Golf Season Is on the Horizon

Summer is Coming!

This seems to have been a very long winter, and the Greenkeeping squad at Machrihanish Dunes is looking forward to the end of it just as much as I’m sure you are. Considering the battering our site has had this winter, the fine turf surfaces on the golf course actually look pretty healthy at the moment. Our priority now is to retain the grass cover we have and ensure that nutrient levels in the soil and plant leaf are adequate if and when temperatures become sufficiently elevated for growth to become properly activated. The trick at this time of year is always to provide just enough nutrition to allow nature to complete its essential processes in the most efficient manner without promoting lush growth that could produce elongated growth, weaken plants, and encourage disease. The sun has been making fleeting appearances as I write this and when it has poked through the clouds, there is just a little bit of warmth that has not been there before. Even the birds were singing—I haven’t heard that for a while! Hopefully, the old saying will be true and March will go out like a lamb, because it definitely came in like a lion!

Preparing for Tournaments

Although it feels like we are still in the last throes of winter, we are well aware that spring is only a matter of weeks away, and when it does arrive, the competition season will be instantly upon us! Although we have monthly medals all year round, we tend to focus our maintenance towards having the course in peak condition for our “majors”. Somebody asked me recently how far in advance we plan for our biggest competitions, and the truth is that we are always planning for them in some way. Obviously, this effort becomes more focused the week before an event, but I already have a season-long plan written down that should help us to have the course in peak condition for our biggest events.

2018 MD Kintyre Charity Am-Am_Blog2Our first tournament this year is a charity four-person Am-Am on April 8th,  which serves as a fundraiser for our Kintyre Club charity. We are delighted and extremely appreciative that Glen Scotia Distillery and their parent company, Loch Lomond Group, have agreed to sponsor the prizes for this event, as it maximises the potential for us to raise money- every penny of which will then be re-distributed to worthy causes in the Kintyre area. For those of you who are unfamiliar, this not-for-profit charity was set up by our parent company, Southworth Development, in 2012  and has since donated over £50,000 to—among other things—educational endeavours, junior sports clubs, and musical bands and groups who actively encourage the development of young people. Without the backing of local charities and organisations such as the Kintyre Club, it would be impossible for some of these clubs and organisations that support and encourage our young people to survive. In many cases, grants backed by local and national government funding that would have been relatively easy to access in years gone by have now dried up completely, and charity funding is one of the few avenues that the hard-working organisers of these clubs and ventures have left available to them. Writing these updates gives me the opportunity to appeal to its readers on a monthly basis, so please give serious thought to participating in this event if you possibly can- least of all because a four-person Am-Am at Machrihanish Dunes will be brilliant fun and a great way to start our competitive season, but also because every penny of the money we raise on the day will be redistributed to worthy causes in our own community.

2018KintyreTeamChampionship_BlogOur second four-person team event is the Kintyre Team Championship, run in conjunction with Dunaverty Golf Club over the weekend of 21st-22nd April. This competition has become a firm favourite since its inception in 2015 and comprises a 2-ball better ball competition at Dunaverty on Saturday followed by an individual Stableford at Machrihanish Dunes on Sunday, with 3 of the 4 individual scores counting towards the team total. In my opinion, the popularity of this tournament stems from its diversity—it has facets of individual, pairs, and team play which maximises the potential for competition between the teams and also between the individuals who make them up. It is great fun.

By the time these two tournaments have been contested, the summer season will be well underway. The Shepherd’s Cross, run in conjunction with Machrihanish Golf Club, will be held on Sunday, June 17th. As regular competitors will know, this long-established team event is played over the first 9 holes at Machrihanish, before competitors cross the fence to play a composite “back nine” at Machrihanish Dunes. After the rounds have been completed, golfers are shuttled back to Machrihanish on our buses for refreshments and a prizegiving at the Ugadale Hotel.

Campbeltown Open Logo FINAL 2018Hot on the heels of the Shepherd’s Cross comes our flagship event, the Campbeltown Open. Although it is primarily a 36-hole stroke-play tournament, the Campbeltown Open is multi-faceted, running side by side with two other events:

With a barbeque running, Peter’s legendary soup flowing freely, and entertainment planned for the Saturday evening, Campbeltown Open weekend has a gala atmosphere and is not to be missed.

In all honesty, we have struggled to find a formula for our Club Championship that suits everybody. This year, we have elected to run this members-only event over the weekend of 28th-29th July, with 18 holes stroke-play each day. We cannot think of a better way to decide this most prestigious of club tournaments without making it virtually impossible for members who live outside of Kintyre to compete, and we believe it is imperative to the continued growth of the Club to ensure that as many members as possible are given the opportunity to compete in the Club Championship regardless of where they are based. We will review the success of this format after this year’s tournament, and as always, we welcome your input and ideas on how we can improve these events in the years to come.

2018_BlackSheepOpen_BlogThe Black Sheep Open has become one of our most popular events, which we are delighted about because it is actually very simple to run! An 18-hole Stableford Open is the most friendly and least attritional way to decide a golf tournament and I think this helps to promote the friendly, relaxed atmosphere that surrounds the competition. Maybe this is the key to promoting a successful event—make it inclusive for everybody, fun to play in, and ensure that everybody can return a score regardless of how difficult those nasty greenkeepers set the course up to play!

After the winter we are just emerging from, it pains me to even mention the end of a golf season, but for us, that is what the Autumn Pairs signifies. One of Machrihanish Dunes’ longest-running events, the Autumn Pairs Open will be run this year in conjunction with our popular members’ awards evening. This would be an ideal opportunity to plan an overnight stay and enjoy some semi-competitive golf, excellent food, and whatever interactive entertainment we decide to set up for you to participate in this year. Darts could feature again. Nearly everyone loves the darts! Maybe a quiz? Some music? I don’t know for sure yet but I’ll put my thinking cap on and I am definitely open to suggestions!

I don’t know about you, but I am really looking forward to preparing for and helping to run these tournaments in 2018. It would be a monotonous existence for a greenskeeper if he had no tournaments to prepare for, but a packed schedule such as this gives us just the right number of peaks to aim for.

If any of these tournaments appeal to you and you want more information than I have supplied here, please phone Lorna on 01586810067, email her at, or fill out this form.

The Club Championship and the Shepherd’s Cross are the only member-only events we run, and we welcome anybody with a recognised handicap to enter any or all of our other events. All of our golf events are designed to include gents, ladies, and juniors and we actively encourage everybody to take part. Many of these events are also run in conjunction with evening entertainment at The Ugadale Hotel, and a discounted competitor’s rate is quite often available should potential entrants wish to stay in either of our hotels or our cottages. The best way to make yourself aware of just what is on offer is to phone us and ask. Our reservations team is armed with all the information you could ever need and is willing and ready to put together a package that suits your specific needs. Accommodations for the dates of these competitions do sell out quite quickly, so my advice if you are keen on taking advantage of these offers would be to make contact as early as you possibly can.

Enjoy your golf in March. Hopefully, the weather will take a turn for the better!

A Change Is as Good as a Rest

These updates have been pretty upbeat recently, and justifiably so. The favourable weather throughout November and December allowed us to complete a good number of our planned construction projects before most of the greenkeeping team took a well deserved festive break. Unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the worse since New Year. High winds, torrential rain, and regular batches of snow and hail have hampered our progress and “forced” us inside. After two weeks which were predominantly spent painting the inside of the golf house, servicing machinery, and making new tee markers, the opportunity suddenly arose for me to leave all this “misery” behind and jet off to our sister club in The Bahamas, The Abaco Club, to help the greenkeeping team there to prepare for the Tour event they were hosting. Now, I know this blog is supposed to be all about Machrihanish Dunes, but I am also aware of just how depressed you will all be with the grim conditions that have engulfed Scotland’s golf courses of late. I figured that recounting the story of my trip might make for an interesting read, and that the accompanying pictures might, at the very least, cheer everybody up a bit!

This is the view of Winding Bay from the 5th tee when the sun came up on my first morning at Abaco. Welcome to the Caribbean!
This is the view of Winding Bay from the 5th tee when the sun came up on my first morning at Abaco. Welcome to the Caribbean!

The Island and the Resort

I had never been to the Caribbean before, and although I had obviously heard of The Bahamas, I hadn’t ever studied a map of them. I had never realised that there was such a collection of small islands governed from one central point, and I found the similarities between The Bahamas and the islands off the west coast of Scotland to be very interesting. Great Abaco (the island where the resort is situated) is west of Freeport and north of Nassau, and the population is around 17,000. The main port town of Marsh Harbour is served by a small airport and about 6,000 people live there. Even just digesting these initial numbers suggests that the same issues that account for both the unspoilt charm and the logistical issues that characterise our own islands should also be indicative here and this is absolutely the case. The cost of living is high, the links to the wider world are expensive and can, in some cases, be unreliable, and there is limited availability to some of the “luxuries” that people living in large conurbations might regard as essential. But the sense of community, the quality of the local cuisine, and the culture that define the island have been retained in a way that might be impossible if further development were financially viable or even possible. Having lived on a Scottish island with a proud heritage for many years, I am aware that life there will thankfully never change, and I think the same will most probably turn out to be the case for a lot of these idyllic Caribbean islands.

