Black Is The New White

57 golfers made the brave decision to play Machrihanish Dunes from the black tees the first weekend in April. Although the benign conditions helped players to negotiate the extra-long golf course, trying to reach the fairways from the back sticks and then play approach shots to some extremely testing pin positions wore many of the competitors down.

Davey Lamont eventually triumphed, despite returning to the Golf House with his own tales of woe. His score of 77 was one better than Dean Ratcliff could manage, although Dean was understandably pleased with his effort off a handicap of 6. Stuart Cameron finished 3rd and scooped the last of the scratch prizes.

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Davey Lamont

Kenneth Imrie won the handicap prize with a nett 76, while Eleanor Black valiantly battled the course to win the ladies prize with a scratch 93.

 

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Kenneth Imrie

Although the competitors unanimously agreed that it would be a welcome relief to get back to playing from the whites, the Black Tee Open was a fun event with which to start the Machrihanish Dunes competition calendar.   You can see a full list of our golf tournaments here.  Feel free to contact  Lorna at the Golf House (0158 681 0058) any time to sign up for any of them.

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The (handmade by yours truly) Black Tee Open Trophy and with a bottle of Glen Scotia donated as a prize for Nearest To The Pin at the 12th hole.

 

Topdressing. Why do we do it?

Regular readers of these updates will have heard all about this subject before, but if you are new to this blog and have watched us spread sand all over the greens while wondering why we chose to do that just when the greens were putting well –well, here is the definitive list of the five benefits of topdressing.

1)Topdressing allows us to build up a layer of perfect rootzone material on the surface of our greens. The more topdressing we add, the deeper this layer will get and the deeper our root systems will become as a result. Golf greens are not always constructed from ideal materials, but adding lighter topdressing material to a heavy soil green, or a more organically-rich material to a green deficient in humus, is a proven method of improving the grass quality, root depth, and playing characteristics or every golf green. This work has been successfully undertaken since the days of Old Tom Morris. It is claimed that he invented the process. However, I can’t help but wonder whether some of the many things that Old Tom claimed to be of his own invention weren’t plagiarised from somewhere else! Oh well, topdressing works, so kudos to him for bringing it to the attention of the mainstream!!

2)Topdressing dilutes the organic matter that is deposited on the surface of the green and allows oxygen to circulate better just under the surface. This reduces disease incidence and aids the health of beneficial mycorrhizal bacteria – which need oxygen in order to live and go about their business of munching through the organic matter and turning it into plant food. This organic matter comes from a variety of sources – grass clippings that fall out of a mower box, decaying leaves from unhealthy plants, dead worms and leatherjackets; it can all be converted to useable forms of energy but only if the bacteria that can do this job are present in sufficient numbers. If airflow is blocked by surface organic matter then oxygen will not be able to enter the rootzone – and these bacterial colonies will be poisoned to the point of extinction by the carbon and sulphurous gasses that will build up. Once this happens, the plant will have to rely on whatever expensive spoon-feeding we decide to give to it via our sprayer, and fungal diseases will spread with alarming regularity, as the bacteria that would normally serve as their natural predators are not around to keep up the good fight.

3)When topdressing is brushed into the green it fills in and builds up small undulations as it is cleared off high spots and deposited wherever the brush has an opportunity to leave it. The smoother the surface of the green is, the less resistance will be imparted on a golf ball, resulting in the ball rolling farther before coming to rest, This means we can produce a “faster” surface without resorting to cutting greens shorter, which removes leaf area and reduces the plant’s ability to photosynthesize. When we topdress regularly, we can give you the surfaces you want to play on and keep the grass in optimal health.

4)Having a good amount of topdressing in the upper profile allows us to present a firm, fast-playing surface. Mowers and greens irons can level out a soft, spongy surface, but that effect will be short lived once players and course staff start walking over the newly prepared green, as the soft surface will be easily indented. A green that has a carefully controlled percentage of organic matter will be firmer and therefore less susceptible to this disruption from foot traffic. Think of the beach – if you walk on the soft, dry sand above the high tide line and then try to roll a football along it the ball will bounce and bobble and soon come to rest, whereas if you walk along the firm sand that has recently been washed by the high tide you will cause minimum disruption and your football will run and run (usually into the sea and then straight out towards Northern Ireland in my experience!). Topdressing on a regular basis allows us to present a surface which is very reminiscent of the hard section of sand just above the high tide line. A firm surface is advantageous to us as greenkeepers as well as to you as players; not only does it provide a better surface to putt on but it is also resistant to damage.

