Nursing A Top-100 Course

April is a historically unpredictable month – we can never quite forecast what we are going to get. This year, despite temperatures being on average a couple of degrees lower than normal, we had an almost ideal mixture of dry conditions interspersed with rain just when we needed it. This spell of helpful weather has allowed us to do a lot of work which will stand us in good stead for the season – the greens, tees and aprons have been aerated and topdressed with sand, our wetting agent program has been implemented just as we would have hoped and we have had time to patch a lot of areas in the fairways which have sustained rabbit damage over the winter months.

The greens and tees look a bit lean at the moment, but we have avoided feeding them too much at this early stage as it has been too cold for the plants to use what we would have otherwise applied. We always judge our applications based on temperature and conditions rather than by following a rigid schedule based on the calendar. It is a costly waste to apply fertilisers that a semi-dormant plant cannot utilise – these products inevitably end up leaching to the sub-sand before they can be taken up by the roots.

The only disappointing feature of this colder than average April was the poor recovery of the 5th green. Despite regular overseedings and applications of a clever cocktail of feeds, we have seen precious little comeback from the battering it took from the winter storms. As of last week, though, it has definitely taken a turn for the better and I have high hopes that with a bit of the heat forecasted for May we will soon make massive strides towards the restoration of full grass cover.

Turf Nursery…The Second Coming

Over the course of the last year we have used every last block of turf from the 1500sq.m turf nursery that we constructed in June 2014. This project has been an unqualified success, but now that we have used up our precious supply, we are going to have to start all over again!

 

How our turf nursery used to look...
How our turf nursery used to look…
...and how it looks now. Time for an overhaul!
…and how it looks now. Time for an overhaul!

I have already cleared the debris from the site with an excavator, so the next job is to loosen up the rootzone with a tractor-mounted rotovator. Because the rootzone is compacted and bound together by turf roots, it would be impossible to create a successful seedbed without doing this. When we built the nursery, we imported enough topsoil to create a 6 inch depth of rootzone, which we formed by mixing the soil at a 50:50 ratio with indigenous links sand. That might seem like a strong mix to those of you who are used to hearing about the famous (and in my opinion pointlessly inert!) 80:20 USGA mixes. But the “soil” we used which was stripped from a site near the shoreline already contained a proportion of sand.

We set our turfcutter to strip turf at about a 2-inch depth, so we still have 4 inches of good material to play with, which is just enough. Next time we do this we will need to start again and import more soil, but on this occasion we will just set the rotovator to 4 inches and go for it. Once the rootzone has been loosened up with the machine, we will rake the lumps out of it by hand and simply spread seed over it using a fertiliser spreader, then rake it again to cover that up. All we need to do after that is apply a pre-seeder fertiliser, make sure the whole area stays damp during the germination phase, and wait for it to turn green!

Last time we seeded the nursery we experimented with different grass species, but we were so successful growing fescue on this rootzone that we are going to concentrate on that this time. For those of you that like details, we are going to seed half of it with Barenbrug`s Bar Trio, and half of it with Bar22. Bar Trio is a mixture of extremely salt tolerant fescues, designed to be used on fine turf surfaces near the shoreline, while Bar 22 is my favourite mixture for patching fairways as it almost perfectly mirrors the natural turf at Machrihanish Dunes and requires very little nutritional input.

We should be ready to undertake this work within the next couple of weeks, but it depends entirely on the weather. If there are any strong easterly winds in the forecast, we will delay this task until they have abated. I`ve seen an easterly wind strip the topsoil off a field in a single day and I definitely don`t want that happening to our nursery!

The Side-to-Side Roller and the IMP

A member who is a friend of mine recently asked me on behalf of another golf club whether I would recommend they purchased a side-to-side roller. You know the machine I`m talking about, the unstable-looking red and yellow thing with the handle on the front that you see greenkeepers at every big club bombing up and down the greens on. It is an interesting question, and it reminded me of a famous disclaimer our industry have used for years which goes something like this:

“[side-to-side rollers] can improve greens surfaces when used as part of an integrated management program (IMP)”

That is a classic management-speak “get out of jail free” card, but in the case of the greens iron it is absolutely true. You cannot buy and use one of these, do nothing to counteract its compaction action, and expect your greens to be faster and smoother without suffering any negative effects… life just does not work like that! Anybody who thinks about it can surely see that a greens-iron used repeatedly without due diligence will lead to surface tension and a reduction in the ability of the rootzone to breathe and to clear water from the surface.

  Trying to hold a straight line on our side-to-side roller.
                   Trying to hold a straight line on our side-to-side roller.

I am not saying that the greens-iron is a bad thing. Quite the opposite, I love mine. What I am saying, though, is that if you are going to use one as part of your management regime, you are going to have to also increase the frequency of some other facets of your “integrated management program” to make up for it. Successful greenkeeping is all about maintaining the status quo – if you can keep everything you do in a perfect balance then you can make steady and relentless progress towards your ultimate goals, but conversely, if you step out of line you can quickly find yourself locked into a downward spiral that inevitably results in poorer turf condition and the requirement to introduce invasive remedial practices and spend more money to fix the issues that you yourself have created.

So what conditions do you have to create to ensure that you can roll on a regular basis without impacting negatively on the health of your turf?

Firstly, you need to topdress regularly with a suitable sandy material that will not easily bind together. If you just start rolling on top of the organic material that sits in the upper portion of most turf rootzones, you will squash that organic material and compact it to the point where air and water cannot penetrate. If on the other hand you topdress at least monthly with good quality material, the roller will never come into contact with organic matter but will instead be rolling loose sand.

Think about the beach, and the difference in smoothness between the wet sand at the low tide mark that has recently been ironed out by the sea and the sand at the high tide mark that has been trampled all day by kids and dogs. A golf ball will come to a standstill almost immediately on the uneven sand, but will run forever down the freshly washed sand. This is precisely what the side-to-side roller does but it can only do this if it has loose topdressing around the crown of the plant to work with.

The other thing that is obviously crucially important is off-setting the compaction that the roller causes. Regardless of whether or not the roller has enough loose material to work with, it will inevitably squash everything together, so if it is to be used regularly you will also have to aerate more regularly than before. Luckily for us, the action of the aeration equipment that we use these days has become so smooth that we can use 8-10mm solid tines and follow that up with a simple roll from a handmower, and the average golfer would hardly know we had been there at all. Gone are the days of the old spoon-tines that would have members gnashing their teeth for weeks!

Every golf course is different. Some clubs may have been lucky enough to inherit a perfect rootzone and may already have been doing all the work that is required to allow them to integrate a greens iron into their program. Some clubs at the other end of the spectrum may have such a thick layer of dense organic matter and such a low budget that they could never hope to create the conditions necessary to get the best out of the machine and would only induce catastrophic damage by trying. Most courses lie somewhere in-between, but you need to think seriously about what extra work needs to be done in order to offset the impact that introducing one of these machines will inevitably have.

Like most links greenkeepers who work in an inherently sandy environment, I use my roller to great effect. In the shoulder months, I can dramatically increase green speed for a single day competition without having to lower my cutting height and subsequently impact on the health of my greens. During the high season, I can roll twice a week in conjunction with the same number of cuts at the same cutting height I have always used and easily produce a smoother, firmer, faster surface than I ever could have hoped to produce in the past.

Like everybody else I have rules though – I have learned from experience when I can “get away” with breaking out the greens iron and when I need to leave it in the shed to avoid negatively impacting on the health of the grass. Using common sense to work within that perfect balance is all part of creating our own IMP!

The Range

I`m sure you know that the driving range has been waterlogged and closed for almost the entire winter…well, good news, it is back open! Opening hours for May will be 9am to 5pm, so come and make the most of the opportunity to work the idiosyncrasies out of your swing.

Largs Golf Club

I’m happy to announce that following a kind arrangement with Largs Golf Club, Mach Dunes members may now golf at Largs for just a £25 green fee. I hope our members take advantage of this and go play on one of the finest parkland courses in Western Scotland.

 



Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper
Mach Dunes Golf Club

 

Germinating Seed & The Augusta Syndrome

GOOD START TO THE GREENKEEPING YEAR!
It would be out of character if I didn`t start a report by talking about the weather, but it really is one of the most important facets of our job – and the most unpredictable! March came in like a lion so we were pretty sure we would get a good spell, and it really was stunning for 10 whole days. Good thing too – I was on holiday for the second half of that! The Mach Dunes greenkeeping team did a great job of judging the watering that was required in my absence. Even though we know we`ll never suffer from a drought in Scotland in March, we have a lot of tees out there currently that have only recently been turfed, so it was very important to keep a close eye on them. It’s easy to get caught out when you`ve spent all winter moaning about the driving range being flooded!!

It seems we are back to typical April showers weather now (I`m writing this on April 1st- no fooling, I really am) which suits us just fine as the mixed conditions allow us to get into all the work that we need to do to set ourselves up for the season ahead. Just this last week we have got our first topdressing and our first application of wetting agent down, and it`s pouring rain today to wash that in nicely. All we need now is a bit of heat to germinate some of the seed we`ve planted into the 5th green as we try everything we can to get it back into play as soon as possible. It suffered during the storms in January and has lost a bit of cover – it probably wouldn`t be that bad to putt on, but if we open it too early it will suffer badly from foot traffic and will get worse before it gets better. Hopefully it`ll recover pretty quickly – it’s already thickening up.

Early season sunshine at Machrihanish Dunes. Who doesn`t enjoy a panorama from the 18th green? Amazing to think that this was taken in mid-February, it looks more like July!
Early season sunshine at Machrihanish Dunes. Who doesn`t enjoy a panorama from the 18th green? Amazing to think that this was taken in mid-February, it looks more like July!

 

WINTER PROJECTS
Those of you who haven`t played the course in a while will see quite a few tees have been rebuilt. Some of these were just weak, so we lifted them and added a bit of our homebrewed root-zone and covered them in new turf. The rooting we’ve seen already shows that the bought-in turf likes our sand/soil mixture a lot! There were one or two tees that we moved slightly or re-contoured; we moved the yellow tee at the 10th slightly left to make better use of the stunning view and Craig rebuilt the 14th tee to make much better use of the available space. There have been many other things going on out there but I`m not going to spoil the surprise for you.