The Abaco Club on Winding Bay is situated right in the middle of this island paradise. The magnificent Steel/MacKenzie-designed golf course hugs the coastline, surrounding the development on all sides. The houses and restaurants that are perched on the cliff face afford mind-blowing views out into the Atlantic that would stretch all the way to Lanzarote if only the earth were flat. Some of the houses are privately owned but there is a range of accommodation available to rent for holiday purposes, and these are served by a selection of on-site restaurants and friendly bars that offer up sensational food and relaxed conversation on a daily basis. There is no hint of snobbery here and I had a great time chatting with people from all kinds of backgrounds and walks of life.

The Tournament

The schedule for the Tour looks exhausting. There are 27 events in all, starting with two stops in the Bahamas in January before heading to Panama, Colombia, and Mexico, and finally landing in mainland USA in March for a drive around the country that eventually leads to a tour championship in Florida at the end of September. The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic is the second tournament of the year, and the set-up for this is scrutinised every bit as carefully as it is for the elite events on the main PGA Tour. An agronomist is based on-site in the weeks before the players arrive, and his job is to ensure that the course is maintained to a suitable standard to enable the tournament to run smoothly and provide a fair and exacting test of golf.

There are many spectacular holes at Abaco, but the driveable par-4 5th is a brilliant piece of architecture as well as being a bit special to look at. It has every base covered!
There are many spectacular holes at Abaco, but the driveable par-4 5th is a brilliant piece of architecture as well as being a bit special to look at. It has every base covered!

Needless to say, Abaco passed this examination with flying colours. The surfaces of the paspalum greens were flawless and the grass was in excellent health, so it was relatively easy for Superintendent Matt DiMase to manipulate them to provide the tour with exactly the green speed that they were looking for. Fertilisation had been carefully monitored to ensure that clipping yields from regular mowings were extremely low during the week of the tournament, and the surfaces were very firm with little sign of excessive organic matter. No topdressing was done during my time at the Club, but clearly, a good regime is in place here that ensures the sandy profile of the upper rootzone is kept in prime condition. Working with paspalum was interesting and I could relate to Matt’s battle to create a monoculture of this species through the greens, tees, approaches, and fairways as it mirrors our own work at Machrihanish Dunes as we attempt to favour perennial bents and fescues over invasive annual meadowgrass. The bermudagrass which tries to infiltrate the paspalum surfaces struggles due to relatively poor salt tolerance.On the shoreside holes, it was clear to see that the paspalum was winning the battle. It provides a brilliant putting surface when it is maintained as well as it was here. Even I could hole out with monotonous regularity. It’s actually a shame that it is far too cold and far too dull on the west coast of Scotland to try and grow this grass here, as its other characteristics would ensure it would compete well on our shoreside holes. But I think our weather would be as welcome to this grass as it would be towards the Bahamian greenkeepers who look after it!

The paspalum on the 7th green looking flawless. The huge Colonial style house in the background was my favourite pad on the site.

There was a squad of around 20 local guys working on the course under the supervision of Matt and his assistants, Juan Carlos and Sherwood, and they were keen and hilarious. Working with them was like watching the film Cool Runnings with five times the size of cast. There are some real characters there. They know how to put a shift in, though, and they would always turn up before the 5am start time, ready to go almost instantly. Collectively, they had a real interest in the golf course and greenkeeping and they welcomed me onto their team immediately, bombarding me with questions about grass, what our course was like in Scotland, and how our lives compared with the relatively sheltered existences they were living out on their own wee patch of paradise. They drooled over pictures on my phone of Machrihanish Dunes, but they were absolutely horrified by some of my images of our weather!

In the days leading up to the tournament, I was put in charge of collecting performance data for the tour agronomist, which would get logged on a spreadsheet and saved for posterity in order to assess what improvements were being made to turf conditions. The Bahamas government signed a 3-year deal to host this event, so the data will provide Matt and the tour with useful information in the run up to future tournaments. Although it might sound like collecting data was an unimportant task in comparison to changing holes or cutting greens, I was pleased to be able to take the responsibility away from Matt, as he knew he could trust me to log the information responsibly. As it was, he still ended up running about in all directions trying to direct his team while being pulled all over the place by the various officials that inevitably needed his input. Collecting the data twice daily gave me the opportunity to see at first hand how the paspalum greens reacted to the subtle changes that were made to the maintenance program, and it was interesting to see how similar these greens performed to our own. Missing a roll made them run a few inches slower, whereas rolling twice a day had a marked effect on speed and firmness. By the Friday before the tournament started, (this Tour event ran from Sunday-Wednesday) they were brick hard and rolling at least 6 inches faster than the tour had requested. The weather had been relatively cool (I had my shorts on, but most of the local lads were shivering in jackets) and moisture levels were around 12-15 percent, so the standard cutting and rolling regime had been enough to turn the greens into scary monsters overnight. I have often scoffed when watching greenkeepers mess about with stimpmeters and firmness testing equipment, but in a situation like this, the data that these instruments provide really do help in the decision-making process. A quick adjustment to the program saw the performance of the greens calm down sufficiently that they were perfect going into day 1 of the tournament, and stayed that way until well after the pampered pros had finished with them. They enjoyed putting on them every bit as much as I did.

This pin at the 15th on day 2 bordered on the obscene. With a quarry flanking the entire right side of the hole, aiming straight at this was a foolish move. Great to see that the tour officials have a sense of humour!
This pin at the 15th on day 2 bordered on the obscene. With a quarry flanking the entire right side of the hole, aiming straight at this was a foolish move. Great to see that the tour officials have a sense of humour!

Daily course preparation went like clockwork, despite the greenkeeping team being forced to deal with a two-tee start and a delay at the end of day 1 that meant some players had to come back out and finish their rounds the next morning. We could not even begin to see where we were going until 6.20am, so with golfers due to tee off on 1, 8, 9, 10, 16, 17 and 18 at 6.50am, that second morning turned out to be a major logistical headache. If you have enough machines and manpower and you are well enough organised, you can achieve pretty much anything, though, and these boys were pretty good at mowing with their lights on.

The tournament turned out to be highly competitive and was extremely good entertainment. I’m sure some people would have liked the winning score to have been a little lower than -17, but with at least half a dozen players in the mix right up to the last hole, it made for compelling viewing. The 18th at Abaco has a relatively wide fairway but it is flanked on both sides by coral shelves and absolute jungle. It would be a frightening prospect if you were protecting a lead, so even though the scoring was good, there is no doubt that the course provided a worthy winner in Adam Svensson. The prizegiving was an extravaganza, with all sorts of local officials and dignitaries present. This showed just what an event of this stature means to a place like Great Abaco and The Bahamas as a whole in terms of exposure and marketing potential. I am sure the government will be keen for the event to showcase the undoubted beauty of their islands for many years to come!

Adam Svensson patiently waits to get his hands on the trophy. Every one of these dignitaries wanted a word first!
Adam Svensson patiently waits to get his hands on the trophy. Every one of these dignitaries wanted a word first!

Back Home

I loved my trip to The Bahamas. The local people were exceptionally welcoming, the food was incredible, and some of the places we visited outside of the resort were stunningly beautiful (Sandy Point was an obvious highlight). I would definitely recommend Great Abaco as a destination for anybody who is looking for somewhere relaxing and surprisingly unspoiled to go on holiday. I don’t think I could live there, though, any more than I could go back to living on a Scottish island. I have it too good here in Campbeltown, and it only took a fleeting appearance of the winter sun this week to remind me that there aren’t many finer golf courses to work on than Machrihanish Dunes. It is worth putting up with the bad days on the west coast of Scotland in order to truly revel in the good ones!

Passage to Paradise: Win a Stay at The Abaco Club

It’s winter – and if you’re anything like us, you find yourself daydreaming about warm sunshine, sandy beaches, hammocks wrapped around palm trees, and endless blue island waters. In fact, you may find yourself coveting that even more than a solid links golf holiday (as sacrilegious as that may sound). Well, at Mach Dunes’ sister club The Abaco Club in The Bahamas, you can have both – and you could win a free stay there just by staying at Mach Dunes this March!

We know it sounds too good to be true, but it’s a fact: enjoy a luxurious stay at The Royal Hotel or The Ugadale Hotel & Cottages during the month of March and you’ll automatically be entered to win 4 free nights for two in one of The Abaco Club’s luxurious, 1-bedroom suites*!  You can even take advantage of our March offers to enter, including our Spring Swing Stay & Play or our ever-popular Girls Night In.  The prize draw has already raised a lot of eyebrows, so, before reading on, you may want book now before the hotels fill up!

Don’t say we didn’t warn you…


Like Mach Dunes,  The Abaco Club is a Southworth property, so you know it’s more than just a fantastic golf escape. In fact, The Abaco Club is a private sporting club with all the amenities of a 5-star tropical resort.  The secluded beach that lines the property is a 2.5-mile stretch of white, powder soft sand, and the clear, warm waters of Winding Bay provide the perfect playground for the many water toys and snorkeling gear the club offers its guests (free of charge).  Two oceanview restaurants offer island fare that’s fresh, colorful, and made to order. The European-style spa, fitness facilities, and tennis courts are at your disposal during your stay, and the Cabana suites are both private and convenient – just steps from both the 1st tee and the beach.

BASWAS Amenity 2

And then there’s the tropical links course perennially ranked #1 in The Bahamas.


The course is a beautiful – and beautifully designed – experience that can serve as both a compelling test of skill and a fun and casual romp.  It’s played host to the Tour’s Bahamas Great Abaco Classic in 2017 and 2018 (much to the delight of the players), and is a home-away-from-home for 2016 Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke.  He frequents his home there often, both to clear his head after a tournament and to tighten up his game on the award-winning course.  He recently spoke about the Club on the Golf Channel.