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The Toro Workman spreads an even layer of sand onto the green, then the towed brush is utilised to integrate that sand into the rootzone. This action clears the sand off the grass leaves and deposits it onto the surface of the rootzone itself.

5)Topdressing feeds the grass. Well, the topdressing we use does anyway. Many courses use pure sand for topdressing, as they rightly consider that their levels of organic matter are so high that they wish to dilute it as much as possible when they topdress. Our rootzones, on the other hand, are still very sandy and are deficient in certain nutrients. We take this opportunity to add a portion of good quality soil to our topdressing. This will add nutrients and create an ideal living environment for the bacteria that we need to have present in our rootzone to break down thatch, and convert the nutrients we apply into available and useable forms of plant food. We will, of course, monitor organic levels to ensure that our rootzones do not become overly rich. Currently though, we are in the extremely fortunate position to be able to manipulate these levels to suit our exact needs.

What’s up next?

Our full focus is now on the upcoming Campbeltown Open which is planned for the 24th-25th June. The Campbeltown Open is our weekend festival of golf; including the main Campbeltown Open Tournament, the Colin Chrystie Cup, the Ladies’ Campbeltown Open, and of course, our renowned Junior Drive, Pitch and Putt Competition. Although, we recognise that the Campbeltown Open is a serious event, we and our sponsors wish to promote a welcoming atmosphere over a whole weekend. That will include prize-givings, evening entertainment, and a Sunday barbeque. If you wish to enter any of the competitions during the Campbeltown Open weekend, or you would like any further information, give Lorna a phone on 0158 681 0058. It is going to be a lot of fun, so make sure you get involved!

 

Marching Towards the Playing Season

Sorry, that was a pathetic pun to start a report with! It is pretty indicative of how we greenkeepers feel at this time of year, though. As the occasional burst of spring sunshine reminds us, the steady days of hard manual labour that typify our lives throughout winter construction season is about to give way to the frantic, but physically lighter, workload of summer. The stark transition from one season to the next – and the different jobs that come with them – is one of the aspects of course maintenance that we all enjoy. It definitely helps to keep our enthusiasm levels high.

Spring is a critical time for us on the West coast of Scotland because the months of April, May and the first half of June can be stressful to turf if the jet stream weakens and high pressure takes control. The high pressure tends to bring dry conditions and strong easterly or south-easterly winds (I dubbed it “the hairdryer” a long time ago!), which may allow for pleasant daytime conditions but also some cold nights. If turf is not in good condition going into a spell like this, it can be hard to scrape through this period without having to compromise surface speed in favour of plant health. If, on the other hand, all precautions have been taken to ensure that our swards are in perfect health, then this early Scottish “summer” can be a glorious time for golfers and greenkeepers to be alive.

To prepare for an early season dry spell such as this, we first have to make sure that our root system is in good condition. We analyse nutrient levels to ascertain where any deficiencies might lie and then aim to minimise the effect that this will have on plant health. Insect damage is a big issue at the moment, as several key products that we used to rely on have been removed from the market, with the consequence that we currently have no chemical control for leatherjackets. These larvae of the crane fly have a ferocious appetite for grass roots and can spend all winter munching through everything that we spent the previous summer trying so hard to gain. Although I have not visually spotted the signs of too much surface activity from them, we should assume that they will have done some damage beneath the surface. Therefore, we need to ensure that our nutrient levels are right and that the rootzones are prepared for accepting irrigation water.

Many of you will have heard me banging on about wetting agents before. These clever products are vital to ensuring that water we apply to the greens during a dry spell can penetrate the surface instead of running off high spots and settling into hollows. The technology that has gone into developing these products over the last few years is mind-blowing. We now have an arsenal of different wetting agents that allow us to choose a product that is tailored to suit the needs of every rootzone. My preferred product is designed to allow water to easily penetrate through the surface, but then holds it in a suspended matrix within the rootzone. It makes water available to roots for far longer than if gravity forced it deeper into the soil structure. Of course, this type of wetting agent is ideal for us at Machrihanish Dunes because our rootzones are relatively free-draining and oxygenated. If I were working on a rich soil full of fine particles, where surface drainage was considered more of an issue, I would probably choose to use a completely different product.

Cutting heights need to be carefully monitored at this time of year to ensure that plant health is not compromised. It is very easy to get carried away with the opportunity to provide exceptional surfaces for the first competition of the year (especially if this coincides with the Masters being on TV!). Plant health and root development can easily be compromised if we remove too much topical growth when the daylight hours and the opportunities to photosynthesise are still restricted. This is the reason why we raise the heights of cut on our greensmowers during the winter months – we need to keep more leaf area on the plant to retain the maximum number of photosynthesis receptors, to make the most of short periods of daylight. Whereas in summer, when we get up to 17 hours of daylight, we can get away with pushing the boundaries a bit further. Years of experience have taught us that all these things (and many more) need to be taken into account BEFORE the good weather catches us by surprise!