I firmly believe that the work we have done this winter has helped make the course even more fun to play, and in many cases, also made it fairer. If you haven`t been down for a while, then you should pay us a visit and come and see for yourself.

The annual spring team competition on the 23rd/24th April would be a good date to put in your diary for a visit, this is being held in conjunction with Dunaverty GC. If you fancy this competition and you want to enter or find out more why not give Lorna a call at the Golf House (01586810058) and or email her for details. Lorna has recently been promoted to Senior Golf House Assistant, from now on she will be your contact at the Golf House.

The newly constructed yellow tee at the 10th. Another great panoramic Machrihanish Dunes vista, it`s just a shame the camera on my phone can`t cram it all in without distorting the foreground. Isn`t this view incredible though! We put a bench up here next to it so that you can sit and soak it in if the 4-ball in front are holding you up!!
The newly constructed yellow tee at the 10th. Another great panoramic Machrihanish Dunes vista, it`s just a shame the camera on my phone can`t cram it all in without distorting the foreground. Isn`t this view incredible though! We put a bench up here next to it so that you can sit and soak it in if the 4-ball in front are holding you up!!

 

AUGUSTA SYNDROME…IS IT DEAD AND BURIED?
We greenkeepers always dreaded the Masters. Not because we didn`t enjoy watching it as much as the next man, but because we all felt pressure from our members to produce ideal golfing conditions as soon as Augusta came on the telly – even though (as far as we were all concerned) it was still the end of winter and nothing was growing. It seems to me though that over recent times, the threat of “Augusta Syndrome” has become a little less overbearing than it used to be and I think this may be due to two things.

Firstly, I think we all start our spring preparation work just a little bit earlier than we used to. I don`t know if this is a subconscious reaction to Augusta Syndrome on our part, or if we are all bowing down under the weight of peer pressure because we don`t want our members to see the greenkeeper down the road getting out of the traps before we do – or maybe the last few winters haven`t ended quite as badly as we thought they had – but we seem to be willing to break out the topdressing and knock down the height of the mowers just a little bit earlier than we used to. Ride-on rollers help too – if an early season roll or two fits into your program and doesn`t cause any residual damage, then what is the harm in giving your members a wee treat around Masters week? I haven`t had mine out yet because some of our greens are a bit fragile around the edges and the rolling action can be quite harsh to new roots, but as I said earlier, the first sand and wetting agent is on and the greens got their winter coat ripped off them yesterday. I hope I don`t get a fortnight of Easterly wind now, that would serve me right!

The second reason I think Augusta Syndrome is not as much of an issue as it used to be is because our members get bombarded with golf coverage all year round now. Historically, The Masters was the first televised event of the year to hit our screens, and it got everybody keen for the game again. People who had stashed their clubs under the stairs after the last medal in September rushed to dust them off and get back out there, only to discover that the greens they had left in prime condition when they gave up for the winter – instead of pulling on an extra jumper – had deteriorated through six months of relentless rain and precious little sunlight. It`s changed days now though – we can now turn on Sky Sports (other sports broadcasters are available) any Thursday through Sunday and be entertained by our favourite golfers playing on prime surfaces in exotic locations from Honolulu to Hanoi. The constant drip-feed is diluted in comparison to the one-off hit we used to get from being flung straight up Magnolia Drive after half a year of cold turkey (that`s an addiction reference, not a Christmas one!), and I think it does get us greenkeepers off the hook a bit. It is still the year`s first major, and it is still a fantastic spectacle, but it just doesn`t seem like such a big boot into spring as it used to before we all became utterly spoiled by the widespread coverage emanating from our 50-inch flat screens.

SAD TIMES
Writing reports on a monthly basis does inevitably mean that sometimes the author will be behind the times. It can`t be helped. Despite the relative time-lapse, it would be remiss of me though if I did not finish this frivolous report on a sombre note by paying tribute to my friend Colin Chrystie, who sadly and suddenly passed away a few weeks ago. Unfortunately for me, I only had the opportunity to know this great character for a short period of time, but I enjoyed every minute of his company and latterly we really had become good friends. He was incredibly helpful to me when I first moved into town, introducing me to people he knew and recommending people to me who might be able to make my move here easier. His influence on the early success of Machrihanish Dunes cannot be underestimated, and the friendly welcome that everybody from first-time visitor to member would receive from him serves as a model for anyone employed in a position of customer care. He will be sadly missed by all who had the great pleasure of knowing him.

 

Simon Freeman
Head Greenskeeper
Mach Dunes Golf Club

New Year, Same Old Scottish Weather

As this is the first time I`ve updated this blog in 2016, I would be remiss not to begin by wishing a Happy New Year to all our members, their families and friends. I hope you all have a wonderful 2016!

I had hoped that maybe the weather would have made a resolution to be a bit less sodden and a bit more sunny once the calendar had turned and the days started to lengthen, but so far it has remained wild, wet, windy and true to form. When I see the devastation that has been caused in other areas of the country though, I can`t help but feel that we have got away lightly so far, and that maybe we would have a cheek to complain about the relatively superficial level of flooding that we have experienced up until now. In fact, the golf course remains almost entirely playable, with the main disruption confined to the areas around the 1st tee, the 9th fairway and the dune slack areas at 5, 7, 11 and 16. The links was of course routed with these dune slack areas uppermost in mind, for they are some of the most important ecological sites on the course map and therefore the holes themselves were directed away from the wetlands not only to keep golfers feet dry during the Winter months but also to protect the plants that they contained- plants that actually exist and thrive because of the regular and prolonged periods of flooding, rather than despite of it.

Does this mean that the period of flooding we are experiencing now will result in us enjoying an even larger than usual crop of spectacular wild flowers during the summer that will hopefully follow this miserable start to the year? Truth is, I actually don`t know, but I do know that it is our duty as custodians of the land to ensure that the correct movement of water around the course is maintained in order that the rare species that rely on these specific environmental conditions are allowed their optimum growing environment. We monitor this flow constantly, carefully checking areas that can easily become blocked and clearing water courses that are supposed to flow at a certain level in order to maintain the delicate natural balance. Fortunately, we are able to carry out this work without directly impacting any golfing areas on the course while we manage the waterways and outflows in order to ensure that unnecessary water is not held on the links that might negatively impact on the ecology and playability of the site in the future.

Simon Blog 1
Pictured above is the dune slack area at the left side of the 11th fairway, during autumn renovation and prior to annual widespread flooding. To maintain the preferred environment of the rare species that grow here, we leave the rough uncut for long periods to allow plants to complete their natural growth cycles without compromise, then cut down the rough in mid-Autumn and remove as much of the clippings as possible, ensuring the area is ready to accept the impending floodwaters and drain appropriately. This process is strictly adhered to as part of our managed environmental plan, and it appears to work very well indeed- combining the requirements of the indigenous vegetation with almost optimum playing conditions.

 

STRI Environment Awards

Some of you may remember that Machrihanish Dunes were recently nominated by the STRI as a finalist in their “Environmental Course of the Year” award. Four clubs across the U.K were given this prestigious honour, and myself and Craig Barr travelled down to the BTME exhibition at Harrogate to attend the awards. We were delighted to be surrounded by representatives from wide-ranging backgrounds- my naive anticipation was that we would be pitted against bigger clubs who may have had more resources available to instigate and carry through more ambitious projects than we could. This could not have been further from the truth and it was refreshing to be involved in an awards process where clubs were being judged purely on the merit of their application and their enthusiasm and ingenuity rather than how much marketing money they were willing to trade in return. The upshot of the evening was that we enjoyed fantastic food and company and met some people whose love of nature and the ecology of their golf course environments was truly inspiring, though sadly, we didn`t win.

In truth, despite my belief that our application was well written and that during the judge`s visit Craig and I showed off the natural beauty of our site and the fine work that my predecessors began, such as setting up many natural initiatives around the course to the best of our enthusiastic ability, we just hadn`t done as much as the winners did and to see the representatives from Pyecombe Golf Club in West Sussex accept their award with such pride more than made up for our disappointment at not coming away with the big trophy. Their initiatives were brilliant and they completely deserved their success. Their golf course looks stunning.

A simple but effective weather nesting box hidden under a pile of stones at Machrihanish Dunes- just one of the many projects that previous Head Greenkeepers initiated which prompted the STRI`s judges to nominate the club as a finalist in their Environmental Course of the Year category.
A simple but effective weather nesting box hidden under a pile of stones at Machrihanish Dunes- just one of the many projects that previous Head Greenkeepers initiated which prompted the STRI`s judges to nominate the club as a finalist in their Environmental Course of the Year category.

Fun Matters

One important facet of having a growing club membership is that it gives us a database of enthusiastic people to approach for feedback on what they enjoy about playing our course and where we could maybe improve the links in the future. When I speak to people who play regularly, the overpowering emotion I get from them is that they have great fun when they play at Machrihanish Dunes. That feeling of fun is a reaction that I would like to keep at the forefront of my mind as we move forward maintaining the course and making the occasional design tweak to improve Machrihanish Dunes. Although it was undoubtedly a daunting task to develop a patch of waterlogged, environmentally tainted grazing land into a world-class, full-size links golf course while only having planning permission to move 7 acres of sand, that restriction has left us with a site that retains all the idiosyncrasies that might easily have been bulldozed out had developers been granted permission to move material wherever they wanted to.

I have spent many years studying the topography of Britain`s historic seaside courses and I think there are very few examples of courses that have recently been built from scratch using heavy machinery that have not had much of the nonsense ironed out of them. I suppose it depends on what you deem to be fun, but for me the enjoyment of seeing a clever drive onto the backside of a hill rewarded with an extra 30 yards of run, or a misjudged pitch and run thwarted by thumping into a dastardly upslope that you had previously spotted and had intended to clear, cannot be matched by providing an unbroken vista of smooth bumps and hollows, carefully orchestrated to remove all potential unfairness from the equation, and to provide an unadulterated and manicured view for the lens of the fawning camera. Unfair bounces caused by links territory which has remained unsullied by bulldozer and excavator cause exasperation and amusement in equal doses but certrainly can never be described as dull. As a direct result of the “restrictions” that were placed on the developers of Machrihanish Dunes at the time of construction we have inherited a course that is brilliant fun to play for that exact reason. We know that we have plenty of scope to improve the golfing experience further without in any way compromising the environmental integrity of the site, and that there is a long way to go before the links can be spoken of in the same breath as some of the absolute classics that I made mention of earlier, but if people are choosing to play golf here specifically because they are having fun then the developers should be genuinely proud of having created something that in this modern era is very rare.

