In August, Iain Barr celebrates his 20th year at Largs Golf Club. Despite a challenging start, he has gone on to create one of Ayrshire’s finest parkland courses using pioneering techniques and quality materials.
Congratulations on 20 years at Largs.
“Well, it was certainly an interesting start. Before I started, there was a disaster when the team misinterpreted fungicides and weed-killer and killed all the greens. I had just done a grown-in at Beith Golf Club, and had to do another at Largs. Six of the greens were OK, but 12 had been killed off so we had to grow them back in.”
That must have been tough. How are the greens now?
“They are very good. We’ve adopted the nickname of Ayrshire’s Augusta – firm, fast, sloping greens with a few azalea beds to give us that look.”
Largs is one of the top parkland courses in Ayrshire. How has it coped with the hot and dry weather?
“We’ve not had a lot of rain, so I was bit concerned when I left to go on holiday during the first two weeks of July, but my team kept things watered, working on the greens and tees. The course is burnt out – not to the extent of the links courses – but it provides natural golf which is good. We’ve been long overdue a decent summer.”
What do you have planned for August?
“We had always struggled to get our maintenance work done later in the season, so we convinced the committee to sacrifice the course during the third week in August to give us a greens aeration week, and it has worked very well. We get better weather to do the work in and because we’re still in the growing season, we get good recovery. That, in turn, sets the greens and course up well for the winter. I took a lot of stick initially, but once the members saw the benefits during the winter season, they accepted it.”
So the problem was the winter weather?
“Before we introduced this idea in 2002, we would start the maintenance work in October, but the ground conditions in the west of Scotland get very wet and we need drier conditions to work in the sand. Also, because growth has tailed off at that time of year, recovery was much slower and could take the whole winter. When we carry out the work in August, it’s prime time for growth. So within a week or two, we get total recovery on the greens. By sacrificing that two-week period, it gives us a good-quality playing surface for the winter. And that means the course is set-up much better for the following summer. Year-on year we see improvements.”
What work do you carry out on the greens?
“It’s weather-dependant, but we normally solid tine verti-drain down to a depth of 12 inches. Then we hollow-core the greens and infill those holes with sand. We get the sand into the surfaces to improve the rootzone and drainage. We get the extensive work done and then have a bit of peace to let it recover.”
What’s the biggest challenge associated with your location?
“Although we’ve had a lovely summer, the west coast of Scotland is always about drainage. We’re trying to combat that by adding sand into the greens to improve drainage and the playing surfaces. Hugh King is vitally important to achieving this.”
How long have you been using Hugh King sand?
“I’ve been in greenkeeping for 36 years and I’ve used Hugh King sand all my professional life. We’re now using Hugh King’s medium-coarse blended with the Washed Dune sand. Hugh King has always given us a first-class service and a first-class product. They consistently deliver high quality.”
Why have you stuck with Hugh King for so long?
“There are other sand suppliers I could use, but I know Hugh King prides itself on delivering quality and the sand is regularly tested by the STRI. It’s not just about sand; it’s about the right quality of sand which settles into the surface and provides proper percolation rates to enhance the drainage. Hugh King provides the quality of sand that Largs Golf Club desires. The proof is in the pudding. We’re happy with the results.”
How do you use the sand?
“We get an annual review with STRI where the green surfaces are tested for organic matter. Because we’ve had slightly wetter years lately, our organic matter levels are slightly higher, so we are trying to give it a bit of push this year to add more sand to dilute the thatch levels. The idea is to reduce the organic material to improve drainage and create a drier environment in which the grass can grow.”
What quantity of sand do you use?
“During maintenance week, we look to bring in 60 tonnes for the greens and another 60 tonnes for the walk routes, so we can easily have 150 tonnes plus a year. We also use Hugh King’s Rootzone 2 for divotting and reconstruction work. We probably use 60-80 tonnes of that. For instance, we’re going to redevelop the approach at the 12th and that’ll take about 40 tonnes of RZ2.”
You’re also using King Bunker 3 sand.
“Hugh King created a sand for us with a particle size that still drains, but packs a wee bit, so it is slightly firmer. It’s a white sand. We replenished the bunkers about 10 years ago, so now all our bunkers have Hugh King sand in them.”
“I don’t think there is a perfect bunker sand, but I think we found one that fits our course the best. A bunker’s not supposed to be easy to play out of, but it should give you half a chance to recover. King Bunker 3 sand provides good drainage, but it also packs together to form a reasonably firm surface to play golf on.”