Two and half years into his job as course manager at Western Gailes Golf Club, Stewart Brown explains how a new topdressing programming is prolonging the life of his mowers
So how are you settling in at Western Gailes?
“Well, last summer was extremely dry which was unusual for the west of Scotland and that was followed by this year which has been extremely dry. We’ve been drier over here than they’ve been on the east coast, so I’ve brought the weather over with me. It’s all good.”
What kind of winter work have you done on the course?
“We have an ongoing programme of bunker work and levelling of tees. We’ve also done quite a lot of work on our walkways; widening them and adding grass. In May and June, we did a lot of the remedial work, such as overseeding. Through July, we’ll concentrate on presentation work with continual aeriation and topdressing programmes with minimal disruption.”
Of course you have a second set of tees at Western Gailes.
“Yes. We essentially have a winter course using a separate set of walkways and tees to get people round. We use that from November until February. It makes a massive difference and gives the surfaces a rest through that part of the year, especially in the west coast of Scotland which tends to be quite wet. Historically the tees were allowed to grow during the season, but we’re trying to upgrade the winter course, so we’re maintaining the winter tees as we do the rest of the tees. It means that when we switch over in the winter, it feels like you’re playing a proper golf course.”
So what do you have planned for July?
“It’s a busy part of the season, particularly with visitors. The priority is maintaining the playing conditions through July, August and September. We get a break when the Glasgow holidays start which means we’re quiet regarding competitions through July and into August, and then it gets busy after that. Although July is quiet with members, we get a lot of visitors, so it’s a busy period in that respect. It means maintenance-wise, we’re just trying to keep everything tidy while continuing with our usual topdressing programme.”
What is your topdressing programme?
“We’ve changed things slightly this year by increasing our frequency but bringing down the volume, so we’re sometimes going weekly but mostly bi-weekly with about five tonnes a hectare of Hugh King’s Washed Dune sand. We cut the greens in the morning, topdress them and with a turn of the irrigation heads; the sand’s away. We’ve got a lot more sand down this year using this process.”
How much sand?
“To date this year, we’re at about 350 tonnes of Hugh King sand on greens, tees, approaches and a select number of fairways. The idea is to put another 300 tonnes down, so our target is about 600 tonnes throughout this year. A lot of that is down to the damage we experienced on the fairways last year because of the drought. We’ve had to do a lot of work to recover them, so there’s been a big increase in our sand use this year.”
Are there any other advantages of following this new programme?
“We’re prolonging the life of our machinery a lot because the sand isn’t lying on the surface. We used to do a monthly, slightly heavier topdress at about 12 tonnes a hectare. Now the idea is to topdress to match the amount of growth you get, so you’re not really getting that build-up of material below the surface. This little and often approach seems to be working for us.”
What practical benefits does that have?
“We’re not picking up any of the Washed Dune sand with the mowers, so the blades stay sharper for longer. That’s made a big difference for the greens mowers and the approach mowers. It’s time-consuming and expensive to keep changing the blades. In fact, it’s not so much downtime, as much as the cost of replacing the blades. We’ve probably gone through half the amount of blades on our greens mowers than we would normally by this time of year. We’re getting a lot more life out of our machinery, which is a huge bonus.”