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The Course Manager’s Calendar – October

Twenty five years ago, Bob Meikle left school and went straight to Crail Golfing Society. Now in charge of both courses, the driving range and surrounding areas, Crail’s golf course manager explains his busy autumn schedule

With Autumn well and truly with us, what are your plans for October?
“We will be deep-tining, seeding and topdressing the greens on the Balcomie course. We’ve just completed Craighead last week although those greens were just micro-cored and top-dressed. The greens and surrounds on both courses will be top-dressed monthly going into the winter, if weather permits, as we are out of high season.”

How do you timetable this work?
“At this time of year, we are still really busy, but we’ve tried coring three or four weeks down the line and we just don’t get the full recovery going into the winter. Doing it as early as possible gives us a lot of spin-offs because while other courses are closed for frost or flooding, we’re still very busy in the winter. This is the earliest we could do this work. If I could bring it forward two weeks that would be fantastic, but there are too many medals.”

How do you balance that work with access to the course?
“Fortunately, we have two courses so when one is closed, the other takes all the golf. It means we can close each course for three or four days while we do the work. As soon as the work is completed, the course is opened to members only for the first couple of weeks and then visitors get it at a reduced rate.”

How important is green preparation ahead of the winter months?
“You want the greens to go into the winter in really good condition because they look after you when get to the spring. We get all our work done and get the sand on so that going into the winter, the greens drain well which means when we get to spring, they’re in better condition. It works out quite well.”

How long have you been using Hugh King sand?
“We’ve been using Hugh King sand for a year. I wanted to get more light dressings on the greens but the product we were using before didn’t rub in as well as the Washed Dune sand does. The Washed Dune sand rubs in so much better which means we can get more sand onto and absorbed into the surfaces which means the greens are more playable.”

How does this help maintain the course?
“The Washed Dune sand rubs into the profile better which allows us to get surfaces back to playing conditions without the golfers even knowing we’ve put down sand. Because we’ve been able to get more sand on this year, the greens are getting firmer, but it is still quite early to tell. I think it will take a couple more years and then we’ll notice a bigger difference.”

Any other advantages?
“Because the sand absorbs so well, it doesn’t affect the quality of the cut or the blades on our mowers. That was a big issue before. We’ve noticed we’re getting less damage to our cutting units because the sand is rubbing in so well. It’s a big thing. To strip down a unit and get the blades sharpened or send them away, it’s a big inconvenience plus a lot of cost.”

You top-dress greens, surrounds and tees. How much sand do you use annually?
“We’re using over 200 tonnes of Washed Dune sand for both courses. That’s what we’re aiming for, but you have to work with the weather. Before we changed sands, we would only be able to apply about 160 tonnes. The top-dressings we’ve done so far have been just light dressings. Next week, we will put on at least 30 tonnes. This will be our first big aeration with Hugh King sand. We’re hoping to go into next spring and notice a difference, but that depends on the weather. So far, putting more sand down is working well for us.”

Sand plays major role in Kingsbarns summer success

21st September 2017


Kingsbarns Golf Links may be no stranger to accolades, but its distinction as the ideal setting for the Ricoh Women’s British Open has now been verified by one of golf’s most respected authorities. The Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) recorded excellent performance data during this summer’s tournament, resulting in some of the most consistent figures collated during championships.

What makes these findings even more impressive is that this year’s flagship event was mired by extreme weather conditions culminating in torrential downpours. Yet despite the unseasonal deluges, the course dried up quickly and the tournament was completed on time. The STRI has now confirmed that the women’s major was contested over an exceptional course with consistent sand top dressings being one of the primary reasons for success.

“The green speeds were some of the most consistent we have had during tournament testing,” said Richard Windows, STRI agronomy services manager. “It was a great example of the implementation of good agronomic practices executed by a team of expert greenkeepers.”

He continued: “Achieving the targets was particularly pleasing because of the challenging weather conditions experienced throughout the championship with heavy rain falling on most afternoons and evenings. The results were outstanding and the use of the sand was a major influence. Regular sanding provides the foundations for firmness which allows you to achieve target green speeds. If the greens had softened, we wouldn’t have achieved the results we recorded.”

With a client list that includes all nine Open Championship venues and many of Europe’s top clubs, the STRI collects performance data to deliver unparalleled benchmarking analysis. With this in mind, a threshold of six to eight inches is set between the fastest and slowest greens during tournament play. For this year’s Women’s Open, that difference was particularly good at Kingsbarns with a variance down to just three inches – a level of consistency not achieved before now.

“The consistency of the firmness between the greens was excellent,” said Windows. All the greens remained within target despite significant rainfall during the championship.”