Suffice to say, The Abaco Club is an extraordinary tropical experience, and we’re delighted at the opportunity to offer the lucky winner a free stay with friends!

So have you booked your March stay at Mach Dunes yet?  No?  Well, what are you waiting for?  Call +44 1586 810000 or click here to book your Mach Dunes getaway and a chance to win a stay in paradise!

*Click here for full terms and conditions.

2017: A Year in Pictures

Mrs. Freeman will justifiably tell you that I spend way too much time messing around on social media, but my endless bombardment of Instagram with photographs of Machrihanish Dunes does provide a handy archive of inspiring images. Just in case you have been doing something more worthwhile with your time this year and have therefore missed these, here is a selection of the best ones I took and uploaded in 2017.


As always, the weather on the west coast of Scotland came from every direction in January, which meant a mixture of conditions and a range of temperatures that people in other parts of the country might have difficulty believing. Southwesterly gales around the middle of the month raised the needle to 13C, which is the last thing we need when the days are short and sunlight hours are limited. This time of year can be a day-to-day battle to keep greens and tees turf healthy enough to survive until the longer days of spring arrive to relieve the pressure. The day this picture was taken was typical of January; it had been tipping down with rain and blowing a gale all day but just as the sun started to set, the whole sky cleared from the west to leave us with this phenomenal sunset. After being cooped up in the shed all day making tee markers, I was glad to get out for a run down the beach where I could admire this view in all its glory. #thewestisthebest



A lot of discussion had gone on during summer 2016 about the condition of the bunkers at Machrihanish Dunes. Some of the ones that had been fringed with marram when the course was built had become hopelessly overgrown and many had collapsed and lost a lot of sand. The course had been widened a lot since its inception which resulted in some of the bunkers that were full of marram being surrounded by cut grass. This obviously led to a lot of frustration among golfers who lost balls in the faces while their partners who had missed greens by wider margins found themselves left with perfect lies. We made the decision to revet the edges of the bunkers that were surrounded by cut grass and to leave wild the edges of the bunkers that were still connected to the rough. The greenside bunker at 14 is a classic example of this new genre, with one side smartly revetted and the other side left wild as the architect intended. #controversywillalwaysaccompanychange



The 5th green was hit hard during the period of southwesterly gales that we experienced in January. We learned that when greens get covered in a layer of windblown salt that is not subsequently flushed through the rootzone, a pan can form which is extremely toxic to the grass. It was frightening to watch how quickly the green tried to die on us, so we applied some penetrating wetting agent, connected up a hose, and hand-watered it until we had washed all the salt through. After that, we applied our favoured recovery mix of products and watched as the health returned just as quickly as it had disappeared. By the time I returned from two weeks’ holiday on the 7th March, the green looked this good. This experience has taught us that the really dangerous gales are the ones that are followed immediately by calm, sunny weather (the kind of scenario typified by my January picture). You might automatically assume (as I did) that a calm, sunny day would help a green to recover after a brutal day of being pounded by salt and windblown sand but in actual fact, the exact opposite is true. Now we know that if we suffer a gale of 50mph or more that is not followed by heavy rain, we need to whip out the hoses and flush the shoreside greens before the sun and salt combine to kill our precious grass. Hand-hosing greens in January may look strange, but the effects of not doing it can be catastrophic. #thinkingoutsidethebox #stripesdontcomeanystraighter



Another fantastic west coast sky, which the camera on my phone did absolutely no justice to! What a view it is from the shoreside holes at Machrihanish Dunes over towards Islay and Jura, where thoughts inevitably stray towards the two golf developments which are due to open there in 2018. I spent a long time at Machrie before moving to Kintyre in 2014 and obviously I have fond memories of playing the old course, but I have to admire the job Dean Muir and his greenkeeping team have done to get the new course looking as good as it does in such a short space of time. Is it as good, or is it maybe even better? Only you can decide that–you will need to come down this way and have a look for yourself! One thing I can tell you is that the new hotel is incredible. I was given a guided tour of it in October when it was still far from finished and what they have built undoubtedly retains the aura of the original hotel on the east side while masking a fabulous new west wing which contains a raised bar and a huge restaurant area from which the views are, in my opinion, unparalleled. I am sure I speak for everybody involved with Machrihanish Dunes when I wish the owners and Dean and his team every success when Machrie opens for commercial business early in 2018. The paps of Jura can be clearly seen on the right side of my picture, and these iconic hills form the backdrop for another new golf development at Ardfin. Designed by eminent Australian architect Bob Harrison, Ardfin is an uncompromising course developed simply to make the absolute best use of the land available. It is a massive site with huge changes in elevation, and many of the holes are breathtakingly stunning. The holes that hug the shoreline from 8 through to 14 are actually mind-blowing. Rumours of exclusivity are rife, so whether you or I will ever get the chance to play this course remains to be seen. Nobody has officially said “no” though, so there is definitely hope. I am working on the premise that if you don’t ask, you don’t get! What knock-on effect the development of these two brilliant sites will have for Machrihanish Dunes and our associated hotels remains to be seen, but I would imagine that having more excellent courses to play in the area will only serve to encourage even more people to make Kintyre and our adjacent islands their chosen holiday destination. #excitingtimesfortherealsouthwestofscotland



Right, that is enough talk about our neighbours…back to Machrihanish Dunes! April 2017 was a fine month with a lot of dry weather, and as we moved into May with its higher temperatures, the course burned right out. Although these conditions cause a few headaches for us greenkeepers, it does make the course so much more fun to play. Machrihanish Dunes was designed to be played as a running course, and having the opportunity to play that kind of golf on a hard, polished surface is an unusual treat. The course looks brilliant during extended periods of dry weather, and it is always nice to look back at these images during the bleak days of winter and to look forward to the time in the not-too-distant future when we will hopefully enjoy these conditions once again! #scorched #summeriscoming



Our main focus in June is always the Campbeltown Open, and this year’s event featured a dry weekend for once. This meant fabulous, but testing conditions for golf, with an ever-present westerly wind ensuring that only the most talented golfers in the field could hope to compete. The dry wind blew a lot of salt and sand onto the shoreside holes and once again, I was forced to haul out the hoses on Sunday evening to flush the greens and give them a bit of relief going into the week that followed. Of course, the long-term effects of salt burn are not as pronounced in June as they are during the short days of January, because as long as you bring the water to them early enough, recovery during periods of higher temperatures and high levels of sunlight is always swift. #canttakeyoureyeofftheball




The fabulous Machrihanish Dunes garden is always in full bloom during July. The slightly blinkered but understandable obsession with the rare orchids on our site actually takes too much of the focus away from the beauty of the rest of the flora, most of which seem to survive very well under a management regime admittedly tailored towards the needs of golf rather than the requirements of plants. There are about a dozen species of wildflower in this image alone, and when weather conditions are optimal, our machair semi-rough is stunningly beautiful. #donttakedivotsoutofmyflowerbed



Somebody once said that if you can find a job that you genuinely enjoy doing then you’ll never need to work a day in your life. While it might look from this image like Craig and Sebastian have found that nirvana at Machrihanish Dunes, the reality was that they had spent most of the previous four weeks hand-pulling thousands of ragwort plants that had colonised the deep rough. Under the terms of our management agreement with SNH, we are required to control the spread of this weed and it is a heinous job that turned out be even worse than usual this year as the mixed weather conditions in June and July ensured that a bumper crop grew up around us. This image was taken just after the last load had been collected from around the 13th tee, which might explain why the two of them are looking so pleased. #chilledout #bestbuds



September is historically a brilliant growing month on the west coast of Scotland, so it is an ideal time to do some work on the greens and tees in an attempt to improve the sward. Chris is creating a seedbed here by aerating the sanded greens to a shallow depth using a Toro Procore fitted with large 19mm tines, after which we broadcast some quality fescue seed onto the surface and then brushed the whole lot into the holes the aerator had left. A quick roll finished off the job which, thanks to the ideal conditions, was completed in record time. All we could do after that was sit back and hope that all that grass seed germinated. #ifyouplantitwillcome



These two pictures were actually taken only two weeks apart, but in this image taken on the 1st October, the new grass growing in the grid pattern left by Chris’ aerator can clearly be seen in the light of the early morning sun. I actually had to dumb the light down quite a lot on this one as it was a glorious day, but unfortunately, the rest of October turned out to be a bit of a letdown. Normally, we would expect to get a lot of fine weather through this month but Autumn descended depressingly quickly in 2017. #fescuetotherescue



There is a definite symmetry about this selection of photos, with the 2nd to last month of the year again featuring bunker construction. The 11th at Machrihanish Dunes is a great hole which is flanked by the beach and the Atlantic Ocean on the right and by an environmentally rich area of dune slack on the left. Originally, the tees hugged the sea wall, but these were moved inland to great effect a few years ago. It proved far easier to find the fairway from the new tees, and it has always been our desire to move the yellow tee even further left if the opportunity arose. Regular visitors to the course will be glad to hear that we have now constructed this tee and we have also done some re-contouring work in the fairway which will reduce the potential for a drive to kick left into the wetland. Add to this the big visual impact that is made by the rebuilt greenside bunker in this image, and the 11th promises to be a massively improved hole in 2018. #jobdone



Just to add to the symmetry I already mentioned, the year in pictures ends with another magnificent west coast sky scene! This one is a sunrise rather than a sunset, and it is a common view for me in winter as I set out to prepare the course for the members that understandably like to play as soon as it is light. It is always our desire to have the course set up as well as we possibly can for every golfer that tees it up, so to this end we will use headlights whenever we can to get ourselves ahead of play. There is no hardship in this, for although it is still pitch dark in this image and I was on my 4th hole of bunker raking, it was probably already after 8 AM (that is the middle of the day on the greenkeeper clock!). And look at the view I get to enjoy while most other people are still at home planning what to do with their Sunday! The watchtowers in the old airbase may be ugly, utilitarian buildings by day, but they do provide a really good focal point for images taken in the early morning light. What is it they say about red sky in the morning…? #itoldyouthewestisthebest


Whatever next?