A classic links environment that might have been lost had a clever shaper been allowed to impact upon it with a bulldozer and make it more “perfect”. Would that have made this a fairer hole...or would it have taken away some of the fun?
A classic links environment that might have been lost had a clever shaper been allowed to impact upon it with a bulldozer and make it more “perfect”. Would that have made this a fairer hole…or would it have taken away some of the fun?

Please keep offering opinion and letting us know what you think- your input is very important to us. If there is any specific area on the course that is negatively impacting your enjoyment then we want to hear about it. It may well be something that we have in our plans to develop in the future, but it could just as easily be something we have missed altogether- it is easy to develop a one-dimensional outlook when working on a golf course that you see every day, and it is our belief that the end product can only benefit from more people bringing ideas to the table.

I hope you enjoy your golf in March and that maybe, just maybe we might see a glint of warm sunshine as the days get longer and we head into Spring!

Simon Freeman
Head Greenskeeper
Mach Dunes Golf Club

Preparing for a Wild West Winter

COURSE CONDITION

Well, what a fantastic September and start to October we have had. That is two in a row now, I`m starting to think that maybe summer has swapped places with autumn! A spell of weather like we had during that time is an absolute bonanza for Scottish greenkeepers, as it allows us to tailor our program to successfully undertake aeration and overseeding programs with the minimum of disruption and the maximum of efficiency. The greens at Machrihanish Dunes have been solid tined twice in the last month, and we have managed to germinate a good percentage of the Bar Trio fescue seed we planted a few weeks ago after the initial pass with the solid tines. We have seen good root development during the last 6 weeks and this has put us in a really good position going into the Wild West Winter.

New fescue plants can clearly be seen growing in the grid pattern in which they were planted.

Our mission now is to protect what we have at all costs in order that we can give you all a decent surface to play on over the winter and subsequently hit the ground running in 2016.

WINTER PROJECTS

We are well into our winter work, and have already completed the task of re-positioning the bunker that used to be located in the middle of the 1st fairway. This area beneath the marker post has been turfed over and the bunker is now situated on the left side of the fairway at the corner of the dog-leg. Not only does this make the 1st tee shot more fair and less daunting for the average player, but it also provides a much more positive aiming point for the longer hitter who wishes to “cut the corner.” A new golf path has been created in front of the 15th white tee, shortening the walk and removing the requirement for players to walk all the way around the back of the tee and then to share the path with maintenance machinery. This path will be completed shortly and will in due course be covered and protected by black rubber matting.

We have many other projects which we plan to undertake over the course of this winter – they are too numerous to mention here. If you are interested and would like to hear about what we are doing, please feel free to approach us at any time. Even if the weather is too grim for golf, you could always wrap up and come down for a walk then drop in to see Colin and Lorna for coffee or soup!

 

BESPOKE SOLUTIONS

What a horrible and over-used modern catchphrase that is, but it does sum up how we should all view the maintenance programs that are being undertaken by our greenkeepers. One of our more observant members passed favourable comment a week or so ago about the outfront brushes we have fitted to our Toro Flex 21 handmowers, and he was right to heap praise on what is a simple but extremely effective tool for our particular set of greens.

In common with all courses on the West Coast of Scotland our surfaces contain a mixture of different grasses, and while we maintain them in order to favour the perennial species of fescue and bentgrass that provide optimum playing conditions and also happen to be the least expensive and troublesome to maintain, it is almost impossible to disregard the percentage of annual meadow grass, Yorkshire fog and even perennial ryegrass which is guaranteed to be present in sportsturf which is presented in such a wet climate at what is an aggressively short height of cut.

Even if we were to look exclusively at fescue and bent, we would see that they require slightly different management regimes in order to produce optimum health and results, which unfortunately ensures that maintaining them together effectively in a sward will result in compromising the health of either or indeed both of them. Bentgrass maintained under stress will inevitably produce lateral growth which is impossible for a mower set even as low as our summer greens height to pick up, and if this growth is allowed to spread unchecked it will result in a slow, bumpy surface. It would seem obvious for us to use our verticutters or groomers (scarifiers with very fine, closely spaced lateral blades) to regularly control and refine this lateral growth while simultaneously thinning out the spread of annual meadow grass and removing its seed heads…were it not for the extremely negative impact that this practice would have on our fescue. Fescue is an important component of any links sward, for not only does it have an ultra-fine leaf that provides optimum putting conditions, but it is far more tolerant of the battering that our course gets from wind, rain and salt than are any of the other aforementioned grasses. While it may be naturally capable of surviving the worst conditions that a west coast winter can pummel it with, its fine leaves will soon have their photosynthetic ability catastrophically reduced if its light-capturing ability is regularly halved by over-use of a verticutter.

So what to do then? We can`t have bumpy greens, so we need to refine the lateral growth of the bentgrass and remove the seedheads from the poa annua. But we can`t hack into the greens with the verticutter as often as we`d like for fear of negatively impacting on the health of the fescue. We have already agreed that to provide our members with the best playing conditions that we can at all times of the year we need to look after the health of all three species and keep compromises to their collective health to an absolute minimum. What we have done at Machrihanish Dunes is to fit these outfront brushes to our handmowers so that we can lift the lateral growth of the bentgrass and the seedheads of the poa in order that the cylinder blades can control them in a conventional manner, without slashing mercilessly into the fescue plant with a lateral blade and compromising its health. It is so simple, but over the course of a season the regular use of these brushes in favour of semi-regular use of verticutters definitely helps us to achieve our long-term goal of optimum health in all three species. They also help to relocate topdressing sand into indentations (so forming a more even putting surface), remove disease mycelium and heavy dews from the surface of the green prior to the mower`s cylinder reaching the grass blades and break up organic matter which has accumulated on the surface (allowing oxygen to circulate better and help break that organic matter down into carbohydrates that can be utilised by grass plants.

In short, regular brushing and occasional verticutting works for us. Would we be so keen on this combination though, if we were maintaining swards of pure poa annua, or a mixture of poa annua and bentgrass where perhaps a more aggressive approach might yield better results? Perhaps in this instance a regular verticutting program would be better, combined with holocoring and more regular, light applications of topdressing. This is my point about bespoke solutions- just because we have had good results with a particular product or maintenance regime does not mean it will work on the course up the road. Every successful greenkeeper has thought long and hard about what best suits his particular course and whether he conveys that message to his members in poetically long-winded prose like I do or chooses to keep it close to his chest is entirely up to him!

We look forward to seeing you out on the course in this month. If you see us out there and you have any questions about our winter program or anything else we are doing please feel free to approach us and ask!

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Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper
Mach Dunes Golf Club

 

The Naming of the Holes

THE WINNING ENTRY

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who entered our “Name the 6th Hole” competition. We struggled for weeks to pick just one out of the 800+ worthy entries, but we eventually settled on a fantastic entry from William Tevendale, who suggested we name it Fingal’s Footprint! William won more than just a Stay & Play at Mach Dunes – his selection will now be a part of the course’s history and charm!

Thanks to William, and to everyone who entered for your suggestions and your support!

THE NAMING OF THE HOLES

Now, I will freely admit that I am a history geek. When I was growing up and being chauffeured around the country by my father, receiving the best golfing education a teenager could ever hope for, I quickly became fascinated with the history of golf courses. Observing how the early architects used natural topography to create strategic hazards on ancient courses, and then being given the opportunity to view both good and bad examples of how modern designers attempted to replicate that early brilliance on tracts of inferior land interested me greatly, but nothing stirred my emotions on visits to these revered historic sites quite like the names that were given to holes and features by educated enthusiasts who came from a long-forgotten era but who obviously had similar romantic notions to myself.

Of course, for every Elysian Field and Principal`s Nose there is an Awa` Hame and a Ca` Canny, and it used to make me laugh when I visited yet another course that had an uphill par 3 called Spion Kop! There’s no doubt that naming the holes of a golf course is a great responsibility, and some clubs have been a lot more inventive and successful with this process than have others.

Throughout all the years of digesting the history of golf, from reading hilarious Bernard Darwin stories from the golden age of the game`s first boom (if you`ve not read Darwin yet, you really should) to researching the methods of the early architects and greenkeepers, I never thought I would have the opportunity and honour to be personally involved in a project to come up with names for the holes on a new golf course. Then I came to Machrihanish Dunes, and discovered that nobody had beaten me to it!

A chance discussion on Facebook one day (about something completely unrelated) started the ball rolling, and from there it was tentatively decided that we should put together a steering group of people to discuss and choose names from suggestions that we would encourage people from all backgrounds to bring to the . We wanted a list of names that would be entirely original and individual, names that would provoke intrigue and stir romantic notions not just today, but in fifty or a hundred years time. Most of all though, we wanted to make the very most of having the opportunity to introduce a bit of mischievous fun, just as the forefathers of golf did a century ago and more.

Here is what we came up with, and why.

1st hole, Machrihanish Dunes - Argyll Scotland
#1 – KIDD’S HOLIDAYS

David McLay Kidd has often told the story of how for many years his Father Jimmy and his Mother June brought him to Kintyre for their annual holiday, and how the enjoyment of Summer days spent playing golf at Machrihanish were augmented by wistfully staring over the fence to the left of the 9th and wondering just what a spectacular golf course a young designer might be able to create on such an idyllic and unspoiled piece of linksland. Jimmy and June are regular visitors still, and Jimmy`s input into the continued architectural and agronomic development of Machrihanish Dunes cannot and should not be overlooked. For that reason, we decided that the 1st should be named in the Kidd family`s combined honour.

