Sun and Soil

Scottish weather is so predictable, isn`t it? It is a national pastime of ours to talk about it, but sometimes I wonder why we waste our time. If you allow for the discrepancy of a degree here, and an extra dry day or two there, you can actually read it like a book. This year, we had our driest spring and early summer in several years, but – even though conditions were comparatively exceptional on the west coast – we still barely managed to scrape through Campbeltown Open weekend before the high pressure broke down and the jetstream cruised back in to herald the beginning of monsoon season. And it hasn`t stopped raining since!

This set of circumstances has suited us greenkeepers perfectly. Firstly, it gave us the opportunity to present a fast-running and testing course for competitors in The Campbeltown Open. Perhaps more importantly, it allowed us to dip into our IMP (That`s “integrated management plan” for those of you who didn`t read my update a couple of months back!) bag of tricks to relieve the surface tension in the greens in order to ensure that rooting depth and surface cover is not compromised for the rest of the season. In the lead up to the Campbeltown Open, we cut and rolled the greens more regularly than we normally would, and I tried to run them as dry as I dared in an attempt to produce the conditions that golfers love to play over when they come to the coast. The greens responded very well, and two dry mornings in a row over the weekend allowed us to give the greens an optimum cut and roll which resulted in them running true at a nice pace.

Remedial works began immediately after the event began with a reasonably heavy topdressing of our favoured 80/20 sand/soil mixture, which was brushed in before we aerated the surface with our Toro Procore (fitted with 10mm solid tines). Most mature links would require to use a deep tine aerator such as a Vertidrain or Weidemann to relieve all their tournament compaction in one fell swoop, but the light rootzones at Machrihanish Dunes are far easier to manipulate than most and we have found that using the Procore with these 10mm tines at a variety of depths and spacings does a more than adequate job for us. An added advantage is that, by using this method, we can complete the task much quicker and with far less ongoing disruption to surfaces. As time progresses and the rootzones naturally mature we will of course have to continually re-assess whether this method really remains sufficient, but for now, all we need to do after this process is roll the green out with a handmower and most people would be hard pushed to know we had even been there.

Gus brushes in the topdressing...
Gus brushes in the topdressing…
...Before Chris aerates with the procore
…Before Chris aerates with the procore
End Result
End Result

Tee Time

I usually have plenty to say about our greens at this time of year. Often, you will hear me wishing I had done this or that, pondering how much better they might have been had I timed my applications or mechanical procedures just a little better. On a site as windy as ours, we are always dependant on weather conditions being ideal in order to complete works or to apply products at just the right time in order to maximise the effectiveness of our program. Because of this, we have very small windows in which to get certain jobs done. Missing a window for applying a wetting agent, a certain pesticide or even a particular nutrient package can have detrimental knock-on effects that can last for many months. This year, I feel we have been more successful than ever in implementing our greens management plan (especially given how big a test the unusually dry weather gave us). The result of implementing this plan could clearly be seen over The Campbeltown Open weekend, as we had the necessary plant vigour to be able to present the greens the way we wanted them without negatively impacting on their future health.

The view from the 18th green on Campbeltown Open Sunday. Things have greened up a bit since then!
The view from the 18th green on Campbeltown Open Sunday. Things have greened up a bit since then!

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for our tees, a few of which are looking quite sorry for themselves. It is easy to have a short memory and come down hard on ourselves now that the damage is already done.I must admit, however, that in hindsight, I can point to two specific instances where I clearly missed opportunities to apply products that would have reduced stress on our tees through the recent dry period and improved the percentage of grass cover as we view them today. Of course, if I put a positive spin on this, it is true that a comparison between the quality of surface on the greens and the surface on these tees shows just how well we have done with the greens and how important it was that we got every decision on them absolutely right. It is also true that there is no point crying about things now. It is far more worthwhile to learn from our mistakes than it is to beat ourselves up over what has already happened. What is important as we move forward is to take advantage of the current ideal growing conditions in order to re-instate full grass cover as quickly as possible. The time to act on that is right now and we have been doing just that.

The gents tee at the 13th. It had naturally recovered a bit by the time I took this picture, but I am expecting it to look a lot better by the middle of July following our remedial program of works.
The gents tee at the 13th. It had naturally recovered a bit by the time I took this picture, but I am expecting it to look a lot better by the middle of July following our remedial program of works.

We started by spraying a good quality wetting agent combined with a liquid fertiliser mixture which was heavily watered in before we ran our trusty old Blec overseeder over the tees. This created thousands of individual seedbeds into which the machine dropped our preferred blend of fescue seed. Our tees mix contains 30% hard fescue along with the usual mixture of creeping red cultivars that you might expect to find in a premium mix. The hard fescue grows extremely well in our particular environment, and requires very little feeding and watering in order to retain optimum growth. Once the seeder had done its work, we topdressed the tees by hand with our own indigenous sand, and this week we will follow that by relieving any surface compaction by Procoring them with the same 10mm tines that I mentioned earlier, as well as applying a granular feed. All of this is just regular maintenance of course, but then again our tees program is always tailored towards recovery and regeneration anyway. We have successfully hit the mid-season weather window with this work, and I would expect some real improvement from these weak tees in the next two to three weeks.

What’s Next For Mach Dunes?

The Campbeltown Open may have come and gone, but there is plenty more for us to look forward to! The Black Sheep Cup is next, on the 28th of August, and then the Shepherd`s Cross team event which has been moved to the 18th of September.

We had initially hoped to upgrade the Club Championship to 36 holes, but the general feeling is that the local golfing calendar is too cluttered at that time of year to allow some members the opportunity to compete at Machrihanish Dunes on consecutive days over a weekend in July. We want to ensure that these competitions get the entries they deserve, and we certainly don`t want to change the format of these competitions only to discover that members who have supported the club enthusiastically suddenly find themselves unable to compete in our premier events. We closely scrutinised the entry of the recent Campbeltown Open in order to try and make a decision for 2017 as to whether we should stick with the 36-hole format for next year or revert to the previously successful schedule of 18 holes followed by a buffet and prize giving evening.

None of the formats for any of our events are set in stone. As a fledgling club with a growing membership, we value your input massively. With that in mind, we’ve put together a wee survey that we hope our members will take a few moments to fill out.  We’d love your feedback!

We put a lot of work into preparing for these competitions and we discuss these issues constantly at Managers meetings, but we really feel that without input from as many of you as possible we will likely never come up with a schedule that is in the best interests of everyone. Please do come and tell us what you think about any of the issues that I have raised!

We hope you enjoy your golf throughout the month of August. I have a feeling that the good weather will return before long (if it hasn’t already at the time you’re reading this) and that this current spell of incessant rain is just a blip. It could be that I`m just basing that feeling on past experience and the laws of probability though, and that I`m not really as clever as I like to make out!!

The 14th green, gleaming in the sunshine. Does anybody fancy this pin position for the Club Championship? No, I thought not!!
The 14th green, gleaming in the sunshine. Does anybody fancy this pin position for the Club Championship? No, I thought not!!

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