Well I don’t really know. I guess we will just have to wait and see, won’t we! Just putting this update together (on December 30th) has got me looking forward to 2018 already, and I hope you can muster similar levels of enthusiasm for the year ahead. We look forward to welcoming all of our friends back to Machrihanish Dunes at some point during the year ahead, and of course we are keen to welcome new visitors to the links for the first time. I am sure there will be plenty more photo opportunities for me to waste my spare time flooding Instagram with in the coming 12 months. Hopefully, I can bring another dozen images back to you at the end of this year to showcase just how great 2018 was for all of us. Bring it on!


The Science of Frost: It May be Rare, but We’re Always Ready

Course Closed

This is not my sign, I borrowed it from a search engine. If you want to know whether or not Machrihanish Dunes is open, you have to venture inside and ask Lorna or Peter!

It seems like one of nature’s sick winter jokes that frost closures coincide with calm, sunny days. Of course, this causes frustration amongst golfers who may have been starved of decent playing weather for weeks. This frustration is only exacerbated by the lack of information emanating from greenkeepers who obviously know why they are shutting the course, but may find it hard to put that information into words that his or her members can easily understand. Even I (the undisputed king of long-winded explanations!) am guilty of this. Machrihanish Dunes was on the verge of being closed last Sunday morning (December 10th) but remained just acceptable for play – information I was delighted to convey to three members whom I consider to be good friends. Speaking with them before they teed off, I quickly realised that despite having been immersed in the game of golf for a long time, they really didn’t completely understand why we feel the need to close the course during periods of frost. It is to their great credit that they cheerily accept and trust my decisions despite not having this information. It is to my detriment that I have not repaid this favour by telling them all they need to know!

How Many Types of Frost Are There?

Types of frost? What am I talking about? It might surprise you to discover that there are two types of frost that could potentially cause course closures, and knowing the difference between the various conditions that cause these potentially damaging scenarios will give you a better understanding of why our closure strategy might at first appear to be a bit random. Surprisingly, it is not all about low temperatures.

TYPE 1: Hard Ground Frost

  • Scenario 1) Imagine it is -8C, and it has been for several days. The frost will be in the ground by at least a few inches, and the surface is rock solid. You’d think the course would be closed, wouldn’t you? Not necessarily! As long as the leaves of the grass plants are not themselves frozen with white frost (we’ll get to that later) and remain soft so that they are compliant when you brush them with your hand (and therefore your feet) then there is no reason why the plant should be negatively impacted by walking on it. Because the greens at Machrihanish Dunes have only limited levels of play (for that, read “surface wear”) to deal with during the winter months and because it is relatively warm in Kintyre and we do not expect to suffer from frozen ground for extended periods of time, it is safe to assume that if the ground is already frozen solid and no imminent thaw is expected, then I will happily let you out to play. The only thing that could negatively impact this decision might arise from specific frozen areas on the golf course that we consider to be a health and safety hazard. But closing the course following such a risk assessment is a different issue altogether that I am not going to get into here.
  • Scenario 2) Imagine it has been -8C for several days, but you have woken up this morning and it is 5C and there is a big thaw on. You’ve been playing all week and now it is warmer, so obviously the course will be open, won’t it? Not necessarily! This is a very dangerous time for turf, as the upper portion of the plant’s roots are now free to move around in unfrozen soil while the lower section is still trapped in frozen ground. Couple this with the effect that frost has on soil when water freezes and expands, loosening and raising the profile and providing space for roots to move around in such an effective way that we greenkeepers only wish we had a mechanical aeration machine that would work as well, and you have a recipe for severe damage. Imagine you are play-fighting with a pet cat and you grab it by the back leg as it tries to run away while it twists its body at the same time, as they do. There is the potential there for the poor cat to suffer a broken leg. If you think, then, how much more delicate a long grass root is than a cat’s leg—well, you get the idea. Although it may seem nonsensical at first that a course could be open for play when it is -8C but closed the next day when it is 5C, when you consider the effects of that analogy, the potential for catastrophic root damage suddenly seems obvious.

TYPE 2: White Surface Frost
We all know that dew can form when a relatively warm day is followed by a cold, still night, and that when these conditions occur in winter, temperatures are likely to dip to freezing point just before the sun comes up in the morning (invariably the coldest time of night). If this happens, the dew can instantly freeze onto the surface of the grass. Obviously, if the dew has not been taken up by the grass leaf then it must already contain enough moisture internally to allow it to function. If all this water on both the inside and outside of the leaf suddenly freezes and expands, the leaf becomes very vulnerable. We have all seen those superhero films where the villain is frozen with liquid nitrogen and is then smashed into a million pieces with Thor’s hammer or some similar weapon—well, this is exactly what happens to the grass leaf if you or I were to stand on it when it is suddenly frozen in this way. It snaps, and the portion that snaps off dies. A grass leaf that may have been 10mm long is now 3mm long, and if you read last month’s blog, you will know what effect that would have on the plant’s photosynthetic ability at a time when it needs to store all the light energy it can possibly grab. If more than a few people were to walk on a green affected by white frost on even a few days over the course of a winter, the health of that green could be severely impacted.

So, if you turn up to play golf and the greens are white with frost, will the course be closed? The frustrating answer to that is “probably”, but now, more than any other time is when you need to trust our professional judgment, as there will be a precise point when the rising sun brings just enough heat to turn the white frost back into dew or at the very least, slush. At this point, the danger has passed, the functions of the grass leaf return to normal, and we will happily wave you off to go and play golf in the sunshine.

We can determine whether a green affected by white frost is playable by using our experience and such scientific methods as standing on the edge of the green and listening for the tell-tale crunch (closed!), or by rubbing our hand over the surface and visually observing whether the leaves are frozen solid (closed!), or whether things are actually slushier than we initially thought (open!). At first sight last Sunday, we might have expected the course to be temporarily closed as the greens looked white from a distance, but with temperatures at Machrihanish Dunes only dipping to -0.5C, the dew never quite froze solid enough to necessitate this and the three wise men were free to bound their way down the 1st fairway at 8 AM. In an area such as Kintyre where winter temperatures on clear, still mornings regularly bounce around the 0C mark, we quite often find ourselves running around in the minutes before sunrise trying to make informed decisions on whether or not the course is fit for play.

Snow at MD
Machrihanish Dunes on a rare day in 2011 when we actually had some snow. Course closed! (photo:Kevin Smith)


There are so many things for a greenkeeper to consider when putting together a frost strategy. The topography of every site is different and temperature fluctuations over even a small geographical area can result in a course being considered fit for play while the one next door is justifiably kept closed. I hope that this light-hearted description gives you a better understanding of the scientific reasons why we sometimes feel the need to prohibit you from playing on the course in weather that is invariably perfect for golf, but I’m afraid that the intricacies of the subject mean that sometimes you will just have to trust us! Just be safe in the knowledge, though, that I would never, ever keep the course closed for one minute if I felt that it was free from frost and fit for play. I hate the course being closed just as much as you do–it makes me feel like I have failed!

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Playing in the Sand and Getting Soaked on a Daily Basis

The rain that I moaned about in last month’s report carried right on into November without a second thought for the spirits of Machrihanish Dunes’ greenkeeping squad, but we chose to rise above it and carry on. We have overhauled a few more bunkers (some of which were full-scale rescue projects and were a lot of fun to engineer) and we will continue with this program until we inevitably run out of turf.

A pair of re-faced bunkers at the left of the 8th green. These should suffer far less from sand blow than they did before.
A pair of re-faced bunkers at the left of the 8th green. These should suffer far less from sand blow than they did before.

As is the norm during late autumn, our work is not all about construction, and this year we have balanced the building work with copious amounts of aeration on all playing surfaces and cutting and rolling to retain good playing conditions wherever we can. Mowing regimes have to be adapted at this time of year to suit the needs of the plant as well as the needs of the golfer, as the grass doesn’t like the poor weather and short days any more than we do. You will notice that we have backed away from our summer program of cutting tees, fairways, and roughs daily to only twice a week, and even then, at a much taller mowing height.

Why Do We Cut Greens Shorter in Summer Than We Do in Winter?

It is just one of those things that is generally accepted without question, isn’t it? Once the last competition is done and dusted, the cut height increases and the greens get hairier and slower for the winter. But why do we greenkeepers feel the need to do this? After all, temperatures in Kintyre hold up well in autumn and early winter—it is quite regularly warmer throughout November and even into December here than it is in May (when the easterly wind can tear the face right off you!). So how come it is deemed ok to cut the greens relatively short in late spring but not considered acceptable when we are going into winter? This is a sensible and well-thought-out set of questions that I was recently asked by a member, so here is the definitive answer:

Grass needs leaf cover in order to photosynthesise, and the more of the topical growth we remove by mowing the less able the plant will be to perform this life-giving function. The name “photosynthesis” describes the function of the process perfectly, as plants cleverly utilise light energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates and oxygen. The light from the sun’s rays is absorbed and then stored by reaction centres in the grass leaf which contains green chlorophyll pigments. The plant can use this stored light to create the carbohydrates and by-products it needs to give it the energy to grow and protect itself from physical stress.