2nd hole behind fairway marker, Machrihanish Dunes - Argyll Scotland
#2 – THE WATCHTOWER

The utilitarian and slightly disconcerting structure that previously allowed its incumbents to keep a beady eye on whatever dark secrets were housed behind the double barbed-wire fence of Site 2 (if indeed there ever were any!) would be rendered entirely defunct if it didn`t give us something not to aim at off the 2nd tee. It just catches your eye, even though it is actually miles off line. While this may seem a blindingly obvious name for this hole, I can`t help but wonder how long the tower will remain there before it is unceremoniously pulled down. Whatever happens to the base and however it is re-landscaped in the future it would be a shame if people forgot its connection to the golf course through its early years, and commemorating the Watchtower with a hole name seemed a fitting way to cement the relationship for the long term.

#3 – NIMROD

History has it that Nimrod was the great grandson of Noah, a mighty hunter and leader who commissioned the building of the tower of Babel, which he hoped would be so high that it would actually reach heaven. I suppose there is nothing wrong with being ambitious! Why the RAF chose to name a large reconnaissance plane after Nimrod I don`t actually know, but I do know that one of these mighty aircraft (no. R1 XV249) was stationed at Machrihanish during 1976 while their home runway at Kinloss was being re-surfaced. From what I can gather, there were 3 Nimrod squadrons based at Kinloss at the time, but I`m unsure as to whether all 3 “boltholed” to Machrihanish or whether it was just the one. HMS Nimrod was also the name of a World War 2 anti-submarine training camp, apparently located in the original Campbeltown Grammar School building. It seemed obvious to make mention of the area`s recent connections with the armed forces at the point on the course where the base is in closest proximity, and Nimrod seemed an evocative and poignant name with which to do it.

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#4 – SHEPHERD’S CROSS

The Shepherd`s Cross tournament is played every July and has so far always seen competitors play the first 9 holes at Machrihanish before crossing the fence to begin a composite 9 holes at Machrihanish Dunes, which begins here at the 4th and finishes at the 18th.

5th hole from tees, Machrihanish Dunes - Argyll Scotland
#5 – UGADALE

The newly restored (read “rescued”), iconic Ugadale Hotel and its surrounding village can clearly be seen from this picture-perfect par 3, making it an obvious choice to name the hole after it.

#6 – FINGAL’S FOOTPRINT

Our competition winner. Despite involving everybody we could think of in the naming process we just could not come up with a name that would do justice to this recently renovated par 3. William Tevendale was the man with this flash of clever alliteration – not only does the name roll off the tongue well and make mention of the Giant who famously “built” the nearby causeway between the North Antrim coast and the island of Staffa, but what really sealed it for us was that the hole when viewed from the air actually does look like a giant`s right footprint. Very clever, and definitely worthy of inclusion.

#7 – MINEFIELD

Played from a low tee onto a high plateau where visibility is understandably impaired, this fairway is littered with hazards. There are 3 large natural bunkers, but also many smaller mounds and natural sink-holes, any of which could leave a golfer with an unpleasant hanging lie. It seemed obvious to the contributor to use this as a way of marking the history of the Machrihanish Colliery, which provided employment at pits near Machrihanish and in nearby Kilkivan from, it seems, the mid 18th century. More is made historically of the canal (opened in 1791) which was initially constructed to take coal to Campbeltown, and the light railway which succeeded it in around 1875 than of the mine itself, but I am sure it provided much needed employment to the area at the time. The row of well-maintained miner`s cottages in Drumlemble are a classic architectural feature on the road to Machrihanish, and the whole story combines to form a worthy inclusion on this list.

#8 – HIGH PARK

Whatever you make of Sir Paul McCartney`s music or lifestyle, there is no doubt that he and his wife Linda did much for tourism in Kintyre. The evocative lilt that bears the Mull`s name portrays the beauty and serenity of the area well, and has drawn in countless visitors over the years, eager to experience the magic for themselves. Although Sir Paul has not visited the area for some time, many people in the wider populous still associate the area with him and his family, so we felt it was a good idea to include the name of his beloved farm among our list of holes. Anyone who has walked up through the farm will know that the hill farm is spread over distinct lower and upper levels, much like the fairway on this hole.


#9 – CECIL’S CARAVAN

This is one of those classic personal monikers that I used to enjoy researching when I was a boy. St. Andrews has Granny Clark`s Wynd, Musselburgh has Mrs. Forman`s, Machrihanish Dunes now has Cecil`s Caravan. Cecil was a miner from the North East of England, who loved Kintyre just as much as Paul and Linda McCartney did. He spent every summer holiday for a number of years staying in a caravan which he parked on the site of the 9th green. In years to come, people will no doubt attempt to research who Cecil was, and why he and his caravan were deemed so important as to have a hole named after it. I don`t think it always needs to be important though, sometimes I think all you need is a bit of fun that just needs to roll off the tongue well and allow a frivolous image to develop in a visitor`s mind.

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#10 – HANG TEN

Many of us were keen to have a surfing reference on the course, and because the tee on this hole stares directly out towards the Atlantic and the breakers that form the perfect ocean playground to attract people from all over the country to come and tame its waves, this seemed the ideal place to do it. Golfers playing this hole will regularly walk side by side with their chilled-out neighbours as they stroll towards the green and beach respectively. As for the reference itself, I am no surfing guru but I understand that “hang ten” refers to a manoeuvre where the surfer allows the back of the board to be counter-balanced by a weight of water in order to allow him or her to move right to the front and hang all ten toes over the front lip. Feel free to correct me if I`m wrong! Clearly, we chose this term because it is the 10th hole.

Looking over to 11th green from 17th hole, Machrihanish Dunes - Argyll Scotland
#11 – AUTOCROSS GRAVEYARD

During the early 1970s, some of the younger members of the local business community developed an interest in motorsport. Fuelled by images of heroic off-road legends such as Paddy Hopkirk and Roger Clark, the enthusiasts chose a suitable piece of ground at Clochkeil and set out a track on which to race their own cars. The racing was enthusiastically supported, but inevitably there were casualties and when cars stopped rolling either through terminal mechanical malfunctions or from catastrophic body distortion they were unceremoniously buried by a large Poclain excavator which was kept on-hand for crushing duties. I have no idea whether the remains of any of these iconic vehicles still lurk under the mounds of the 11th fairway, but if they do then they will continue to serve as a monument to the earliest era of motorsport in the area, which subsequently made the obvious move to the tarmac of the airbase.

#12 – DRUMLEMBLE

Sometimes an iconic name is enough, and a viable reason is not actually necessary. This is one of those names.

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#13 – BLACK SHEEP

The black sheep have become synonymous with Machrihanish Dunes. Originally employed as a method of helping control the ingress of ephemeral rough grasses, the flock of Hebridean sheep have since made their way onto sweaters, umbrellas, the shuttle buses and even above the door of the pub. One thing a club needs in order to successfully market a brand is a brilliant logo, and the black sheep is in my opinion one of the very best in the country. Will you see the sheep on your way around the golf course? You might, depending on the time of year. Their role has been reduced substantially since the purchase of dedicated rough mowers which are far more easily trained to control the growth in the exact areas of marram and ryegrass that we and our partners at Scottish Natural Heritage wish to remain relatively thin (in order to protect the continued health of selected rare species), but if, in future, the black sheep are utilised only by the marketing department of Machrihanish Dunes, then their employment is still a thoroughly worthy one.

#14 – RIFLE RANGE

In the days when the armed forces roamed the links, the large bank behind the 14th green used to be used as a training rifle range. Many spent shells have been recovered from there since the course was first constructed, and hopefully it has now been cleared up to the point where the sandmartins who have constructed high-rise flats in there can have the place to themselves.

#15 – JOHNNY CURRIE’S RIB

I never had the opportunity to meet John Currie, but during my previous existence on Islay, I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times and he was always very amiable and helpful. Legend has it he was a bear of a man – a sea-dog in the classic sense of the phrase – but he was also a great ambassador for his island of Rathlin and the small group of people who live there and struggle to keep their community alive. John piloted a large passenger-carrying rigid inflatable boat around the area through weather bad enough to keep most ordinary people sensibly housebound (he apparently used the Martini jingle to describe his charters “anytime, anyplace, anyweather”), and you would no doubt be able to see him doing that yet from the fairway of this hole had he not met an untimely death in 2011. A proper community hero is always worthy of remembrance.

#16 – BEINN AN OIR

None of the 3 Paps of Jura are high enough to reach the coveted Munro status, but because they rise straight out of the sea they look majestic and their steep, scree-infested slopes make them tough to scale even for experienced climbers. And, of course, because they are not surrounded by any other hills of notable height the view from the top is incredible (if you can ever get a day when the summit is not shrouded in cloud, that is!). The Paps dominate the skyline to the North of the 16th hole and the largest of them, Beinn an Oir, is steeped in mythology. Translated into English the hill would be called “mountain of gold” and it`s treasure was mythically believed to have been guarded by a huge giant of a woman, who formed the great scar down the mountain`s northern slope by sliding down it on her backside. Climbers who make it to the summit of Beinn an Oir can still make out the shelters which were apparently built out of the scree and rock by an unfortunate serviceman whose job it was to keep watch for approaching enemy ships during one of the World Wars. It is stunning up there, but I can`t imagine being stuck there for weeks on end through some of the winter gales we have to endure on the west coast. It must have been brutal! We tried to shy away from using nearby place names for the holes because, well, it really isn`t that interesting, but in this case it was so obvious that we couldn`t ignore it.

#17 – REST AND BE THANKFUL

Anyone attempting a drive down the long and winding A83 from Glasgow to Campbeltown inevitably has to take on this alpine-style pass, and although the long drag up the hill from Arrochar has been substantially sanitised since the wider high road replaced the switchbacks of the original single track, many will still breathe an audible sigh of relief at the summit as this really marks the point where the central belt is left behind in favour of fresh air, epic scenery and a more relaxed pace of life. Likewise, anybody reaching the sanctity of the bench below the black tee at the 17th on a windy day can take a momentary rest from the elements before tackling the most difficult hole on the golf course with a renewed sense of vigour.