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You can tell it is spring when the new flags go out at Machrihanish Dunes. These double-sided embroidered items don’t come cheap, so they don’t go out unless I’m sure the jet stream isn’t going to power back up and fray them in their first couple of weeks!

 

Simon, what can I do about the moss in my garden?

It is that time of year, isn’t it? Like all greenkeepers, I get it every spring from all quarters – like I have some magic cure to fix a lawn that has been neglected for months. The truth is that there is no magic cure to fix a moss infestation. But understanding the reasons why moss takes hold, and how you can avoid it getting a grip of your lawn in the first place, could save you hours of back-breaking work.

So here goes! Moss is a vacuum plant. By that I mean it will fill spaces left in the soil only when space is available for it to do so. It is not a strong enough competitor to fight against healthy grasses for valuable sward space. Just because we are turf “professionals” does not mean that we are immune from this – if you come and have a look at our greens, you will find moss in there too. If you study the greens closely though, it quickly becomes apparent that the moss only grows where the grass is under pressure and it therefore has the chance to compete. The picture below of the 2ndgreen is a classic example where the moss has grown in along the ridge. The mowers cut the grass shorter than we would like at those high points and it therefore lives in a perpetually weakened state.

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The 2nd green. Full of moss. We’ll soon get that sorted though!

One other thing that has occurred to me over the years is that moss infestations on links courses are always worse the further you go from the shore, leading me to believe that moss is even less tolerant to salt than turfgrass is. It is interesting because we have always been taught that sulphate of iron kills moss, but I have always been of the opinion that issues with moss ingression are worse on acidic ground, and we all know how acidic sulphate of iron is. Could it be that the iron merely shrivels the moss plant (in the same way as it shrivels the skin on your fingers when you touch it), but it is actually the high salt content in the product that kills it (and also causes all kinds of harm to beneficial mycorrhizal bacteria). Don’t take that as gospel, it’s just another one of my theories!!

A percentage of moss in the greens in early spring does not worry me one bit. A greenkeeping maintenance program is so intensive in April, May and June that we will quickly get this under control. Moss hates abrasion, so when we verticut, topdress, brush in that topdressing, aerate, and cut on a more regular basis once the growing season starts, it will soon give up the fight and die out. Then grass will flourish because it can photosynthesise more effectively during the summer months and because it readily uptakes the nutrients that we feed it with.

So, what can you, the gardener, learn from this? Well, you need to look at keeping the grass in your lawn healthy enough in the first place. If you have a full covering of healthy grass, moss will not have a chance to infiltrate. It helps if the lawn is well aerated, and if the ground has a healthy, neutral pH level. If your garden is laid on very acidic soil, applying some lime in late spring / early summer might raise the pH level enough to allow for an increased population of soil bacteria and worms. Lime can break down organic matter, feeding grass plants and reducing the depth of the organic layer that lies damp all winter. Damp ground provides an ideal growing medium for moss and for fungal infections that can damage grass plants.

I could spend ages writing a big program of works for you to follow in your garden, but that would be pointless because every individual piece of ground is completely different, and requires a different set of solutions for what may appear to be very similar symptoms. Golf courses are the same – it takes time to learn the exact nuances of the site and how the soil type, the weather, and many other things can influence our greenkeeping program. Once we have worked all this out, can we implement a plan that works specifically for us.

If I was to get really simplistic about dealing with moss, I would say that if you have it, then you should set about raking as much of it out as you can with a metal-toothed spring back rake and then planting good quality grass seed in its place. Once this seed has germinated, you should take care to look after your new grass by cutting it regularly at a sensible height. Preferably with a cylinder mower rather than a rotary. Whatever mower you have at your disposal, you should always lift and remove the clippings. Give thought to fertilisation – there are some great weed and feed products available from garden stores that contain a mixture of nutrients, a moss killer product, and some simple selective weed killers. At the end of the season (late September / early October) rake the lawn again with your metal spring back to remove any debris which has been deposited over the summer months. Broadcast some more good quality grass seed and aerate the lawn with a fork (stamp the prongs of the fork at least 6 inches into the ground and heave back, and then step back six inches and repeat until the whole lawn is done). For me, this is the one mistake that I see more people make than any other – if you want your lawn to be in good shape in spring, then you must put in the work the previous autumn. If any of these suggestions sound familiar, then that is because this program is exactly what we do out on the golf course. Once you know your soil and the intricacies of your site, greenkeeping is not rocket science. It is simply a case of applying the scientific knowledge you have learned, putting a site-specific program together, and getting stuck into the hard work. Making a success of your garden is exactly the same! Having said that, if you want any advice at any time about specific issues that you might have and you think I might be able to help, just come over and ask. I would far rather take 5 minutes to give you some answers than see you spend money that will not guarantee improvements!