As greenkeepers, we need to be acutely aware of two parameters when considering how to avoid compromising the efficiency of the photosynthesis process:

  1. We need to focus on which grass species are growing in our greens, as some species have wider leaf blades than others. A typical green at Machrihanish Dunes contains a decent percentage of:
    • Fine-leaved fescue, which we hope to encourage for a number of reasons – such as playability and suitability for golf, resistance to disease, cost-effectiveness to maintain, etc.
    • Annual meadow grass, which we are not so keen on, but we tolerate because we recognise that despite its shallow-rooting nature, annoying seeding habit, and its propensity to fall foul of diseases such as fusarium patch, it helps to tighten up our swards and allows less room for moss and weed ingress. It is definitely better to have any grass than no grass!

These two species grow happily alongside one another in our links environment and provide good playing characteristics, but the combination is compromised due to annual meadow grass having much thicker leaves than fescue. It can, therefore, tolerate a much lower cut height, but if we employ that mowing height, we will inevitably kill all the perennial fescue because there is far less space on its narrower leaf blades for chlorophyll reaction centres. Its leaf blades, therefore, need to be left longer so there is enough available space for chloroplasts to absorb and store enough light, allowing the plant to convert carbon dioxide and water into sufficient quantities of the carbohydrate fuel it needs to carry on its daily functions (now that was a mouthful…even for me!).

Of course, we could just give up and shave the greens down and favour the annual meadow grass, but then we would have to put up with more seasonal seeding, more disease attacks, poorer winter performance, more thatch build up–which would require more regular and more invasive aeration—and then we would find that because all the grass in our greens (instead of just a percentage of it as before) had big fat leaves, the greens would not actually turn out to run as fast as we had hoped anyway…so let’s just not even go there!

In summary, if we want our greens to play well, we need to look after the needs of the perennial fescue. To do that, we cannot afford to mow too short or we will remove too much of the plant’s surface area and reduce its ability to absorb and store sunlight in its fine leaves.

  1. We need to be aware of the amount of sunlight that is available to the plant. Now, this is the actual reason why the cut height goes up in the winter, and it is especially important in a place like Kintyre where temperatures remain relatively high even when the days get shorter. Because the plant is still actively growing, it needs a lot of energy to function, and as we have just discussed, it needs to get that energy from sunlight via the photosynthesis process.

This sunlight is very easy to come by in June when the midday sun is right above us and we have 20 hours of daylight at our disposal. But during an autumn like the one we are experiencing right now, this can be a tough ask because not only do the days rapidly start to get shorter and shorter, but the sun makes only fleeting appearances between the periods of relentless rain and general greyness.

The available reaction sites can only store the light that is available to them and if that cumulative energy is not enough to provide the plant with the reserves that it needs to complete its daily functions, it will literally wither and die. It makes sense then to increase the number of reaction sites wherever possible so we can increase the total amount of light energy an individual plant can store despite the limited efficiency of each reaction site. The most obvious way to do this is simply to leave the grass longer.

Amongst all the complicated chemistry and biology, effective golf course maintenance really is just a simple case of looking around us and making common-sense judgments informed by our experience of working with a specific rootzone in a specific micro-climate. In this case, we know that because of the plentiful energy supplies available to our grass in mid-summer via the photosynthesis process, we can afford to take ludicrous liberties with plant health in an attempt to produce optimum playing conditions. But when it comes to the dark, miserable, pitifully short days of winter, we need to back right off and protect our fragile environment in order to ensure that we can hit the ground running when the next spring finally arrives.

The 6th is the leanest and biologically weakest green on the golf course. Some of the older greens have matured to the point where the fine-leaved fescue plants can glean reserves of energy from the soil using processes that even the most widely regarded scientists admit they don’t yet fully understand. The rootzone of the 6th contains so little organic matter and is still so immature that it has not fully developed such a relationship with its perennial grass plants. It therefore relies more heavily on effective use of the photosynthesis process and this picture clearly shows how easily the wide leaved annual meadow grass plants are doing this on this green compared to the more fragile and light-dependant fescue, despite us raising the cutting height to 6mm from our typical summer height of around 4mm and only mowing 2 days a week. It is obvious how much chlorophyll is present in the leaves of both species (one is dark green and the other is a much lighter shade) and it would be safe to assume that the annual meadow grass was in better health at the time this picture was taken. In reality, all of this grass is in pretty good condition and the green is performing and playing quite well, but it would really benefit from a couple weeks of cold, sunny weather so it could soak up the available light and replenish its stores rather than being forced to use the little it can extract from the relentlessly grey sky to create food for growth while soil temperatures remain relatively high.
The 6th is the leanest and biologically weakest green on the golf course. Some of the older greens have matured to the point where the fine-leaved fescue plants can glean reserves of energy from the soil using processes that even the most widely regarded scientists admit they don’t yet fully understand. The root zone of the 6th contains so little organic matter and is still so immature that it has not fully developed such a relationship with its perennial grass plants. It therefore relies more heavily on effective use of the photosynthesis process and this picture clearly shows how easily the wide-leaved annual meadow grass plants are doing this on this green compared to the more fragile and light-dependant fescue, despite us raising the cutting height to 6mm from our typical summer height of around 4mm and only mowing 2 days a week. It is obvious how much chlorophyll is present in the leaves of both species (one is dark green and the other is a much lighter shade) and it would be safe to assume that the annual meadow grass was in better health at the time this picture was taken. In reality, all of this grass is in pretty good condition and the green is performing and playing quite well, but it would really benefit from a couple weeks of cold, sunny weather so it could soak up the available light and replenish its stores rather than being forced to use the little it can extract from the relentlessly grey sky to create food for growth while soil temperatures remain relatively high.

The Winter League Is in Full Swing!

The hardy souls who enjoy golf in the winter have been playing every Sunday since the middle of October, so if you do intend to make an assault on the winter league this year, you already have some catching up to do. It’s not too late though—the competition runs through to the end of March. Competitions are few and far between over the winter months, but we do still have a monthly medal (the next one will be played on December 17th) and a New Year’s Day tournament for you to participate in.

If you have any questions about the competition schedule why not pay Lorna and Peter a visit to the Golf House? The coffee is always on and we all know that a friendly welcome is guaranteed. Lorna still holds a good stock of Machrihanish Dunes merchandise at the Golf House so if you are looking for ideas for seasonal gifts you could do worse than to have a browse through the rails. There is a lot of good gear there that any family member or friend would be delighted to receive.

I’ll leave you with that shameless plug, but I look forward to seeing you on your next visit. Hopefully, the weather will take a turn for the better in the coming weeks so that you can get out and enjoy some golf and both you and the fescue can soak up some much-needed vitamin D!


Goodbye, October – You Won’t Be Missed!

I know it’s not like me, but I really haven’t got too much to say about October. I’m sure most of you who suffered through it with me would agree that the less we say about it, the better! It was the wettest and dullest month in recent memory, and probably the only positive we can take from it is that nearly all the fescue seeds we buried into the surface of our greens and tees have germinated and come to maturity without ever becoming even remotely dehydrated. We raised the mowing height on the greens after the Autumn Pairs to allow for recovery from the wear that inevitably accumulates during a typical golfing season–a time when we subject the grass to a near-death experience every single day in a relentless quest to provide players with tournament-level green speeds. Eventually, something has to give to ensure that we enter the harsh winter months with enough grass cover on even our weakest greens to avoid small bare patches from quickly turning into large bare patches. The decision to raise the cutting height slightly to give the greens a break while soil temperatures (and moisture levels!) were still relatively high has yielded good results. Although we remain constantly vigilant, we are quietly pleased with the recovery that we have seen over the last three weeks.

The 8th green bathed in Autumn sunshine...a rare sight this October.
The 8th green bathed in autumn sunshine…a rare sight this October.

Balancing Turf Nutrition to Promote a Healthier Soil

Monitoring nutritional inputs is massively important at this time of year, as the threat of turf disease is never far away. We have been on the cusp of a fusarium outbreak for several weeks now, but have managed to keep our greens healthy enough to avoid the need to spray a remedial fungicide onto them. The longer I can maintain that position, the happier I will be. Not only are effective fungicides massively expensive, but they inevitably kill beneficial fungal bacteria as well as the bad guys that cause disease. Over-using these products would drag us into a negative spiral where we would need to constantly rely on them as a necessary component of our chemical arsenal rather than as a last resort. In an ideal world, our soil will be densely populated with all kinds of beneficial bacteria that break down thatch and turn it into plant food, protect plant cells from disease pathogens, and help the perennial grasses that we want to promote in our swards to form a positive bond with their rootzone that they are growing in. None of this would happen if sufficient colonies of these organisms were not present. In this situation, we would have to apply more artificial fertilisers than we would like, which would leave us open to attack from fungal outbreaks that could only be checked by reaching for artificial cures. We want our soil to contain natural predators that have the instincts to control those pathogens. Relying on chemistry alone would result in us working within a massively expensive and highly stressful vacuum in which everything we grow would only do so because of the applications we make. We don’t want that. Balancing chemistry with biology helps us avoid creating the kind of stressful environment that could negatively impact the health of the organisms that we rely upon to do our job for us. I was taught very early in my career that successful and cost-effective greenkeeping is entirely dependent on this good working balance between chemistry and biology. The longer I work at the seaside, the more I believe this is absolutely true. Unfortunately, so many of the things we do in our quest to provide golfers with consistently good playing conditions compromises the health of the grass and the soil that it grows in, which is, of course, why you see us running around making regular applications to the greens. But you hardly ever see us do anything to the outlying areas of the course where grass grows quite happily despite seeing very little maintenance. There is a direct correlation between the amount of stress that we subject an area of grass to and the amount of investment and effort it takes to keep that area of grass alive!