#18 – CLOCHKEIL

The 3 standing stones of Clochkeil can be found in the deep rough to the left of the green site. They orientate in a NE/SW direction, although what that actually signifies is something only our ancestors can tell us. Many of you probably don`t even realise these artifacts are in there, something I plan to rectify in the near future with some regular strimming and maybe even an information board. It is a sin that I haven`t done this already. The farmland over which the golf course now resides is called Clochkeil farm, so it made sense to use this name for the last hole. It was after all a far better choice than Awa` Hame!

Many people had an involvement in the process of coming up with these names – I could thank them all individually here but they know who they are and I would imagine it will fill them with pride to know that their contributions have made the final 18.

TOURNAMENTS & COURSE WORK

We managed to complete our planned aeration works in perfect weather and with a minimum of disturbance, so the greens have settled down again very well. There is a lot of new seedlings already coming through on the putting green and chipping green, and we are hopeful that over the next few days we will see this mirrored over the rest of the greens (which were worked on a few days later). Sometimes when you undertake these works things don`t go according to plan – usually because of the weather – but this time we struck it lucky and now we just need to ensure that the new seedlings are allowed to mature so that they can help us provide a reasonable surface throughout the Winter and beyond. We have begun a similar program of works on our main tees that has likely been completed by the this email reaches you. After that, we will discuss what further aeration we can do while this spell of fine Autumn weather (which is ideal for root development) is still with us.

Members and non-members alike are reminded that our annual Autumn Pairs competition is being played at Machrihanish Dunes on Saturday October 10th – if you wish to participate in this event please contact the Golf House at your earliest convenience as the booking sheet is filling up fast. Competitors are reminded that there is an evening prize-giving and function planned to coordinate with this event, and I understand that our Head Chef has planned a very interesting Thai buffet for this. We would be delighted if you could join us.

That’s it for this month – see you on the course!

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Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper
Mach Dunes Golf Club

The Wild Flowers of the Summer’s Hottest Golf Course

The weather conditions during July have been extremely conducive to growing grass, which does put a strain upon manpower and machine, but the upside of this is that if we are pro-active enough, these conditions also give us a great opportunity to do some successful overseeding work on the fine turf areas. In recent weeks, we have seen some fine ingression into the greens from indigenous Highland bentgrass, which I have always taken to be a sign that soil temperatures have become suitably elevated, allowing us to sow some extra bent into the greens without the usual risk of abject failure.

We set up for this overseeding mission by verticutting in two directions to thin out the sward before topdressing with our favoured 80/20 sand/soil material to give the new seed some fresh material to key into. We then seeded the greens using a walk behind Blec seeder with a dimpled roller. I am a big fan of this old machine because it does a really good job of aerating and decompacting the surface while leaving behind thousands of tiny holes for the seed to fall into, become trapped, and ready for germination. The whole job was timed to work alongside our monthly spray program, which contains humic acid and plenty of amino acids, simple carbohydrates and enzymes, which are critical to ensure that the potential for germination and initial growth is maximised. For me, there are few things more satisfying to see out on the course than a grid pattern of new seedlings that proved we timed our applications perfectly, and I am expecting good results – the weather we have experienced for the last two week has been absolutely perfect for this. Rubbish for golf, but good for seed germination!

A COLOURFUL COURSE

The other thing that satisfies me to see out on the course at this time of year is the incredible display of colour in the roughs – proof once again that our rough management program suits the continued health of the rare species of plants that Scottish Natural Heritage are so keen for us to protect. I can`t remember ever seeing a golf course provide such a stunning display of natural machair colour as ours has over the last month. Not only have we stared in awe at the field of assorted orchids at the back of the 6th green, but we have also enjoyed the white, yellow, blue and purple palette of low growth on many other areas of the course. Even the blown-out area between the 2nd and the 8th has been awash with colour, full of violets, different varieties of clover, wild thyme and flanked in the longer grass by more orchids and yellow bedstraw. The natural improvement of this area shows me that we are doing the right thing by reducing the topical growth from thick areas and removing clippings, and although there is not much of any ecological merit in the more agricultural part of the course (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th fairways and the driving range and Golf House area), we have the opportunity to further improve the potential for spreading these rare plants across the rest of the site by continuing with what is a pretty simple mowing and clearing process.

I don`t have an awful lot more to say this month – it tends to be that way at this time of year when we are well into our cutting program and we do pretty much the same things every week. I don`t suppose any of you want to read about how much grass we are cutting! Instead, I thought I would share some of my wild flower photos with you, just in case you missed them on your way round. I know there are some people who read this blog who haven`t had the opportunity to visit the course recently, so these images are for their enjoyment too.

Wild thyme. This smells as good as it looks.

 

Clover is a pretty average looking plant on its own, but when yellow flowers mix with white and purple in one patch it really can look stunning. There is a massive patch of this between the 2nd and the 8th, which we will try to encourage while also filling in the bare sandy areas with some actual grass, so maybe you can get a decent lie in there for a change next year!

A variety of Leucanthemum I would imagine, I`d like to get smart with my description but “big white daisy” is the best I (and google!) can come up with!

Yellow Bedstraw. It has been seemingly everywhere these last few weeks, providing a great mat of colour to contrast with the purple of the orchids.

A fine specimen of a purple orchid, although I`m not actually sure whether this is an early marsh orchid or a pyramidal orchid. I`m going to go with the former- although it has a pyramidal shape, early marsh orchids can sometimes fool you when their lower display has opened while the upper portion is still closed.

The field of orchids behind the 6th green. This site really is stunning at this time of year, but it always proves very difficult to photograph. I`ve tried many times but I can never do it justice. The barrel-shaped orchids are called the “Early Marsh” varieties, the tall bushy one is a “Northern Marsh” orchid and the pyramid shaped ones are, unsurprisingly, “pyramidal” orchids.

It`s back to the technical updates for me next month, because I`m going to be talking about aeration. We all know that every golf course needs to be aerated in order to offset the compaction from foot and machine traffic and to ensure that water and oxygen can move through the profile effectively, but a specific action that suits one course will not necessarily suit the course down the road (or in our case “over the fence”). I will, of course, be focussing entirely on what we plan to do on our course, on why we are doing it and on what we hope to achieve. It is a favourite subject of mine because so many golfers have inaccurate perceptions of what aeration is all about, which is why this intrusive practise infuriates them so much. I want you to have all the facts before we get started!

We hope you enjoy your golf during August. We look forward to seeing you out there! Please remember the Black Sheep Cup is being played on Saturday 29th August. We have been discussing plans to make this event bigger and better than before, so if you are interested in taking part, you can get more information and enter for this competition by phoning the Golf House on 01586 810058 or emailing golfhouse@machdunes.com.

Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper
Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

BBC’s ‘Where in the World is Andy?’ Talks Campbeltown, Kintyre & Machrihanish

Radio Host: He is an hour later than he is on a Thursday. We are about 35- 40 minutes late with our roaming travel reporter Andy Mossack. Where in the world is he this time? But first thing is: I need your help, and I have clues here but no answers, so are you ready for clue number 1? You can also help me out with this on the same number.

Clue number one for Andy Mossack:  The 17th century town near here once claimed it was the whisky capital of the world, when it was home to 30 distilleries. Now there are only three of them left, but it still remains as one of the five official whisky producing regions of this country, which is leading me to think he ain’t that far away. But the 17th century town near here once claimed it was the whisky capital of the world, when it was home to 30 distilleries. There are now only three of them left, but it still remains one of the five official whisky producing regions of this country. Where in the world is Andy Mossack?

There is another clue, which I will give you, the start of the midnight moment, and the man himself, about 20 past twelve. I’m thinking Scotland, personally, but where exactly I am kind of at a loss.

Maybe the second clue, which I have not seen yet, will help us out on this.  03453033333. Send me a quick email as well at russelwalker@bbc.co.uk.  Rhodesfield here helping me out with Andy Mossack here. I think the mystery location is Campbeltown, out island beaut, most westerly town in Scotland. An old friend of mine lives there, I think we are in the right nation. I am sure it is Scotland, I think. I am fairly certain it is Scotland. Now I did say I would give you the second clue, and then we shall get on to more romantic matters, and I’ll start talking down there.  So here is the second clue. Excuse me, where is the second clue? Got to open the envelope for this. There we go. Let’s find out where in the world is Andy Mossack. (Laughs). I think we are highly likely to get it now. (Laughs).

Paul McCartney mutualized, no he immortalized this beautiful place in 1977 when he released a song about it, which became a global hit. Well, I have no idea. No idea what-so-ever.  So it was the whisky capital of the world, or claimed to be, and in 1977 Paul McCartney wrote a ditty about this place, which became a global hit and sensation. Where in the world is Andy Mossack? Catching up with him 15 minutes from now.  We, uh, for guesses and help we had two clues about Andy Mossack now. Sui Murphield, Gavin Tilslee, and Gene Holmes, Field Grey, I mean McCrepp. Now I’ve got to say Angie Gavins, who all say Mull of Kintyre, alongside Norma in Sleatford, Andy Crepps says The Island of Moe…….. Everybody says they are going for that, I suppose. We ought to find out! Otherwise, we won’t get to sleep tonight without knowing this, if we leave it hanging so, Paul McCartney sang a song about it, and it was once claimed to be the whisky capital of the world. Thirty distilleries. Thirty distilleries. These days, only three of them left. I’ve visited a few in my time, but it is time to find out exactly where in the world he is.  Andy Mossack! Good evening.

Andy Mossack: (greets him in another language)

Radio Host: (greets him in another language). So it is Wales! No, I’m only joking. So good evening, or good morning should it be Andy?

Andy Mossack: It is a bit later than normal!

Radio Host: Just a little bit! So let me guess, is it actually, are you on the Mull of Kintyre?

Andy Mossack: I am indeed.

Radio Host: Oh, we got it right! Excellent. So everyone gets a pat on the back, whoever managed to spot that one. What exactly are you doing up there?

Andy Mossack: (laughs). I am doing what you think. I am visiting some amazing distilleries, but also just exploring this fantastic coastline, which is quite extraordinary. Um, I don’t know if you have been up this way.

