The Course Manager’s Calendar – December

Iain MacLeod has been at Tain Golf club for 41 years. For 39 of them, he’s been at the helm of the Ross-shire course. With a wealth of Highland golf experience, BIGGA’s first greenkeeping chairman who was also in charge of education for BIGGA Scotland and has won the Scottish BIGGA Golf Championship, knows a thing or two about getting through a tough winter.

What are your plans for the winter months?
“We’re mainly rebuilding bunkers using the traditional revetted method, and aerating and topdressing areas. We were overseeding at the beginning of October, so now it’s mainly care and maintenance and rebuilding bunkers.”

How do you tackle all this with only three full-time staff, including yourself?
“We’re trying to get eight bunkers done this winter – if we can get four done by the end of November that would be good. The other two staff have their holidays in December so I am pretty much on my own. When they reappear in January, we’ll get another four done. There are only 60 on the course, so if we can get eight done a year, we’ll keep on top of them.”

I don’t suppose you have time for much more.
“Well, this is the second year I’ve tried to do more winter dressing because we tend to topdress right up until mid-July. I thought if I can get a decent amount on between October and March, that’ll mean there’s less to put on during the playing season. It also means that during the winter months when growth is irregular, the putting surfaces are a lot smoother. The members appreciate the fact they’re getting decent quality, year-round putting surfaces.”

When did you start using Hugh King sand?
“I first started using Hugh King sand about 10 years ago, but then my supplier switched to another sand, which was ok but every time it arrived, it was a different colour. I changed back four years ago, and the colour has been the same every time. It’s just a great product to put on. Today, when I take a hole plug out, you can see the layer when I first started using Hugh King sand and then the middle bit and then back to the last four years of Hugh King sand. We use it on tees and greens, and make a divot mix with it for tees and fairways.”

You’re back using Hugh King. What have you noticed most about the sand?
“It’s just so much easier to work with. You put it on the greens and it just disappears. Sometimes, not often, when we’ve had poor weather, we have to topdress ahead of play. We’ll topdress, drag or brush it and then run over it with a mower, and the golfers don’t even know it’s gone on.”

How much sand do you use?
“I try to get 100 tonnes on the greens annually, so with the tees that would be about 125 tonnes of Washed Dune sand. However, in the winter months, I also buy the kiln-dried sand, because it’s easier to get into the ground. When we aerate, the sand is so dry you can fill the holes right back up. I’ve just taken delivery of four tonnes of that. We usually get between four and 10 tonnes over the winter.”

Last year, you became the first president of BIGGA with a greenkeeping background. How did you manage to fit it all in?
“I thought; if I’m going to do this, I want to be the first, rather than one of the others to come along after. The club gave me its blessing and the year turned out to be really good. The timing was spot on – this year has been so busy on the course, I don’t know if I could have done it. We’ve had such a wet year and there has been so much growth. Last year was more reasonable, so I was able to do everything I wanted to do with the presidency and work the golf course at the same time.”