My goal at this time of year is to work with my soil analysis results and interpret what I see on a daily basis, then apply just enough of the exact nutrients that our greens need in order to go into December (gale season!) in perfect health. Apply too little or keep the height of cut too low and recovery before winter arrives will be too slow, leading to bare patches that will grow at a horrific pace with every salt-laden westerly wind that batters the course. Apply too much or aerate too little, or miss an opportunity to remove a dew that has settled on leaf blades, and a disease attack will smash through the overly-lush grass, forcing us to crack open the fungicide and send us right back to square one. Creating something that appears to be entirely natural is, in reality, all one big, complicated balancing act!

The 10th green, freshly cut on a Saturday morning. If you look carefully (you might have to zoom in and squint!), you can see the lines of new grass that we germinated during our renovation work last month.
The 10th green, freshly cut on a Saturday morning. If you look carefully (you might have to zoom in and squint!), you can see the lines of new grass that we germinated during our renovation work last month.

Winter Projects

The absolute best thing about our job is the way our tasks on the course fluctuate with the seasons. Spring revolves around preparing for the golfing season; summer is basically all about cutting grass and producing the best possible playing surface; autumn is about relieving the negative effects of what we do in summer, while winter — well, winter is mostly about regular aeration and construction. Last winter, we rebuilt a lot of bunkers with the aim to make them fairer and easier to play from. Eventually, we ran out of both time and turf, so we still have half of this project left to complete this winter. Being able to step back and see how the bunkers we built worked in practice and how they were received by guests and members has worked in our favour though, because although we have received a lot of good feedback about them, there is no doubt that some have not performed as well as we would have liked. The change of style was so drastic that I will admit, I compromised the design of some bunkers. The compromised ones are the ones that have suffered from excessive wind erosion and turf damage. There is no need for me to go into the technical details of how I think we can do better this next time around, but studying the progress of the ones we built last winter has definitely taught me some lessons that should ensure the ones we construct this year will work out a lot better.

The fairway bunker at the 13th undergoing reconstruction work. This one has been stripped back a little bit further than some of the ones we have done previously as we wanted to lower the top line of the hazard, removing some of the blindness that frustrates first-time visitors on this hole.
The fairway bunker at the 13th undergoing reconstruction work. This one has been stripped back a little bit further than some of the ones we have done previously as we wanted to lower the top line of the hazard, removing some of the blindness that frustrates first-time visitors on this hole.

The other job we are carrying over from last year is the replacement of all the wooden bridges on the course, except for the long boardwalk at the 17th. The wooden bridges were an attractive feature, but now, well, let’s just say they’ve seen better days. We were faced with the choice of either rebuilding them in a similar manner or changing the style to something a little less “eye-catching.” The design we came up with was very simple, and just involves burying a plastic culvert pipe under sand and turf and overlaying this with a pathway of rubber matting to help reduce wear from foot and machine traffic. As with all the construction jobs that we undertake on the course, the design of the bridges was carefully considered with environmental impact in mind. We still work within the parameters of an agreed management plan that was drawn up in conjunction with Scottish Natural Heritage and we are, therefore, always mindful that anything we do on the course must have minimal impact on the long-term integrity of the site. We feel that these bridges are actually an improvement in this regard, as the wooden ones provided a dark, humid environment that favoured the growth of weeds like dockens, nettles, and bracken over grass plants that need more light in order to compete effectively.

If you have any questions about the jobs that we are undertaking this winter, or if you have any suggestions for projects that you think we should consider in order to improve the way the course plays, then please come out and see us. Because of the strict environmental parameters that we work within, there may be reasons why we cannot tackle a project that would improve the way the course plays, but on many occasions, the reason why we have not done something that may seem obvious is simply because we have not spotted it. We look forward to seeing as many of you out there as possible over the winter months, making the most of the sunny days that we must surely be due after the poor weather we have had to endure for the last five months!

Enjoy your golf!


A Period of Transition

Most of us greenkeepers love the autumn shoulder months, when the monotony that sets in after months of setting up – and then frantically trying to implement – grass mowing programs is gradually replaced with the more peaceful and thought-provoking pastime of winter construction work. While we do have a few weeks of the main golf season left and we still have to prepare the course for the Autumn Pairs, half our minds are already on the projects that we look forward to getting stuck into once this tournament has passed. Watch this space!

We Felt The Need…The Need For Seed!

I outlined our autumn renovations plans in last month’s  update, and I’m delighted to report that things have gone absolutely to plan for us. We spiked the greens with 13mm tines on the 28th and 29th August in order to create a bed to brush garlic granules into. This work was planned to coincide with the first wave of attacks from crane flies hoping to lay leatherjacket eggs into the greens, and from what we saw, the application was timed very well. The work was carried out in dry weather, which allowed us to maximise the number of granules that we could brush under the surface where our mowers could not lift them straight back off again. Time will tell whether or not this process yields satisfactory results, but we feel that we have given the product every chance to work.

Our second wave of renovation work was planned for the start of the week of 18th/19th September because we wanted to wait until after the club championship, while also maximising our chances of having the greens back in good condition before the Autumn Pairs. The weather played right into our hands, with bright sunshine on the Monday and Tuesday.  This allowed us to complete the work with the absolute minimum amount of mess and disruption. The rain that followed on Wednesday washed in everything we had applied. Perfect!!

We started our mission by verticutting the greens, removing some of the organic matter that has built up around the crown of the plants, and opened up the surface to accept the materials that were to follow.

Gus deep in concentration as he verticuts the 12th green.

Once the greens mower had cleared up the debris left behind by the verticutters, we applied a relatively heavy application of our usual 80/20 sand/soil topdressing and spiked the greens with our Procore fitted with 19mm solid tines.

Chris creating a seedbed using the Toro Procore fitted with 19mm solid tines. A fine day for a walk with an aerator!
Chris creating a seedbed using the Toro Procore fitted with 19mm solid tines. A fine day for a walk with an aerator!

These are the biggest diameter tines we have for the machine, but we managed to limit disruption by using part-worn tines and keeping the depth set to a minimum. After the greens had been spiked, we broadcast half a bag of quality fescue grass seed onto each one with a fertiliser spreader and brushed the seed and sand into the holes with the brush that we drag behind our triple mower.

The tractor and Propass topdresser await their next mission as I pull all the sand and seed into the holes using the triple-mounted brush.

The surface was switched to tidy it up before we moved the whole operation onto the next green.

You can see how much seed and sand has fallen into the holes here. By the time I had switched the green and Craig had rolled it, there wasn’t much material left on the surface.
You can see how much seed and sand has fallen into the holes here. By the time I had switched the green and Craig had rolled it, there wasn’t much material left on the surface.

As always, the fine details are the keys to success in implementing a program such as this, and it takes a lot of thought to complete the job with maximum efficiency and minimal impact on play.

Overseeding links greens is not easy because fescue seed is huge and is spiked at both ends – it just does not want to fall down a hole! This is why we feel the need to use 19mm tines, but we offset the potentially negative effects of using these in two ways:

  • by wearing the points of them in first (we spike a couple of tees with them before we take them anywhere near a green)
  • by not setting them too deep

In effect, we are not actually focussing on aeration during this exercise (although an increase in air circulation near the surface is a useful by-product of the operation), but we are instead more concerned with making a seedbed capable of housing the large seed and some high quality, well-aerated growing material that can help it thrive through its early weeks of life. Seeding depth is critical when germinating new grass plants, so the Procore is set at the optimum depth to suit the seed rather than to break up any compaction under the green surface. There is plenty of time to revisit aeration later in the autumn and throughout the winter, when we can use thinner diameter tines set to spike deeper into the soil profile.

Because I absolutely hate the thought of making a mess, we always topdress before we spike the greens with the Procore, and this has two benefits during the seeding operation. Firstly, we avoid rutting the green, because we run the tractor and the hopper full of sand over the green whilst it is still compacted, rather than when it has just been aerated (and therefore softened). Secondly, we avoid closing the holes that we have just made by running over them before we seed into them, maximising the potential of getting seeds down into every single one of them.

The last thing we do during this operation in an attempt to get the greens back into play as quickly as we can is roll the greens with our Tru-Turf roller immediately after we have brushed the sand and seed into the holes. On a good drying afternoon like we had on the Monday and Tuesday of this operation, it is possible to pull even more sand and seed into the holes using the vibratory action of the roller, so it was great to be able to get the full benefit out of rolling without removing any of the materials that we had just applied. All we have to do now is look after the greens for the next couple of weeks, hope for a good mixture of weather conditions, and watch the new grass come up through the holes. If only that were true! In reality, we haven`t had the time to admire our handiwork yet because we moved this whole operation straight onto the tees. There is no time in renovation season for sitting about being smug. Every wasted day is a wasted opportunity!