Radio Host: I have. I have spent many lovely holidays in Scotland, and I’m reminded every time someone says “Let’s go on a holiday to Scotland,” I am reminded of an old joke that Billy Connolly said once, where it goes, where he says, “Go to Scotland. There is nobody there.” It is miles and miles of breathtaking country side, and nobody’s in it.

Andy Mossack: Yes, quite right. I mean the extraordinary thing is, I am in Campbeltown, which is about 8 miles away from the Mull of Kintyre. And, uh, it is on the peninsula, it is called the Kintyre peninsula. The extraordinary thing is it’s 60 miles as a crow flies from Glasgow, but it is 140 miles by road, because you literally have to drive around the Lochs. I mean you go around Lochgilphead, and then you have to drive around Lochead. There are no bridges anywhere, so you are continuously circling these incredible Lochs, which are, just as you say, breathtaking. And then you get to the ocean side, which is, again, you’ve got the Atlantic Ocean for about 30 miles down the peninsula. So it really is quite extraordinary, and Campbeltown itself is quite a lovely town. And it, as you say, it was 30 distilleries, and they called themselves the whisky capital because it had 30 distilleries, and there are three still going. But it is the official, one of the five, whiskey regions of Scotland, and here is one of those. It’s got a lovely Springbank whisky.

Radio Host: So the interesting thing about Campbeltown and the whole area, but especially about the area where you are, for me, would be, you have, it is a question of what came first. Was it the whisky business and then the town sprung up, or settlement for other things, such as industry or fishing, then whiskey followed? So which came first, whisky or buildup?

Andy Mossack: Well I would say, first it was a fishing, fishing area. Then, with the Campbells, the clan started it. And the Duke of Argyll, the guy who started the town, it was brought up in just a beautiful area, and the fact that it is relatively peaty and the water here is wonderful, so it started whisky.

Radio Host: Because that’s the magic of whisky, isn’t it? It is clean spring water. And it is very peaty earth, isn’t it?

Andy Mossack: Absolutely. It is actually to be called single malt, you can only call it that, first of all, it has got to be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years and one day. I don’t know quite where the one day comes in.

Radio Host: For good luck!

Andy Mossack: Yea, that’s probably it! It has to be used by using one distillery, and one type of malt and water. And that’s your Scottish Scotch. I don’t think it can be called Scotch unless it has been in that oak barrel for three years and one day. It is taken very seriously down there!

Radio Host: You aren’t kidding! Now, you obviously visited one or two distilleries on this.  Now, the most recent distillery I visited was Highland, no, not Highland Park,

Andy Mossack: Well there is Highland Park

Radio Host: Yes there is. It is the one on Orkney. So you’ll have to forgive me if I got that incorrectly. I went to the Orkney house, I have family up there, and so we go up, we went on the distillery tour, and, you know, it is a wonderful process. Some of it is a working distillery, and the smells you get, they dry out, certain ingredients they dry out on the floors and they basically just sweep it every day and basically that is aerate it. But they had bottles of, let’s say, particularly fine vintages in the shop at the distillery. And there was a bottle of Scotch for 35,000 pounds. On the side of this. And it was there on a glass cabinet, and, how good must that taste? Are there similar things down there, because it is quite a touristy thing, isn’t it? People like to go to distilleries.

Andy Mossack: They do, they do. I will tell you a secret, actually. Personally, I believe, and it is my opinion, but good single whisky, really, if it is ten to twelve years old, it’s good. Now, I don’t necessarily think that if it is 40 years old it will taste much better, it is just there is less of it. So, that’s why it is more expensive. And I think they call it the Angel’s Share, when it is in a cast and it evaporates, and that’s obviously why, but yea, I’ve got a lovely collection at home, all different ones, and I have a great joke, actually, if I’ve got time.

Radio Host: As long as it’s clean.

Andy Mossack: I went to this apartment, and they had a very bold statement above the boxes that said they had every single malt ever created in Scotland. And I said to him, “Have you gotten a bottle of Glenhottle and uh, Glenhottle, is,

Radio Host: We know, yep,

Andy Mossack: He faces me, white as a sheet, and he disappears, he disappears, in the back office, and all I could hear was clashing and bashing and all kinds of stuff, and he came out, demented, and he came out, and says “I have not, I have not got it” It was hysterical, really, and I was on the floor, and I had to come clean eventually.

Radio Host: Leave him hanging for a couple of hours, though.

Andy Mossack: Yea, don’t worry about that! Don’t worry about that.

Radio Host: Stay there Andy, and we will come back, and talk a little more about the town, and the town itself,

Andy Mossack: And Mull again

Radio Host: Oh yes, and Mulligan.  Well in fact, it is funny you should say that, because we may as well have this now, of course. More Andy Mossack, who is in, this place. That is where he is in the world. Just shy of three million, and I feel bad now, because this is Christmas music, and here we are in June. Good stuff though. Andy Mossack, of course. We now found out where in the world he is, he is in Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre, and we have stories and plus one coming in soon, but we have a few more questions that I would like to be asking Andy. Now, aside from the whisky business, these days, in Campbeltown and whatnot, to get there, how easy is it to get there, what kind of stuff is there to do once you are there, are there lots of places to stay, good variety of different places to eat, what is the food like?

Andy Mossack: Well, goodness me, where do I start.

Radio Host: Pick one, there you go!

The Ugadale Hotel
The Ugadale Hotel
The Royal Hotel
The Royal Hotel

Andy Mossack: Yes, well, um, all the usual local carriers come into Glasgow and, like I said, I got a car at Glasgow and I drove four hours to the lovely town of Campbeltown. And, um, there is a lovely story here now, because there is an American company, who has practically reinvented the town, and a lovely little town next to it, it is called Machrihanish, and, um, they’ve come in and taken over what was fairly run down hotels, and put, breathed life back into them, and the lovely Ugadale and the Royal Hotel are fantastic, beautiful 19th century buildings, which were really, had gone much to ruins. And they came in and renovated them all and built a fantastic course called Mach Dunes, which is a beautiful links course right next to the ocean, and have employed, what is in fact thirty to up to one hundred people, locals, so they’ve helped employment in the area, which I think was a fantastic thing for them to do.

Mach Dunes
Mach Dunes

Radio Host: So there is this bit of, you know, re-invigoration happening in the area.

Andy Mossack: Absolutely. Yea, yea, and what a great place to do it, in fact. There is a lovely old golf course here, at Machrihanish, which was designed by Tom Morris, in fact, who did St. Andrew’s. So they’ve got a lot of heritage there, but beautiful fish, obviously seafood up here. Great salmon. The food is wonderful, and the people here are just wonderful. The nice thing about it, I think, is in my opinion, is that it’s not that touristy at all. As you said, you can drive for hours without seeing a soul. But people here are genuine, they really are, and I just loved the place. And they talk a lot about Paul McCartney because he did very much joining in with the locals and he was down in the pub quite often, and they re-go the tales of the McCartney’s very much so.

Radio Host: So what you’re saying is Campbeltown Pipe Band, they are the ones doing the bagpipes and drums at Mull of Kintyre the record.

Andy Mossack: Are they? I didn’t know that. What a lovely story.

Radio Host: Yes and the Campbeltown Pipe Band, he featured those on it. I mean he has had a house there for a very long time. It’s like an estate really.

Andy Mossack: Yea, um, Hyde Park farm actually. The sad thing is he actually hasn’t been here in about five years, apparently. He’s been spending most of his time either in England or America. But they do talk of him very fondly, which is nice, and I did see the farm. I did drive by it. It is literally on the outskirts of Campbeltown. It is still there, but there is still a lovely, also, another story on a thin and windy road, if that is a clue, up from the mountainside to the farm. So it is a single chat road, literally, you drive along it, and when you get to the Mull of Kintyre, you walk all the way down to the lighthouse bottom, which is fantastic. These days you can rent that lighthouse as a bed-and-breakfast, wait, no, not as a bed-and-breakfast, but as a self-catering place that the visitors of Scotland have put together. So you walk all the way down, and you can park yourself there for a few days.

Radio Host: So lots of things to do, lots of things to see, of course. Even though it is Scotland, it classifies as a stay-cation so to be on trend you can go there. So what is left on the itinerary for you then? Is it maybe another round of golf? Another discovery? Maybe some fish and chips?

Andy Mossack: I will do that, but I am going to drive up a little bit north past Oban, and there is a very lovely old, Isle of Eriska, which is over that way, so I am going to check that out and then drive back though the Trossachs and come back to Glasgow.

Radio Host: Well, lots of good stuff. Well you have-

Andy Mossack: And the weather has been amazing, that’s kind of throwing a spin in it. Most people think the weather is terrible but it is absolutely beautiful.

Radio Host: Do you know that I’ve only been sunburned once in the last ten years and that happened on Olpendi? Believe me, I’ve been to some hot places, even 56 degrees in Egypt when I was in the Valley of the Kings and I, degrees Celsius, and I was in the Valley of the Kings, and my shoes melted it was so hot but I didn’t get sunburnt, and later that year we went to Olpendi and I burned. And I thought, and there you go, you never know. Scotland is unpredictable as ever.

Andy Mossack: I thought you were going to tell me what it is twins with.

Radio Host: Oh, no. I don’t think Campbeltown is twins with anywhere I would say. Because you know I like to find out where places are twins with but no, as I can tell, it is not twinned with anywhere, which I think you need to get a word with the mayor and see if they have some sort of a twinning program.

Andy Mossack: I think so! Why not twin it with radio leads.

Radio Host: We could do twinning with the BBC here so in some way it can be a bit more glamorous. Twinning with Los Angeles or San Diego or something like that. I think it would go down well. Andy, you take care and have a fabulous evening. Always nice talking to you.

Andy Mossack: Great.

Radio Host: Great. Thank you. Take care. Bye-bye. And there he goes. Andy Mossack. And now we know where he’s been. Campbeltown and all around Mull of Kintyre. Easy to find these things. If you ever want to go on a holiday to Scotland visit Scotland’s main tourist site. Find it online, weigh up your options, and honestly — go. It is a fabulous place to go on a holiday, anywhere in that particular nation. We’ll be catching up with him again soon I’m sure.

