive work. What he suggested proved to be one of the most popular recommendations ever made at the Scottish club.

Of your suggestions, what did the club eventually go for?
“In front of the tee, there was an 11m high and very steep hill that once negotiated left a nice approach to the 14th green, but it was difficult to maintain and made the hole difficult to play, especially for the ladies and seniors who are that bit closer to the hill. It was stopping people playing the entire back nine.”

So something had to be done?
“The assumption was that it was made of rock. During our initial exploratory work, we were able to dig down a metre and half. We brought in a bigger digger and dug down a couple of more metres relatively easily. It was enough to suggest the rock was breaking up enough so we could reshape the hill. We started ripping into it in October and the new hole opened a couple of weeks ago.”

What’s been the reaction at the club since the completion of the work?
“According to the former greens convenor who commissioned the job, it has been the most popular change at the course ever. He said the shaping of the fairway is great and the project has really enhanced the back nine.”

How did you use Hugh King’s sand during the project?
“The whole thing had to be turfed so we used Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand to improve the topsoil. Because we were re-turfing it, we wanted to make sure it got established quickly. The hole was out of play for a winter. Most clubs will tolerate one hole being out of play. They shortened it so they still had 18 holes but not the same length.”

How much sand did you use and how effective was it?
“We covered the entire site with an inch of sand. So, with the whole area measuring about 2,000m2, that worked out to be about 70 tonnes. The Washed Dune sand was great. It did the job and helped the turf knit in quickly.”

How important was it to get the hole back in play quickly?
“It is always an issue with any existing course – how much disruption there is going to be. The sand does help. As well as creating better soil for the turf it firms up the surface meaning if the weather is bad, you can work on it longer. It helps you to guarantee that you can get the work done when you say you will.”

So the sand played an important role?
“The club is pleased with what we have done, so that’s a good start. Using Hugh King’s sand has certainly helped us as a contractor. It has helped us to get the work done within the schedule we had.”

Equestrian Sand Profile – May

When fully booked, Thornhill Stables can accommodate 30 horses, although it is rare to find a vacancy at the Ayrshire livery. Elaine Macdonald, the facility’s director, says that can be traced back to the year-round equestrian arena and its special sand-based surface.

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May is busy for everyone. What happens at your stables at this time of the year?
“A lot of our clients are looking to bring their horses back into work for the show and eventing seasons, so it’s important to ensure the horses’ fitness levels start to rise. So we spend a lot of time in the arena where we exercise the horses.”

You said you’ve made some changes to the arena. What prompted that?
“We replaced the surface five years ago. The previous owner had built the arena using builders’ sand, and there were a lot of issues with it. For instance, it was very uneven, it didn’t drain correctly and the sand migrated around a lot. The best material to use for equestrian surfaces is a sub-angular silica-grade sand. You don’t want it to be too round because it moves around when you’re working the horses. If it’s too angular, the sand will bind together and you’ll have drainage issues. I know this only too well because my husband runs an arena construction firm; IG Contracts.”

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How did you go about changing it?
“We researched which sand would be suitable for us and found we required a fine sand that was also sub-angular. We received samples from 15 quarries and only Hugh King and one other could produce the grade of sand we needed. Hugh King also sent us three different samples, so we knew the consistency was there.”

After applying 350 tonnes of equestrian sand, how would you describe the surface now?
“It’s night and day. Now we don’t have any drainage issues, we use 100% of the school 98% of the time – it does freeze when you get to -100C! Prior to that, only 60% of the school was useable after rain because of pooling and puddling, it wasn’t level and it didn’t give you a true ride. On the new surface, the performance levels of the horses have improved because they are working on a consistent base. It has also reduced lameness because it is a cushioned surface that has a good return.”

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What do you mean by that?
“If you have a course of show jumps and have 20 horses over those jumps, you tend to find a track will form. You often have to stop to rake and level the sand. Because of the sub-angular nature of Hugh King’s sand and the mixed fibre that sits on top of it, the surface very rarely gets disturbed. You ride on top of it rather than through it.”