Our goal was to have these greens back in good condition before the Autumn Pairs on October 7th. Due to the optimum weather conditions that we have experienced during and after this renovation work, this has been achieved with relative ease.
Our goal was to have these greens back in good condition before the Autumn Pairs on October 7th. Due to the optimum weather conditions that we have experienced during and after this renovation work, this has been achieved with relative ease.

A New Champion for Machrihanish Dunes

Golf Club Secretary Lynn Wilson presents the Handicap Championship trophy to John Nutt before handing over the Scratch Championship trophy to our 2017 Champion, Gary Sheppard.
Golf Club Secretary Lynn Wilson presents the Handicap Championship trophy to John Nutt, before handing over the Scratch Championship trophy to our 2017 Champion Gary Sheppard.

As I mentioned earlier, the Club Championship was held over the last two weekends and this was won for the first time by Gary Sheppard, who stormed round in 71 on the second Saturday to narrowly defeat Steven Gilmour and 3rd place finisher Crawford Kilpatrick. Lindsay Mathie won the ladies championship and John Nutt added the handicap championship to the huge haul of competitions he has won recently. The 2nd round was followed with the annual members evening in The Ugadale Hotel, with an awards ceremony and some fantastic food followed by a darts competition and a quiz. A good time was had by all who attended, and we look forward to running a similar event for members at the end of next season.

The only major competition we have left to play is the Autumn Pairs, and this year’s event is due to be played on Saturday, October 7th. The tee sheet is filling up fast for this, so if you have not yet entered, give Lorna or Peter a call on 01586810058 for more information or to book a time. Although the main competition season will end with the Autumn Pairs, the Winter League will start almost immediately after. We hope to be able to produce good playing conditions for you right through the winter months, so we look forward to seeing you out on the course in October and beyond.

Enjoy your golf!

Minimising Disruption, Maximising Returns

After a long summer of being mown down to 4mm daily and then being compacted mercilessly by foot and machine traffic, our greens cannot wait for “renovation season”. As the days start getting shorter and our thoughts turn toward protecting our surfaces through another harsh West coast Winter, we will put our “bespoke” renovation plan into operation. Bespoke is a horrible word that grates in my head but it accurately describes the point that I am trying to get across here. Every greenkeeper is working with a different environment and a different set of goals and will therefore come up with his (or her) own solutions as to what their greens really need. Here at Machrihanish Dunes, I always look to balance 3 parameters to maximise the benefit of the work we undertake. These are:

1) Reversing the negative impact of a hard season of wear and compaction.

2) Integrating new high-quality materials that will improve the performance of the greens in the months and years to come.

3) Minimising disruption to re-instate good playing conditions as quickly as we possibly can.

Because the growing medium under the greens here is naturally of high quality and because we do not suffer from an excessive build-up of thatch, I have once again elected not to holocore the greens, but to use solid tines instead. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to remove perfectly good material to put similar material back in. However, we still need to aerate the ground to allow air in and noxious gases out. The bacteria that break down the organic material that builds up over the course of a season need air to breathe, and if we fail to provide them with this they will die and then the thatch layer would continue to build up unchecked, air circulation would be reduced still further, and a negative spiral of decline would begin. Better then to do the remedial work that we need to do now to keep the bacteria healthy, allowing them to do our job for us by turning the decayed matter that has built up in the upper portion of our rootzone into available plant food.

We are going to undertake our first solid-tining of the season this week, and we will be using 13mm tines set at a very shallow depth. The reason for doing this is that we need to integrate some garlic granules into the greens, and we need to be able to get these below the surface so that our mowers do not remove them as soon as they have been applied, but we also need them to not be buried too deep where they will be ineffective. Those of you who read the article that I wrote last month will know that applying garlic granules to the greens is one of the options that I have been given for reducing the negative impact caused by leatherjackets (the larvae of the crane fly, or daddy long legs). All the organophosphate insecticides that we previously used to control this pest have been removed from the market, which has left us with few options. The polysulphides that are naturally present in garlic can apparently control the eggs and young larvae and the adult can smell the granules and will stay away from an area that has been treated. So I figure that if I solid tine the greens and apply the granules now (right at the very start of the pest’s egg-laying cycle), then I have a chance of persuading them away from the greens into areas where the damage they cause will be less evident and important. Because we are only making shallow holes designed to act as a bed for the granules and to get air into the very top of the rootzone where we hope the bacteria are doing their work on the organic matter, the disruption to surfaces will not be nearly so evident as it would be if we aerated deeply, and with temperatures still high I would expect recovery from this to be swift.

Our second wave of works will commence immediately after the 2nd round of the club championship (around the 18th of September). Again, we are not looking to aerate deeply, but this time we will be using 19mm tines to create a shallow seedbed for fescue seed and sand. The seed will germinate best when it is planted at around 8-12mm below the thatch layer, and because we do not have a deep build-up of dead organic matter at Machrihanish Dunes my estimate is that we should be looking to get our seed to sit in a hole about 25-30mm deep. Once the seed has been brushed into the hole, it will be covered up with a good quality topdressing material to further aid its juvenile development.

Both solid-tining missions are designed to integrate materials into the upper portion of the rootzone rather than to alleviate compaction, so in addition to these two operations we will be solid tining on a monthly basis with thin 8mm or 10mm tines set to drill much deeper into the soil. Of course, the smaller diameter tines will not create nearly as much surface disruption as the 13mm and 19mm tines, indeed once we have rolled the greens once with a hand mower after these operations the effect on putts will be negligible.

In direct contrast to my last couple of blog updates there is a lot of technical information and not much humour here, and for that I apologise! The message I am really trying to get across though is that none of the operations we undertake on the golf course is commenced without first being meticulously planned to ensure that we can reap the maximum benefit with the minimum amount of disruption. The aeration equipment we now have at our disposal is so far advanced compared to the ramshackle machines that I used in the early years of my career that we have no excuses left for making a mess, and the available choice of tines is so widespread that we can achieve pretty much whatever results we desire during a period of Autumn renovation. It just takes a bit of thought and preparation.

The Black Sheep Cup and Other Stories

The Black Sheep Cup has in the last two years become one of our biggest success stories, and once again over 70 people signed up to play in the 2017 staging of this event. Local member John Nutt was victorious with a good haul of 40 stableford points, narrowly beating Stewart Litster and Derek Newlands. John has worked hard on his game this year and lifting the huge trophy for Kevin’s camera was just reward for the effort he has put in – it was just a shame you couldn’t see more of him from behind it! The ladies section was won by Elizabeth Marrison, with Lindsay Ramsey finishing runner-up. Congratulations to the winners and many thanks to everybody who turned out once again to make this competition one of our most successful in recent times.


The next competition on our horizon is the Club Championship, which this year will be played on successive Saturdays in September (the 9th and 16th), with the second round followed by a prize-giving and our members evening at The Ugadale Hotel. Once again there is quality food planned along with some darts and a quiz, so we hope as many members as possible will choose to take advantage of our hospitality. After that our season finale, the Autumn Pairs, will be staged on Saturday 7th October. I can`t believe we are talking about that already, but Lorna is taking bookings for all these competitions so if you are keen to enter or you would like more information then give her or Peter a phone on 01586 810 058.

I look forward to seeing you all out there during September, and I hope you enjoy your golf. If your round coincides with any of the operations we have planned then I apologise in advance, but if you see us out with the machines and you are interested in what we are doing then please do just come across and ask questions.


A Bit of This and a Bit of That

…Actually suits us just fine. While everybody else seems to have spent the last few weeks willingly partaking in the Scottish national sport of moaning about the weather, we have been using the mixed conditions we’ve seen lately to recover our surfaces from the wear they suffered earlier in the season.

Although many people seem to be constantly surprised by the cards that the weather gods deal us, it is actually fairly easy to predict and I know from experience that I am usually going to get two spells during the season which are ideal for recovery and to work on plant health and root development. One of those spells tends to fall just after the Campbeltown Open, and this is when we will give the greens a rare Summer feed and overseed them with Bent grass.

Fescue seed can germinate at a temperature as low as 7 degrees C, but Bent insists on more tropical conditions before it can be integrated effectively into the sward. It is important that we do not jump the gun, because Bent seed is horrendously expensive and wasting it by drilling it into a cold rootzone is therefore an absolute sin. We test whether the rootzone is ready by picking on a couple of worn patches, spiking these areas with a fork and overseeding into the holes and then waiting 7-10 days to see if anything pops through. If we get a successful take we immediately haul out the seeder and go hard at it, pumping every grain of seed we have in our store into the greens.

During the period immediately after seeding, it is massively important that the greens are fed sufficiently to provide nutrients for the new seedlings and that the immature plants are not allowed to get anywhere near drying out. This of course goes against our usual links policy of only feeding and watering our greens when we absolutely have to, and because of our desire to bring as many of these plants to full maturity as we can our greens will usually be a bit more green, lush and will putt a little more slowly than they do during the rest of Summer. Obviously we cannot just lower the height of cut to counteract this change in conditions as this would just kill the new grass as soon as it pops through. These are the times when we rely on our friend the ride-on roller to bail us out… if he can polish an extra foot onto the stimpmeter reading then we can get away with relaxing the maintenance pressures a little, giving our precious new seedlings the best chance of long-term survival. As you can see from the picture below, we have seen some good initial results!

It was a dull day when I took this picture, and it is never easy to see new seedlings growing in an established green when the sun is not shining. The newly established bentgrass can clearly be seen in the patch of annual meadow grass to the right side of this image though, and once your eye has focussed on that you can make out the grid pattern of immature plants right across this section of the 14th.


When Is A Weed Not A Weed?

At Machrihanish Dunes the answer to that is most of the time, as my definition of a weed is a plant whose presence is undesirable. I remember somebody during my time as greenkeeper at Machrie asking me when I was planning to spray the semi-rough, because it was “full of weeds”. My reply was courteous, but I did wonder how anybody with the gift of eyesight (or indeed a sense of smell!) could seriously suggest that the amazing display of colour in our “machair” rough should be sprayed in order to attain a monoculture of turfgrass!

Here at Machrihanish Dunes, the cut rough is arguably even more spectacular at this time of year than it was in Islay, with daisies, buttercups, yellow and purple vetch, clover, bedstraw, speedwell and many other low-lying plants easily surviving the carefully managed rough mowing regime and providing an incredible display of colour that in my experience has only been matched by a wild meadow I once stumbled across in the French Alps. It is easy to fixate on the many species of orchids that populate the less maintained areas of our rough because they are stunning to look at and are in many cases extremely rare, but there is more to our machair garden than just the protected species and we are extremely lucky that we get the opportunity to appreciate the free flower show every Summer. Even if there were no official restrictions placed on our maintenance regime, there is no way you would ever catch me in there with a crop sprayer!

Semi-rough at Machrihanish Dunes. Full of weeds. Stunningly beautiful!

One plant that is definitely not welcome at Machrihanish Dunes is ragwort! This invasive species causes us a massive maintenance headache every July, and it seems that this year’s crop is an absolute bumper. Because of the negative implications that spraying ragwort would have on other delicate species that we are charged with keeping alive, we have no choice but to pick the yellow peril by hand. This is obviously a very laborious task and is just one of the many jobs that we undertake every year that our members and visitors may not even realise that we do, but if we were to ignore it for even a couple of years the spread of this plant would be catastrophic. Interestingly, our agreed management program with SNH requests that we retain 15% of our crop of ragwort every year because the larvae of the rare cinnabar moth feeds on the flowers, which just goes to reiterate my belief that manipulating nature for our own benefit will always have a negative impact somewhere down the line. I think the moths might be safe enough this year though; there is definitely enough ragwort to go ‘round!  All we can do is soldier on a trailer load at a time and see how much we can pull before the flowers dry out and blow in the wind to start growing next year’s crop. At this moment I’m not sure whether my fellow greenkeepers or my own back hates me more!

Gus, Sebastian and Zoltan pulling ragwort in the deep rough between the 1st and 9th holes. None of them have spotted me “playing on my phone”, which is just as well because that is never good for staff morale!! The picture below shows how much of this weed the four of us pulled in a couple of hours between just those two fairways.


Fun day that was!

Decisions, Decisions.

Many of the products that we have used with good effect for decades to control pests and diseases are being refused new licenses by government agencies fearful of the effects of the misuse of chemicals on users, third parties and on the environment. Greenkeepers who have got used to having a full arsenal of these products at their disposal and who have utilised them to produce fantastic surfaces over the past few years are going to find it increasingly difficult (if not impossible) to match those successes in the future without the aid of these chemicals, and the loss of some key products are already causing us major headaches.

Here on the west coast we suffer from very severe infestations of leatherjackets (the larvae of the crane fly or daddy long legs), as our warm, wet Winters provide ideal conditions for them to grow and thrive in sandy, open rootzones through which they find it easy to move around to find the food and air they need to survive. They eat copious amounts of grass roots and organic matter, and will hide in aeration holes and increase the diameter of those holes by coming up to the surface at night and chewing the grass around them at a time of year when there is little growth for the plant to recover from the damage.

Clorpyrifos was our go-to organophosphate insecticide for controlling leatherjacket infestations, and all we had to do in past years was make one or at the very most two well-timed applications per year to control this pest and ensure that our greens were free from attack. It was cheap, easy and extremely effective, but like all organophosphates Clorpyrifos had health implications for the user and a special mask had to be worn when applying it in order to avoid negative respiratory effects, which could quite commonly be felt if appropriate protective equipment was not used as instructed. Like Malathion and many other insecticides before it, Clorpyrifos eventually had its license for use revoked and 2016 was the last year that end users such as ourselves were permitted to use it.

There is usually a proven natural alternative to a chemical in a case such as this, an alternative that might invoke a change in attitude or an alteration to a management regime that would invariably involve more work but would be just as successful, while offering the bonus of being less dangerous for the user and better for the environment. That is how it usually goes anyway! In the case of clorpyrifos, there is no proven natural or chemical alternative that we can switch to and trust to work. To be honest, it has got us all panicking, because we know how incredibly damaging these pests will be this Winter if we do not come up with something that works as well as a chemical insecticide, and quickly.

Currently two options are being promoted—the first of which is a biological product which offers a spray of living nematodes that the manufacturers claim will seek out and kill leatherjackets for food, which in turn will make them strong so they will breed and populate the rootzone so that they are ready for the crane fly to lay more larvae for their next meal. This sounds great, for if these nematodes are successful then surely they will breed and go on populating our rootzone indefinitely, spreading from the greens where they were initially sprayed through the collars, the fairways, the roughs, next door into Machrihanish Golf Club’s fairways and so on, ad finitum. Three things worry me, though, the most obvious of which is the massive scepticism of all the salesmen that I deal with and trust. All have said that they will sell me the product, but they have also all stated that they have no confidence in it and have sold it to golf courses who have seen it completely fail, leaving them with massive infestations and greens and tees in poor condition going into Spring 2016. The second thing that worries me about this product is the lack of positive testimonials.Usually when a new product hits the market and turns out to be a winner the internet is awash with stories about how it has turned golf courses around, but in this case the search engines have come up with depressingly little. The third and most obvious issue that I have with this product is that it is obvious to me that the nematode in question is not currently present in our rootzones. Why is this? Surely if we have massive annual leatherjacket infestations, and nature invariably has its way of maintaining an equilibrium when dealing with these matters, then we should expect these nematodes to be plentiful in our soils. Clearly that is not the case, though, as for years we have had to resort to using Clorpyrifos in order to do their job for them! Could our rootzones be too dry for them to survive? Could high salt levels be a terminal issue for them? Or have we been unwittingly using another chemical (possibly Clorpyrifos itself!) as part of our greens management and unknowingly killing them? Or (and this is my favourite theory) is there another organism that flourishes in the conditions on our site that kills nematodes? Wouldn’t that just be typical, if we sprayed an organism into our rootzone with the intention of controlling another organism that we considered to be undesirable, only to find that the beneficial organism was killed by an indigenous foe first! I’m only theorising here because this product is so new that I don’t have any facts to help me, which is why I and many other people in the industry remain sceptical in the face of the absolute carnage that would be the result of failure. There is a chance that the product might work brilliantly for us, but I for one do not want to have to rely on a third party that I cannot even see to do a job for me when the result of it not doing that job is that our greens would sustain severe damage and would perform poorly until at least the middle of the season!

The second product seems more promising, because it consists of a natural garlic-based granule that is applied at the time the adult crane fly lays its eggs and is brushed down aeration holes during a period when we would all be aerating anyway as part of our Autumn renovation program. The poly-sulphides in the garlic apparently kill the eggs and indeed very young larvae, halting the infestation before it even starts. In effect, the garlic product is used as a direct replacement for Clorpyrifos, and is surely then the answer that we are looking for! Or is it? The problem with this product is that it is very new, and is just as unproven on our site as the nematodes are. To make matters worse, we used a spray version of this product last year and it had no effect whatsoever on leatherjacket populations. A greenkeeper who works in very close proximity to me used the spray at least twice and also reported that it had little or no effect on his leatherjacket infestation. The manufacturers of this product are adamant that the granule version will work if it is applied at the right time of year and is integrated properly into the rootzone and have said that in hindsight, spraying liquid garlic onto the surface in an attempt to kill larvae that had already reached a point of maturity was never going to do us much good. It is encouraging to see that they have been successful in gaining a license from the government that states the product can be used for leatherjacket and chafer grub control. That would seem to indicate that the government body who issued the licence has done a study and has confidence that it will do the job, and if that is the case then it would seem to be by far the safer of our two options.

I can hear one or two of you murmuring in the background already, and of course what you are saying seems so obvious…if leatherjackets are such a serious issue for us then why do I not use both products because that would double my chances of success? Well the fact is we can’t, because the poly-sulphides in the garlic definitely kill nematodes. That is what the garlic product was originally packaged for, to kill a different breed of nematodes that negatively affect the health of ryegrass in football pitches, and apparently it does a very good job of it. You honestly couldn’t make it up, could you! It leaves me with a straight choice between something that I have very little confidence in and something else that I have very little confidence in, and the result of my choice not working for us is that our greens will be infested by a pest that will undoubtedly cause massive damage to both the surface of our greens and tees and the precious roots that sustain life underneath them. Decisions, decisions…

Black Sheep Open

By the time you read this, the Shepherd’s Cross will have been and gone, so if you played in that I hope you enjoyed it and didn’t get soaked for a change. It always seems to pour with rain for the Shepherd’s Cross! The next competition on the horizon is the Black Sheep Open, which was an extremely successful event for us in 2016. This year’s competition is being held on Sunday 27th August—please see the attached for all the details you might need.

Enjoy your golf in August, we look forward to seeing you out there!