All About The Grass at The Dunes

WE’RE GROWING GRASS FOR FUN NOW!

After all my whining in previous reports about the slow start to the season, we have recently been graced with some decent temperatures and a good mixture of weather. Although we saw some days of heavy rain over the last month that has kept the water table unseasonably high, the fine turf areas on the course actually dried out considerably during June, and the greens and tees required an average level of additional irrigation. The work we undertook earlier in the season to plant a mixture of fescues containing creeping red and hard varieties into our tees has proved worthwhile in many areas, with the new mix competing well within the established turf and helping to increase overall drought resistance and maintain grass cover. The tees at Machrihanish Dunes have light, sandy bases and are always going to be prone to drying out, so while we are waiting for natural processes to conspire over time to build us a more drought resistant and organically rich rootzone, what we are aiming to do is to integrate the fine-leaved grasses that require the very least inputs from fertiliser and water into the sward. It would be nice to think that in years to come all we will have to do to maintain a dry and grippy surface of indestructible and visually appealing fine grass on our tees is to go out a few times a week and cut the grass. That`s the nirvana we are always working towards!

ALL ABOUT WETTING AGENTS

The greens have been quite predictable and relatively easy to manage during June despite the inconsistent nature of the weather, and I have chalked that up to a change in our wetting agent program. Greenkeepers use wetting agents to control water movement in the soil, ensuring that deposits from fungi and deposits of organic materials cannot turn sand particles hydrophobic (thereby inhibiting water from entering the rootzone and making it very difficult to re-wet the surface evenly). If a rootzone is allowed to become hydrophobic, it will be as difficult for us to re-wet it as it would be for you to wash the grease off a plate without the help of washing-up liquid. Historically we have had two types of wetting agent to choose from, penetrants and matrix agents. If we apply a penetrant, water under the power of gravity will travel easily through the rootzone but will keep going right through to the subsoil and beyond. While this is very useful if you are trying to flush salt or undesirable minerals from your soil, it also flushes every other mineral to a depth beyond where it can be utilised by roots and can cause rootzones to dry out scarily quickly. Matrix wetting agents have been formulated to allow water to penetrate into the rootzone and then to be held there, ensuring water and nutrients cannot escape to the subsoil where the plant cannot utilise them. The downside to these products is that surfaces can become easily waterlogged and airflow can become inhibited to the point where roots die off and beneficial soil bacteria start to get out-competed by anaerobic bacteria and disease pathogens. The wetting agent we have been using this year on the greens at Machrihanish Dunes has been specifically developed to form a very thin bond with individual soil and sand particles rather than forming a bond with the rootzone as a whole, which means that water is still held in suspension as it would be by a standard matrix, but does not sit in the pockets which would otherwise have been filled with air. The results we have been seeing while using this product are encouraging.  We have found that the greens have dried out quicker than they did when using a standard matrix wetting agent, but we have also noted that during periods of relatively wet weather we can produce a dry, relatively fast surface much more easily and we have definitely seen more days when we could provide optimum playing conditions than we ever have before. We are also noting a positive benefit from extra root development beneath the sward, which we are putting down to the roots being made to work harder to find available water and those roots having enough oxygen to allow them to develop and retain optimum health. Longer and better established roots will increase drought resistance and allow better uptake of available nutrients, which will in turn limit the need to apply additional water and fertiliser.  This will decrease incidences of turf disease and promote better grass coverage from a sward that is better prepared to promote the health of the fine perennial grasses that will be cheaper and less stressful for us to manage, as well as provide a faster and more uniform year-round surface for you to play golf on. This makes the wetting agent appear to be one of those catch-22 products that can make or break a greenkeeping program, a simple addition to our arsenal that can tip the balance back in our favour and allow us to allow nature to do the job of maturing our young greens for us rather than trying and inevitably failing to fight a force that we will never get the better of.

It is still early in the season.  Time will tell whether we have enough water at our disposal to use this product throughout a prolonged hot, dry spell, but I would imagine that the longer we use it and the deeper and more developed our root systems become, the less dependant we will be on artificial irrigation anyway. An annual greenkeeping program is all a big balancing act, really!

TOURNAMENT PREP

Many of you will have played in our annual Campbeltown Open on the 27th June, and I hope you all played well and enjoyed the competition. I was asked recently how long we would make specific preparations for before a date when we would host an event like that, which is an interesting and pretty open-ended question. In reality, I suppose we always tailor our program in the hope that we can have the course playing at its very best when our “majors” roll around, so the truth is we are always preparing for them in some way. Even when we are turfing in mid-winter, we hope that the tee or bunker we’re working on at that time will be fully integrated into the course by the time next year`s Campbeltown Open is played! Although the weather and other vagaries will keep us on our toes during the weeks before the event and force us to make spur of the moment decisions on things like cutting heights and fertiliser applications in the weeks and even days leading up to the competition, we will use our experiences from previous years to develop a base template from which to plan our cultural practises to attempt to produce optimum playing conditions at that time. Obviously, we would avoid topdressing or aerating the greens in the immediate run-up to the weekend preceding at tournament, but we would also hope to time our nutrient and chemical applications perfectly in order to ensure that our surfaces were healthy but relatively lean. As always, we have to be careful not to push things a little too far, as it is so easy to tip the health of the greens over the edge, which can lead to sudden outbreaks of disease or a quick scorch on a hot day.

Trying to get the balance right can be pretty frustrating – this year the greens were relatively dry right up until a couple of days before the tournament and then we had a lot of rain which released some stored nutrients and slowed the greens right up. Although this ensured that we would definitely not suffer any residual damage from our increased mechanical inputs, it did lead to us having to make a snap decision to lower the cutting heights, factor in extra cuts and bring out the roller in order to produce a speed anywhere close to what we would have hoped to provide. Of course, having the necessary machinery and manpower at our disposal to enable us to be able to do this at the last minute is a massive bonus for us and this did allow us to get somewhere near the mark, although we would have preferred the course to have been as fiery as it had been earlier in the week.

campbeltown open 002.jpg
Desperately searching for green speed…
while desperately trying to hold a straight line!!

Hopefully by next year, the wetting agent will have helped us to develop our young root systems to the point where nutrient applications will have been reduced further so that there will be no flush after heavy rain and we can run the greens leaner and drier all the time, meaning preparations for competitions as well as daily play will be a more predictable science.  When you`re dealing with nature on a daily basis, every single thing you do is connected!

Pin placements are carefully planned in advance for events like the Campbeltown Open. Most authorities suggest you should try to have 6 easy ones, 6 of medium difficulty and 6 that really make golfers think. But how do you do that on a course like Machrihanish Dunes, where the severity of the contours make the links so much fun to play but also mean that a pin can be pretty easy or brutally hard depending on where a golfer hits his or her ball?! The general consensus was that there were at least 18 hard positions at this year`s Open…but this one at the back left of the 11th doesn`t look too bad to me. I wouldn`t want to be chipping back to it, though!

campbeltown open 005.jpg

We hope you enjoy your golf during July, and look forward to seeing you out there!

 

Turf Nurseries & Keeping the Greens Their Greenest

Many of the people from other clubs I’ve recently spoken with have been bemoaning the slow start to the season, with little or no growth so far to aid the recovery from any turf damage that may have been sustained over the winter months. While it’s true that temperatures across the country have been down a degree or two from the seasonal average, the clubs in Kintyre have been more thankful than ever for the comparatively high winter temperatures that the warm flow of the Gulf Stream send in our direction. While this geographical anomaly undoubtedly brings its own issues (destructively windy, salty issues!) during the shorter days of December and January, there is no doubt that if we follow a sensible and protective off-season maintenance program, we can make the most of the higher ground and air temperatures that we get through these months and hit the ground running at the beginning of the golf season. The consistent putting conditions we saw on all but a couple of our most exposed greens during April and May showed that this policy can work, and we now have the opportunity to build on that progress through the remainder of the season.

We have undertaken a considerable amount of overseeding, aeration and topdressing work on our tees over the last few weeks, and the majority of them have responded well. I felt the condition of the tees let the course down last summer – there was no doubt that we could have made more out of our nutrition and water resources, and as a result, a number of them were very poor going into winter!  The new tees we constructed over the winter have settled in really well, and it’s good to see our recent hard work on some of the others improve them to the point where they can now complement the new ones. We did bite the bullet and patch turf into one or two of them, which was a bit brave considering the dry weather we’ve experienced during May in previous years, but it looks like we have got away with it as these areas have knitted in very well. I really wish now that I had been brave enough to turf the bare areas on the men’s tee at the 6th  at the same time, but in truth I bottled it and will now have to live with it for the rest of the season. We have a plan in place to dramatically increase the size of this very exposed tee which we will implement this winter, as it is far too small to accommodate the hammering it gets from short irons and from the worst of the winter weather.

“WHAT’S THAT FENCED-OFF PATCH OF GRASS OVER THERE FOR, SIMON?”

orchid1 2
Our 1500 sq.metre Turf Nursery.

The headline is an actual question from one of our Mach Dunes GC members, and I’m so glad he asked. That would be our turf nursery, situated behind the bank across the road from the carpark. This was one of my first jobs when I started working at Machrihanish Dunes last year, and was a project that Keith Martin had been keen on implementing for a while.