What have these changes meant for your business?
“It has been instrumental in keeping us at the forefront of our local market. There is a lot of competition in the area in terms of other livery yards. The area has quite a lot of competitive riders who are seriously into horse riding and pay a premium for a good service. I don’t think we would have been able to catch that niche in the market if we didn’t have the facilities and the school we have. Our clients need a consistent surface so they can exercise year-round. That’s what Hugh King’s sand has given us. It’s been instrumental in our business.”

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The Course Manager’s Calendar – April

Just over a year ago, Richard Johnstone took over as course manager at Nairn Dunbar. He had been at the club for 15 years working his way up the ladder from Greenkeeper to Course Manager, and rather than settling into his new role, he got cracking on with ringing the changes.

Spring is a busy time of year. What do you have planned?
“Spring can be quite cold with us in the North of Scotland until about May time. We have just applied some moss killer, then after 10 day to 3 weeks we’re going to verti-cut the greens to remove the moss. When the ground temperatures rise, we will be over-seeding our greens with fescue seed and finish off with a light top-dressing to provide the ideal germination conditions”

Is this part of a long-term plan?
“Yes. We’re trying to restore the natural links characteristics of the course. We’re trying to firm up the surfaces on the greens, aprons, tees and fairways while promoting bents, fescues and other fine grasses throughout the course. It is a five-year plan to restore the course’s links characteristics by removing some of the gorse and trees that currently hide the natural dune habitats and encourage the finer grasses to flourish.”

That sounds like an ambitious plan.
“It is. We’re looking for a species composition change in our surfaces. When I first took over, I was told the greens profile wouldn’t allow fescues to establish. Now that we have applied 220 tonnes of Hugh King sand to our greens in the last 12 months to dilute the thatch, the soil profile is a lot better and is now capable of taking fescues which will allow us to improve the sward composition.”

How important is firming up surfaces to the overall project?
“It’s a very big part of the project. We want to give the golfers the links course they came to play. We want the greens to be firm and true, and we have spent a lot of time on the approaches making sure we get a lot of sand into these surfaces so that balls chase on as you would see on Open Championship venues, rather than landing and stopping short of the green.”

When did you start using Hugh King sand?
“The decision was made when I took over just over a year ago. The last load of sand from the previous supplier had large stones in it and caused about £2,000 worth of damage to our top spreader. We were also paying for wet sand which wasn’t going in great and we struggled to get it into the canopy without it lying on the surface for days. So the decision was made for me to find a new supplier”

Why go for Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand?
“We wanted to find a sand with particle sizes that would be compatible with the sandy loam beneath our greens and help dilute the thatch layer. The Washed Dune sand was perfect and it arrives really dry, so when we put it out, it goes on as a very fine dust – 10 tonnes every 10 days. We either brush, use vibrating rollers or a drag-mat to get the sand into the canopy.”

You applied 220 tonnes of Washed Dune sand last year. Do you plan to apply the same amount this year?
“A large reduction in fertiliser last year has allowed me to budget for this, so as much as we can. We have a thatch issue in the profile beneath our greens so I am trying to combat that as quickly as I can without upsetting the members – combined with pencil tining, light and often is the way to go.”

What impact has the sand made?
“There are fewer pitch marks on the greens. Rather than the balls plugging in greens, they’re now sciffing and chasing forward. You can hear the difference when the ball hits the surface – you now hear a thud rather than it hitting the ground and settling not far from it’s pitchmark. I had spoken to a few course managers before starting the project and they said that sand and aeration would be key. If the greens are soft and holding onto water in the top 2 inches, getting as much sand as possible into the profile will make a big difference. So I took their advice, and it has worked.”

What is your assessment of Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand?
“It is a fantastic sand. We use the Washed Dune sand for our greens. When you apply it, the sand disappears into the canopy very easily which helps when we’re cutting because it doesn’t blunt the cutting units. We normally allow 15 minutes before going over it with the vibrating rollers, which vibrate the sand into the canopy while giving the surface a roll. Our members could be playing on the greens almost instantly and they would never know sand has just been applied.”

And have the members noticed a difference?
“The members like what we have achieved so far. Some of the “older members” were sceptical about the restoration project but once we unveiled some natural dune systems with views out to sea and with the help of my course maintenance blog they now understand what hope to achieve over the next 5 years. It’s nice to hear the positive comments from the members – they have noticed a big difference to the course in the last year.”