Competition season is already here!

By the time you read this, the Winter league will be finished and the crazy Black Tee Open will be done and dusted. I hope we get a decent day for that, because if it is windy it could be attritional! The next noteworthy event on the calendar is the Kintyre Team Championship from the 22nd – 23rd of April, which involves a 4-person team playing one round at Dunaverty GC and one round at Machrihanish Dunes. At the time of writing, Lorna still has some spaces on her tee sheet for this fun event. So if you fancy participating, phone her as soon as you can on 01 586 810 058. We are going to have a barbeque and prize-giving after the golf on the Sunday of this event, so it should be a great sociable day.

 

Enjoy your golf in April. Hopefully the weather will be as good as it was this time last year!

A Winter’s Tale

 The festive season is but a distant memory now. Here at Machrihanish Dunes we have been blasting on with the projects that we set out in our Winter program. Our priority is always to keep the turf surfaces in optimum condition. It is easy to lose focus on this when the grass stops growing so quickly and there are fewer golfers playing the course daily. Although this winter has been relatively calm so far, we have been subjected to occasional Westerly gales which have sprayed the shore-side greens and tees with copious amounts of sand and salt. We have been doing everything we can to retain grass cover on these surfaces, and have taken the 5th green out of play temporarily as a precautionary measure. We are lucky to have a spare hole of similar length that we can use in these circumstances. It will be part of the golf course from now until sometime in late March. We apologise for this inconvenience, but we feel it is better to suffer this time of the year than it would be during the main golf season.

Looking After Uncle Joe

On good days during the winter months we get stuck into construction projects, and this year our focus has been on re-facing the bunkers. The bunkers at Machrihanish Dunes have been a source of continual discussion since the course’s “construction”, with the wild, blown-out look appealing to those who appreciated the original marketing ethos. These hazards were cut out of the existing ground, fringed with marram grass and left to blow. There is no doubt that this approach suited the untamed look of the course. Over time though, the edges of these bunkers have collapsed and fallen in, and the marram that once helped to retain the sand had become so overgrown that players were losing countless balls in the hazards. Bunkers that once flanked the extremities of cut grass at some holes found themselves marooned as wild oases surrounded by semi-rough as the course was widened out to aid the speed of play and reduce the frustration felt by less able players. We felt that some of them looked a bit silly and derelict, and we knew that many of them had become completely unfair, but we were aware of how easy it would be to ruin the charm of the golf course by changing the style of them completely.

Having consulted as many people involved in the project as we could, we settled on reconstructing with revetted faces of the bunkers that were surrounded with cut grass, while leaving wild the ones that still faced into untamed rough. Some bunkers that had cut grass on one side and wild rough on the other were revetted halfway round, with the wall tucked into the marram at the join. We figured that this approach was the best way to make the bunkers fit into the overall landscape of the golf course as it stands today, as there is no doubt that the course looks considerably less wild and far more mature than it did when the bunkers were originally built. We were aware of the clinical visual impact that revetted bunkers can bring to a course and we had a desire to avoid this as we didn’t want these hazards becoming too much of a focal point for the eye. We were keen to retain as much as possible the natural look for which Machrihanish Dunes has become famed, so we have avoided revetting the walls too high – opting instead to revet only as high as we needed to in order to retain sand before rolling turf over the rest of the face.

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The bunkers in the 14th fairway are completely surrounded by cut grass, so we have revetted them. You will see that we have avoided building the revetted wall too high, to avoid those clinical top lines that can easily dominate the skyline.

The bunkers, or portions of bunkers, that due to their position on the course have not been given revetted faces have been cleared out to make them fairer to play from. The marram grass in these faces forms a huge mass of roots, shoots and leaves that in time forms its own turf – so we have found that it is relatively easy now to trim these back and form a defined edge on these bankings

 

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The bunker at the 14th green. As this hazard skirts the edge of the rough, the outside edge has been left natural while the portion of the perimeter that links into the fairway has been revetted.