Initially, we scraped and flattened a large 1500sq.m area of sand with a 15 tonne excavator before importing approximately 200 tonnes of sandy topsoil from Langa Quarry next door. We mixed this material with the top layer of sand and spread it evenly over the area, creating a 6-inch deep layer of what we in the industry vaguely like to call “rootzone material.” The physical and nutritional make-up of rootzone material has been discussed in greenkeeping circles at length over the years, with some experts extolling the virtues of lighter, more free-draining soils while others favour heavier mixes with higher levels of nutrients and bacterial colonies. Having a turf nursery at Machrihanish Dunes gives us the opportunity to not only experiment with different species of grass, but also different mixes of soil. If we lay one mix and one species together and it doesn’t work as well as we hoped, then we will lift it, use it for patching fairways and rabbit holes and start again. Before we started this project, we visually analysed what we were seeing out on the golf course by focusing on the areas that performed really well and then attempting to replicate the physical conditions that produced those results. We simultaneously analysed the areas of the course that were not performing so well and tried to pinpoint why these sites saw proportionally less growth of healthy perennial grasses than we would hope for. In almost all cases, the quality of the indigenous rootzone material could be cited as a major factor in the successful growth of the plants we wish to encourage. Molehills are a brilliant way of analysing this; if a mole digs in a weak area where grass growth is sparse, the molehill will almost always be very sandy, whereas the mole that tunnels under a site naturally populated by agricultural meadow grasses and ryes will inevitably excavate a hill of overly moist, nutrient rich, slimy black soil. The mole that produces a mound of light, airy free-draining and sweet smelling “rootzone” mix meanwhile, will quite often have had to muscle his way through a mat of healthy fescue and bent roots to get to the surface! This is flippant of course (and seemingly very obvious), but it is just an example of how we try to step back occasionally and see how we can use natural processes to our own maximum advantage. Fighting against nature will inevitably lead only to expensive failure.

 

seeded2
An area of turf has been lifted to patch tees and fairways, and has been replaced with a new layer of rootzone. This has again been seeded with Bar Trio fescue seed.

Having an area of nursery at our disposal that we can use to experiment with rootzones as well as with grass species and their cultivars will prove to be highly beneficial, and will increase our chances of guaranteeing future success when we undertake construction projects out on the golf course. This will hopefully keep our construction costs down as we can use materials indigenous to the site and local area that we know to work from our own experimentation, rather than buying in expensive materials from the Central Belt on the basis of laboratory analysis alone.

We currently have three species of grass growing in the nursery in a comparatively rich rootzone mix. There is a very small strip of A1/A4 creeping bentgrass at the Easterly end, which was seeded at 15 grams/sq.m into a sandy mix that we used to try and replicate the rootzones under the existing greens and tees. As we headed West, the next 20% was seeded out with a dwarf perennial ryegrass, something we have used previously in tees and under the mats on pathways. Ryegrass is extremely hard-wearing, but in its original, agriculturally beneficial form was very wide-leaved, ugly, and difficult to integrate into sportsturf. If you’ve ever been to a course where the green aprons are full of tufty “hedgehogs” of seemingly unmown, unkempt grass, then you know what I mean.

Although this dwarf variety is a massive improvement over any rye I have tried to grow before and seems to grow healthily at 10mm on a relatively weak rootzone without much input from fertiliser and water, I have been a bit disappointed by its sparse growth and anaemic colour. Granted, I could feed it a bit more, but that kind of defeats the purpose of our experiment.  I would not do that on large areas out on the golf course for budgetary reasons. What I have done with this patch now is seeded some hard fescue into it, as I want to see whether the two grasses can integrate better to form a closer-knit turf. I have had a lot of success growing hard fescue on tees and fairways in past years, and there is a lot of it naturally occurring in the fairways at Machrihanish Dunes, which proves to me that there is potential for me to use it here to my advantage. Time will tell whether this mix could mature into a really bulletproof turf for patching tees and fairways, or whether the rye will aggressively crowd out the fescue and take over. Again, I could not experiment with this out on the course, as I know that turf managers have tried in the past to integrate perennial ryegrass into links fairways in order to thicken up the sward only to find they have integrated countless hedgehogs instead!

The remaining 50-60% of the nursery area was seeded with good old creeping red fescue, the finest links grass money can buy. This particular batch is Bar Trio – three cultivars specifically chosen by our suppliers at Barenbrug for their salt resistance and dark year-round colour. It is the mix I would automatically use to overseed greens at Machrihanish Dunes, but having the ability to experiment with it on different strengths of rootzone in a nursery has already given me more of an understanding of what it needs to grow at an optimum level. We had such immediate success growing this mix of fescue cultivars on the rootzone we mixed that we used a similar sand/Langa soil mix under the tees we constructed last winter, and the nursery turf itself has matured so quickly that we are already using it for patching fairways and tees even though it is not yet a year old. We will continue to bring it to maturity over the course of this season; topdressing and overseeding whenever we have the opportunity, and will then use all of it this winter and start again next spring.

The nursery is always cut at the same height as the tees (10mm), so I would not envisage any of our own turf ending up on the greens. We could grow turf for greens, but the maintenance and input requirements for greens turf is much higher than it is for tees and we would therefore need to spend a lot more time and money on the nursery than we actually feel it is financially responsible for us to do. Mowing the nursery 2-3 times a week and adhering to a similar fertiliser and topdressing program to the tees has given us a good happy medium, allowing us to replicate on-course conditions and providing us with a useable resource while avoiding escalating costs. This has been, and is continuing to be, a worthwhile project.

HOW TO IDENTIFY TURF NURSERY GRASSES
(or, How to Impress Your Friends and Look Smart!)

redfescue
Creeping red fescue, the grass at the westerly end.
creepingbentgrass

Dwarf ryegrass with some hard fescue in the middle section.


A1/A4 Creeping bentgrass at the easterly end.

Anybody who wishes to have a closer look at the turf nursery at any time is absolutely welcome – it is fenced from the rabbits, not from you! We will keep on experimenting with this and taking the things we learn from it out onto the golf course, ever hopeful that we can improve the surfaces we can provide for you on a daily basis. We hope you all enjoy your golf during June. Maybe this will be the month when summer finally arrives!

Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper
Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club

Keeping it Natural at Mach Dunes

Spring is here! Well…it’s here a bit. It has been typical April…

Oh, wait a minute, I wrote that last month, didn’t I!  It`s true, though – despite last week’s fine weather (April 21-25) there has been precious little new growth so far. Course definition and recovery from what little winter damage the course endured have been in short supply, but at least we’ve been able to rely on the decent coverage of grass that emerged from the dark months to provide golfers with some firm and relatively true surfaces to play on. Hopefully this will give us a good base to start improving on as the season progresses.

TOURNAMENTS 

Our Kintyre Team Challenge competition in conjunction with Dunaverty Golf Club turned out to be a great success, with both courses providing decent playing conditions considering the early date in the golfing calendar. We are very hopeful that this competition can be played on an annual basis and that it will become a firm favourite as we develop it further.Speaking of tournaments, we have our Monthly Member Medal on 31st May, and our major tournament of the year – The Campbeltown Open on 27th June – is fast-approaching!  Enquire at the golf shop for more information on both of these tournaments – we’d love to see you there!

NEW EQUIPMENT

The week after the Kintyre Team Challenge we took delivery of some new machinery, and we now have a powerful Kubota tractor and 3 of the very latest Toro Flex 21 handmowers at our disposal. It will be obvious to regular visitors to Machrihanish Dunes that I am a big fan of handmowing greens whenever possible. Although it is more labour-intensive, there is no doubt that handmowing will provide a better ball roll and superior presentation. We are very grateful to have been given what I consider the best mowers on the market to help us make the very most of our long morning walks! The surfaces at Machrihanish Dunes are not as undulating as they once were, but greens like 2 and 14 still provide a big challenge for even a professional grade conventional mower. The distance between the front and back roller is critical when mowing over severe contours at cutting heights as low as 4mm. The Flex 21s are cleverly designed with two forward rollers directly in front of and behind the cutting cylinder on a unit which articulates separately from the main rear roller, meaning there is far less discrepancy in the height of cut through hollows or over high spots than there would be if the mower had a fixed frame with only two rollers. Not only does this have a positive impact on the consistency of speed over the surface of the entire green, but it will also result in less stress for plants which may previously have been unable to survive the regular scalping they received from mowers. We already mow the greens down to the lowest height we think we can get away with without compromising the health of the plant, so it stands to reason that anything we can do to minimise inconsistencies in this height will help us immeasurably.

mowersOur powerful new tractor and three of the best mowers in the business.

Delegates from Scottish Natural Heritage visited us for their West Coast conference during the week of 21st-25th April, and much mention was made during the week of the environmental credentials of Machrihanish Dunes. As I am sure you are aware, the course was the first 18-hole links to be developed on the West Coast of Scotland for 100 years and the entire site is protected as a site of special scientific interest. While this restriction does to a certain extent govern what we can and cannot apply to outfield areas, it is not as prohibitive as some people might expect. This is mainly due to the fact that links courses actually provide their best playing characteristics when they are maintained in harmony with the land that they are laid out over. The grasses that make up our fairways require little or no fertiliser or water input to provide optimum golfing conditions, and even the greens and tees are at their best when they are left relatively dry and hungry. While the farming community seeks optimum yield and productivity from their grassland in order to maximise their income, the greenkeeping community actively seeks the exact opposite. While high yield will give us the opportunity to present green, attractively striped surfaces, it would also inevitably lead to rising costs, aggravated outbreaks of turf disease and, worst of all, slow greens and soft tees and fairways. Although the management team at Machrihanish Dunes is rightly lauded for its conscientious approach to maintaining the integrity of the site and the diversity of the species that we inherited from the previous custodians, it actually suits our greenkeeping purpose to maintain the links in this responsible manner. As long as we continue to carefully consider the short and long term impact of our every move and maintain the good working relationship that we have with our environmental partners at SNH, there is no reason why the environmental impact of running a golf course over the site should not be a positive one for all concerned – including those of you who enjoy playing on it!orchid1

In recognition of the positive work that has been done at Machrihanish Dunes since its inception to maintain the integrity of the site and its indigenous flora and fauna, the course received the honour of becoming the first to be awarded accreditation by the Golf Environment Organisation in 2012, and we were recently delighted to learn that we have been considered worthy of re-accreditation following a further application in 2014. Although it is obviously our commitment to ensuring our surroundings are not compromised by our actions that is considered worthy of accreditation, the true satisfaction comes from knowing that we are leaving behind the most minimal negative footprint we possibly can on the land. Every time we see the fabulous display of orchids sprouting in the rough or a wheatear nesting in one of the boxes we made to ensure their continued habitation of the site, we will be able to appreciate the contribution that we have made to preserving their continued existence. It won’t be long now before the rough is full of these orchids once again!orchid2_square
We hope you enjoy your golf during the next month!

Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper