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.”