Using a Stimpmeter, Windows was able to check the pace of the Kingsbarns greens twice daily in order to make fine adjustments when required. He also checked other key performance indicators such as firmness and smoothness. The consistency of results were unprecedented, as Innes Knight, course and facility manager at Kingsbarns explained.

“When we Stimped a green and it was not quite where we wanted it, we would cut it again,” said Knight. “We were able to get all 18 greens and the practice putting green to within three inches of each other. It was that close. A lot of them were exactly the same.”

Knight, who has been looking after the tees, greens and fairways at Kingsbarns since it opened in 2000, said the data was exceptional. “We’re not just talking about the smoothness and the speed, we’re also talking about the firmness,” he said. “So between the results for the stimping, the firmness and the smoothness, they were all consistent. I believe they’re some of the best readings ever.”

Sand is used on golf courses to reduce organic material and improve drainage. It also has a huge impact on putting surfaces, as Windows was keen to point out. “The sand influences firmness and because the greens retained a good level of firmness, it was easier to achieve the target green speeds and consistency between greens. This was achieved with the aid of Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand.”

Hugh King & Co supplies sands to over 120 golf courses including all Open Championship venues in Scotland, and Kingsbarns for the last 12 years. Here, Hugh King’s Washed Dune Sand is used for topdressing greens, surrounds and fairways.

“Kingsbarns has a well-earned reputation for delivering an incredible golfing experience which has rightly propelled it to the top of many golfers’ wish lists,” said Graeme King, managing director of Hugh King & Co. “These results from the STRI clearly show this appreciation is founded on the meticulous preparation programme followed by the greenkeeping team at Kingsbarns. It is particularly gratifying to know that our Washed Dune sand is playing a central role in this effort.”

The Ricoh Women’s British Open was the first time the STRI had measured a women’s Major on behalf of The R&A following the amalgamation between the Ladies’ Golf Union (LGU) and The R&A. It was also the first Major golf championship to be contested across Kingsbarns Golf Links.

Hugh King & Co is one of the country’s leading suppliers of sports sands. The family run firm has been delivering top-grade materials to key industry sectors for over 160 years.

The Course Manager’s Calendar – September

As course and facilities manager at Kingsbarns Golf Links, Innes Knight, has had a busy time of it. As well as preparing for the Dunhill Links Championship, he has overseen the small matter of this year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open

How was it hosting your first Major?
“The tournament was a huge success. We really enjoyed it. The unpredictable weather made it extremely challenging but it was all worth it in the end. Arriving for morning set-up at 4:15am meant we witnessed some stunning sunrises – the weather gods were kind to us on that shift! Unfortunately evening maintenance was marred with continual downpours. This testing weather pattern forced us to use more of a reactive management style!”

How bad did the weather get?
“On the pro-am day, we had 10mm of rain in 15 minutes. You had to see it to believe it. It was absolutely incredible – rain drops like exclamation marks! I was down at the sixth green when the heavens opened – it wasn’t ideal. I must admit I was a little concerned. Fortunately the panic was short lived when things rapidly started to dry up.”

So the course responded well to the deluge?
“We received a lot of compliments about how quickly the place dried up, especially during the pro-am day. I’ve never seen anything like it. We had 15 minutes of torrential rain and the whole place started to flood. Tees, fairways, greens; everything. And then it stopped and the sun came out and the whole place dried up within 20 minutes.”

A bit stressful then?
“We had a lot of things thrown at us weather wise but we handled it all. We had long days. Some days we started 4:30am out of the shed and got home at 10:30pm at night.”

What part did Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand play in the ability of the course to drain?
“We’ve been building up the layer of sand in the rootzone, which gives us consistency. It also drains well and ensures the course performs how a links course should perform in terms of firmness. We stuck with our programme of topdressing on every maintenance day – we have 10 during the season when we topdress the fairways and the greens. We put down as much sand as we possibly can – today’s topdressing is tomorrow’s rootzone!”

What was the clean-up like?
“By the 18th of August, 99% of the infrastructure from the Women’s Open was away. The course had handled it well. There were a few repairs and some re-turfing to be done and we had to reinstate the carpark which got a bit of a beating with the weather we had.”

And now, full steam ahead for the Dunhill.
“In two weeks’ time, we start the build-up for the Dunhill. It’s nothing like the scale of the Women’s Open. And also, when we do the Dunhill, it’s the end of the season so there is a lot less activity on the golf course. With the Women’s Open, we were right in the middle of the season, so it was like, right boys we’re going to have 240 golfers tomorrow at 6:30am; so let’s go!

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.”