The Course Manager’s Calendar – January

Iain MacLeod has headed up the greenkeeping team at Tain Golf club for 43 years. During that time, he’s seen more than his fair share of testing weather conditions, and has developed a few techniques to deal with them.

Happy new year! What’s up in January?

“January is when I will do quite a lot of aeration on greens and fairways. On the greens, I’ll be putting reasonable-sized holes in and then back filling. I’ve got a few tonnes of Hugh King’s kiln-dried sand which I will use to fill the holes to create extra drainage pockets right through the profile.”

How big are reasonable-sized holes?

“20mm. The idea is go down as deep as we can, especially on our 18th green which was built in 1911 on suspended clay which holds the moisture a bit too much for my liking, so I’m trying to break through that with channels of sand to take the moisture away. Only two greens are getting done completely; 17 and 18. They are our wettest greens. And we’ll also do any low-lying areas. Some greens won’t get done at all.”

Seems like a good time of year to do this work.

“Yes. We’ll go in late December until early January with 20mm tines which you can fill straight away without too much spill. We’ll use three tonnes of the kiln-dried sand and then, if we get any decent days, we’ll start light dressing, putting about eight tonnes of Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand on all 20 greens. We try to put down about 130 tonnes of Washed Dune sand over the year.”

How often do you topdress at this time of year?

“It really depends on the weather. If we get really good, dry days, we’ll get at least two applications on in January and two in February. Because there is so little growth, you can’t go mad. Once we get into the growing season, I’m happy to put on sand weekly if the weather is right. In January, I’ll look to put on a couple of applications with the same in February and then three in March and build from there.”

What are the advantages of using the kiln-dried sand?

“Because the product is so dry, you can pour it into the aeration holes. It just falls in and fills up really quickly. You can pack it in if you want, or just leave it. The surfaces at this time of year are very rarely dry so you wouldn’t be able to do that with normal sand.”

How does that benefit you?

“Once you’ve filled up the holes, you have a drainage channel right through the profile. But the holes are quite big so, theoretically, a ball could sit in a hole. The sooner we can fill up the holes the better. As golfers like to play throughout the year these days, I like to do this work in December and January because it’s not too busy. Once we get into February or March, more and more people are playing and we might get some visitor play. December and January is the time to any deep aeration and back-filling.”

What effect will this have on the greens come mid-season?

“The work we’re doing now will make our greens more free-draining which will help them stand up to heavy rain, which unfortunately we get sometimes in Scotland. It will help keep the surfaces playing even in inclement weather. When you have a competition, the last thing you want is to suspend play because of flooded greens.”

How long have you been using the kiln-dried sand?

“I think about seven or eight years. Sometimes when we’ve done some light coring in the spring, we’ve brought in a 29-tonne-trailer load of kiln-dried sand. I know on a dry day, we can get that into the holes. I’ve been using the Washed Dune sand for over 10 years. We’ve started filling the holes with the kiln-dried sand more recently.”

How did it start?

“We tried a couple of tonnes and liked it, so we order it now when we need it. After this round of work, we won’t need to use it for a couple of years or so.”

You’ve stuck with Hugh King for over decade. Why is that?

“When the sand arrives from Hugh King, it’s always the same. Even the colour is the same. We used one supplier years ago and each time the sand arrived it was a different colour. We’ve had loads from other people that had stones in them because something had gone wrong with the processing. With the Hugh King sand, it’s the same colour and quality every time. The consistency is always there.”

How would you rate the service you receive from Hugh King?

“When I order sand from Hugh King, I’ll get it within two days. From other suppliers, I’ve had to wait weeks. So you know you’re going to get it when you want it, and it’s always the same product.”