Our Worldwide Director of Golf Operations, Greg Sherwood, always asks me to look after Uncle Joe when undertaking projects such as this. It is a simple request, but the effects of ensuring that the requirements of the average golfer are catered to are so wide-ranging that this really governs everything that we do. However, it does illustrate perfectly how the focus of Machrihanish Dunes has changed since those early days when the development was marketed as “the way golf began”. Whether we like it or not, the golf course is a business and to survive in the marketplace the links should be an enjoyable, fun and attractive place for everyone to play. It had become clear that although some people found the wild bunkers to be aesthetically pleasing, they were impacting in a negative way on the enjoyment and fun of players like Greg’s fictitious Uncle Joe. Therefore, we had to do something positive about them to maximise our opportunity to encourage guests like him to make a return visit. Simply removing the offending marram grass did not work, as this approach removed all semblance of character and left us with unattractive, featureless holes in the ground. Making the switch to revetted bunkers in places may appear to be a somewhat generic solution to the issue on what is a highly individual golf course, but we hope that we have incorporated enough design flair into our construction to ensure that these bunkers are looked upon favourably by those golfers who do have an appreciation for golf course design. What we have done is create a definitive blueprint for future bunker re-construction, and we have certainly succeeded in removing the unfair element that negatively impacted the enjoyment of Uncle Joe.

Furniture Upgrades

Building bunkers is great fun on nice days, but when the weather turns nasty on us, there are plenty of jobs to keep us busy indoors. One such task that we have undertaken this winter is to make new tee markers for the course. We felt that the painted stones used since opening day were another thing that we had the opportunity to improve upon. As with the bunkers though, the perceived improvement that these markers will bring to the tees is in the eye of the beholder and we know they will not appeal to everybody! One member did tell me in jest that he preferred these wooden ones because when he hit a bad shot and took his anger out on the marker these would not damage his driver to the same degree.  Please don’t do that!

The process of constructing these markers is fairly simple and is definitely cost-effective as they are merely cut from 4.5 metre lengths of 3”x2” dressed timber, then sanded to remove sharp corners and rough edges before being wood-stained. The angled ends are then given 2 coats of the appropriate colour of gloss. When I was starting out as a greenkeeper 30 years ago, most squads painted their own signs and markers, and some of these guys were extremely good at it. It’s a shame that this winter ritual seems to have become a bit of a dying art. I think it shows a willingness from a greenkeeping team when they can take on a project like this, and do it as tidily as they possibly can and really show off their skills. Whenever I visit other courses, I always look to see whether markers and posts have been built or bought, and when I see a selection of well-made furniture that has obviously been made in-house, I will give it some deserved appreciation. Quite apart from adding an individual look to the course, a well sculpted set of home-made markers saves a club a fortune. I have seen markers that look just like ours retail for over £10 each, whereas ours cost just £1.05!

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Completed white and yellow markers. Just 2 of 144 that we have made, all ready to smarten up the tees in 2017.

 

The Season Approaches

During periods of relentless bunker-building and tee marker construction, it would be easy to let the upcoming golf season sneak up on us, but we are fully aware that we are only weeks away from our first major of 2017, the inaugural Black Tee Open on April 1st. For those of you with a slightly less masochistic nature, the annual Team Challenge (in association with Dunaverty Golf Club) follows soon after over the weekend of April 22nd/23rd. For more information on either of these competitions—or indeed any information you might need about the latest goings-on at Machrihanish Dunes—just phone Lorna at the Golf House on 01586810058 or email her at golfhouse@machdunes.com.

Enjoy your golf!

WHAT A YEAR THAT WAS!

Those of you who know me well are aware of how active I am on social media. I am not one of those people who take it all seriously and consider it a part of my career or a way of networking myself into a better position (after all, what better position in life could I possibly wish to attain!). I do however like to trawl through endless banter on Facebook and share photos on Instagram. Amongst my countless photos of the great Scottish countryside and mountain biking at ludicrous speeds, there are a few Machrihanish Dunes gems in there. All the photographs have been taken with my phone, so the quality is therefore questionable, but my images have always been about capturing the moment rather than showing how technically clever I am.

When I sat down to plan this update for you, I figured that an annual review based around some attractive pictures might make for a welcome relief after the barrage of science that I subjected you to last month. It is also an upbeat way to round off what has been an extremely successful year for the greenkeeping team.

January



Hand mowing greens is my favourite job at any time of the year – especially so in the winter when it becomes a weekly treat. The top end is my favourite loop, mainly because I get to enjoy this high vista that falls to the sea from the 18th green. I’ve lost count of the amount of times people have asked me “What time of year do you stop cutting greens?”. The answer is never, because the air temperature stays high enough in the tropical southwest to ensure that the grass is always growing, which gives us the opportunity to get out there and keep a good surface on them all year round.

February



The whole course took a battering from relentless wind and rain during the last three months of 2015. However, by the beginning of February, we were already starting to see light at the end of the relentlessly dark and gloomy tunnel. The second image shows how healthy the greens were going into this season – giving us the opportunity to work them hard during the dry weeks that were just around the corner.

March



The new 10th tee: I have always enjoyed playing from high tees, so when the opportunity arose to build one at Mach Dunes on a site that showed off this incredible view across the entire course,  I just couldn’t resist. I think it worked out pretty well, as did this “heavily filtered” panorama!

April



Not all of my Machrihanish Dunes photos feature “chocolate box” images of the golf course itself. It would be more accurate to say that they encapsulate my experience at work. Sometimes they also reflect my overactive  imagination. This cloud formation I spotted over Tangy wind farm on a cold April morning is a prime example. To me, it looked like an angry dog barking at a submissive turtle, but I’ll admit that not everyone could see it!

May



The media was full of stories promising us the “best summer in 100 years,” and on days like this one, it did seem like we might indeed be in line for something a bit special. In truth, though, much as we like to complain about the weather on the West coast of Scotland, it is fabulous during May and June most years. Hand-watering the greens at Machrihanish Dunes after my tea on a spring evening as good as this one, doesn’t feel like work at all!

June



I was obviously getting artistic here to cover over the undeniable fact that this was yet another picture of the same view from the 18th green. This was taken on the Sunday of the Campbeltown Open, just before the weather finally broke and normal (i.e. unsettled) service was resumed just in time for the kids to finish school before their summer holidays! I was pleased with the way we managed the course in the run-up to this tournament – the greens were very firm and putted well without ever getting silly and without us having to negatively impact their long-term health. Despite the relatively poor turnout, the competition was fiercely contested, with Oliver Armour eventually getting the better of Davey Lamont in a play-off.

July



The links at Machrihanish Dunes have always been associated with nature. The strict regime that we follow to remain in-sync with the terms of our management agreement with Scottish Natural Heritage ensures that we are rewarded with a colourful display of wild flowers every summer. While I appreciate all the different species that make up the overall palette, it is easy to become distracted by the sheer beauty of the orchids for which we have become particularly famed and the moths that have formed a symbiotic relationship with them. Getting four Burnett moths to pose on one Early Marsh-Orchid was too good of a photo opportunity to miss!

August



This image barely squeezes into August, as I posted it on the 29th. It is admittedly less scenic than a lot of my posts, but there is something clinically balanced about it. We chose  to think a long way outside the box when we planned our aeration and over-seeding program, and this was the result – a grid pattern of thousands of holes filled to the brim with good quality rootzone material and the best fescue seed.

September



We had a deadline imposed upon us to get the greens back to a decent playing standard by the Shepherd’s Cross on the 18th, and this image proves that we not only managed to do that, but that we had germinated a huge percentage of the seed we had planted just 3 weeks before. That is Craig Barr on the greens mower, finishing his early shift and no doubt looking forward to a man-sized breakfast!

October



I’m always on the lookout for a bit of humour, and plenty of people got a chuckle out of this when I posted it. I wondered whether this buzzard had feasted on so many rabbit carcasses that he had got too heavy for the reinforced concrete post he’d chosen to perch on. He doesn’t seem too fazed by its dilapidated condition though! It is always a joy to observe the varied wildlife as we go about our work, and birds of prey are always a special treat. Of course, there are many buzzards, but we have also seen hen harriers, sparrow hawks, owls, kestrels and a brutal peregrine – which I would certainly not like to get on the wrong side of!

November



Scotland’s weather in November is extremely volatile, and that means there is always potential for a good rainbow. The closer you are to the sea, the more chance you have of seeing one in its entirety – and I have taken many good rainbow/golf course images in the past. Despite the slightly wonky panorama discrepancies that spoil this composition, this full double rainbow  is probably the best of them all!

December



It is supposed to be the depths of winter, and yet there was so much grass on the fairways that we had to go and cut them. Chris Grogan was unaware that he was taking centre stage in this image – I was hiding somewhere I shouldn’t have been to get the height I needed to make it work. Getting up this high shows just how massive the picturesque site that we work on really is, and how little ground has actually been disturbed in order to route a good golf course over it. Some of these contours would be impossible to replicate with a bulldozer.

So there you have it. In amongst all the emojis, hashtags, likes and comments – here is a whole year of work and laughter at Machrihanish Dunes broken down into twelve pictures that I hope give you an insight into what we do and how much we enjoy doing it. I hope we can continue to improve the course for your enjoyment in the year to come. I look forward to randomly coming across many more opportunities to post photos like these for your amusement. I would like to thank you for your enthusiasm and your gracious and generous comments about the condition of the golf course, and on behalf of all the members of the greenkeeping staff at Machrihanish Dunes, I wish you the very best for 2017.

Enjoy your golf over the festive period!

If you are on Instagram and want to see more of these (along with many, many pictures of bikes and hills!), then feel free to follow me. I am easy to find. Please be aware though that my comments are strictly my own and my views on certain subjects are not necessarily shared by the owners or management of Machrihanish Dunes.

Remember, remember, how depressing it is in November!

Or is it? Sure, the days seem to get shorter once the clocks change, but I find that this time of year on the West coast of Scotland is rarely as bad as I expect it to be. We have certainly been enjoying our fair share of good weather lately. I always relate how I expect our grass to fare by comparing their health to how I feel myself. So if I am enjoying the late autumn sunshine, then I guess that the greens will be lapping it up too. This is why they have been performing so well. It has been easy to keep them in a state of almost suspended animation as we have managed to keep fertiliser inputs low, which has resulted in low-growth yields and only minimal attacks from disease pathogens. The result of the low yield and relatively good health has improved playability of the course since it becomes much easier to produce a fast, true surface if we are hardly removing any clippings when we cut the greens.

I am always aware of how quickly things can change at this time of year. If I react in a cautious manner when you tell me how good the greens have been good following an exceptional spell of weather, it is because I know from experience that there is always the potential for bad times to be hiding just around the corner. That is just the way it goes for greenkeepers. I suppose it will be the same for anybody who is charged with looking after any living entity. If you take your eye off the ball for a minute, you can spend weeks chasing your tail trying to get that ball back again!

Paralysis by Analysis

One of the tools we use to try and forecast problems is Soil Nutrient Analysis. We have recently sampled 4 of our greens at Machrihanish Dunes and had the results sent to us. Our greens were last analysed way back in 2011, it was interesting to compare the results from then and now as we try to guage how we are progressing in our quest to bring these young greens to full maturity. In the chart below, there are several indices that are of massive importance to us as we attempt to improve the physical make-up of these rootzones.

 

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  1. Organic Matter

This is a hot topic in Greenkeeping circles, as most established courses either have too much organic matter in the upper profile of their rootzones, or they think that they do! Excess organic matter, which builds up through leaf decay and the deposition of grass clippings, is the main cause of soft, thatchy surfaces. This results in slow, bumpy greens and outbreaks of turf disease. Preferential species of grass, such as fescue and bent, will be out-competed by poa annua in a rootzone that is too rich in organic matter. This aggravates the negative cycle, as poa annua is a plant that produces a lot of organic matter. The usual percentage range of organic matter in garden soil is considered to be between 2 and 10. I would expect any greenkeeper who has levels above 4 percent to be actively looking to reduce. This can be done by hollow-coring, applying light sandy topdressings and over-seeding with a preferential species of grass and then tailoring their maintenance regime in order to favour those species in preference to the dreaded poa annua. Their goal will be to reduce the level of organic matter in the rootzones to what is considered to be the holy grail of results: 2.5%.

You can clearly see from the Machrihanish Dunes results that our issues are the complete opposite of this: our organic matter levels range from 1% to 1.4%. I frequently write about how easy it is for us to manipulate these rootzones to provide surfaces that are good to putt on; a simple addition of one or two rolls a week or an extra cut can have a massively positive influence because the upper rootzones are so sandy and firm, and largely devoid of organic matter. There is a problem with this though: the preferential species of fescue and bent that we are trying to favour need to have a symbiotic relationship with the soil to survive. They cannot do that unless there is sufficient soil bacteria to form this bond. In order to survive, the soil bacteria need a supply of organic matter to work with. If they do not have this food source, they will starve to death and these grasses will not be able to form this natural bond that gives them a competitive advantage over poa annua during times of stress. In a perfect world, we should be able to use this natural bond that perennial grasses have with their surrounding environment to reduce inputs from fertiliser and water, starving out poa annua which cannot survive under these “links-like” conditions. However, if the rootzone is too inert to support the continued existence of these bacteria and micro-organisms, then the infrastructure of their world will collapse. Which will then require the fescue and bent to be fed and watered in the same way as annual grasses – and there is only going to be one winner in that scenario.

So how do we tailor our program in such a way that we enrichen these rootzones in the right way? Well, for starters, we have to think for ourselves rather than blindly following what everybody else is doing. Our set of “problems” are the complete opposite of what most other people are dealing with. The first thing I decided to do a long time ago was to avoid removing the precious organic matter that we do have. Although I do verticut occasionally during the mid-summer months to remove lateral growth and fine-tune the grass sward, I am careful not to go too deep – therefore avoiding the chance of removing organic material. I aerate a lot, but always with solid tines. I have never hollow-cored these greens, and cannot foresee myself doing that anytime soon. Aerating with solid tines ensures that there is sufficient air available in the upper rootzone. This will allow the low numbers of beneficial bacteria, which can survive healthily at current levels, to break down clippings and dead leaves into humus that provides the basis for a good source of food for themselves, for earthworms, and for uptake by grass roots. It does not remove any of the precious material that we have built up. Because we want to encourage the growth of perennial grasses, we deliberately keep fertility low. However, when we do feed the greens we use a balanced fertiliser with high levels of humus and micronutrients. The old adage that you should treat links greens with nothing but nitrogen only applies to greens that already have ample supplies of everything else, and that is not the case here. The current scenario does give us the opportunity to perfectly tailor our inputs and therefore build these rootzones up exactly the way we want them though, which is an idyllic position to be in!

The last weapon in our arsenal is topdressing. Many people use straight sand as their preferred topdressing medium, as that offers them the best dilution of their overly-rich rootzone. I can see the point in doing that in conjunction with hollow-coring, as it firms up greens instantly. I have always shied away from using straight sand as a regular topdressing (i.e. when used to build up a level of good material on the surface). This is because I believe that everybody needs to have some organic matter in the upper profile in order to preserve bacterial life. If we apply the recommended (i.e. massive!) amount of topdressing to golf greens per annum, then there is the potential for the top surface layer of the rootzone to become too inert and for the health of bacterial populations in that layer (the layer where we need them to live in order to work with our plant roots) to become compromised. The topdressing material we have been using for the last two years contains 80% sand and 20% soil. This material has been tested to show that it has an ideal organic matter level of 2.5%. If we keep building up the surface with this and keep following the rest of this program, we will take our organic matter levels in the right direction. This will result in an increased population of beneficial soil bacteria, which will then make it easier for us to grow the grasses we want to grow, which will, in turn, make our greens easier and cheaper to look after.

2) Nutrient Levels

There are so many figures contained within these results that you could get hung up on this subject forever, but there are a few useful factoids that have a major impact on how our greens perform. Calcium levels are high (as you would expect in a sand predominantly made up of shell), but not much of that is available to the plant. A high level of calcium is not in itself a major issue, but a knock-on effect of locking up other nutrients (especially phosphorus), making them unavailable to the plant. Our phosphorus levels (and available phosphorus levels) actually look alright, but this is definitely worth keeping an eye on. We have reduced the levels of locked-up calcium in our rootzones and have made it available to the plant by regularly using a spray product which is designed to do just that. Results in 2011 showed these greens as being massively deficient in magnesium. These latest results suggest we have made good progress in bulking up the rootzone with this nutrient. The ratio between calcium and magnesium is much more in line with optimum levels than it used to be! We were massively deficient in potassium 5 years ago, and we still are today, which tells me that we are either using all of what we are applying or we are losing it too easily due to leaching. Either way, we need to be extremely careful, because potassium is not only vital to plant health, it also competes with sodium in the pecking order of nutrients that plant roots uptake. Common sense tells us that our shoreside rootzones are going to be unusually high in salt (anybody who has played Mach Dunes in a westerly wind will attest to that!). The actual presence of salt is not an issue until there is the potential for the plant to take it up. If the grass roots cannot find an available source of potassium when they need it, then they will uptake sodium instead, with predictably catastrophic consequences. It is interesting to note that all the greens tested have similar levels of both soil attached and available potassium, but that the 5th green (the one we always struggle with in late winter) has a higher concentration of both chloride and bicarbonate salts than do the other three. So this winter I am going to experiment with an application of a slow-release granular potassium fertiliser. I will apply this just before I would expect the main gale season to start in early December. This should supply enough potassium nutrient to the greens to keep them topped up until March, and will hopefully avoid them up-taking any sodium from the soil. Let`s just see whether this has a positive impact on the health of these greens (and that 5th green in particular) going into spring, in comparison to last year.

This is all highly speculative and a lot of this unproven theorising is, of course, still just exactly that, despite me having the hard facts and figures right here in front of me. It does show the absolute need to have these rootzone analyses completed on a regular basis though. It also shows the need to apply the results to what we see on the ground and then to have the common sense and the flexibility to adjust our programs to suit our particular needs. I love a bit of science, so I do!

 

WINTER LEAGUE AND THE MEMBERS NIGHT

I mentioned our Winter League in last month`s update, and explained that entry was free, scores could be entered every Sunday between now and the last Sunday in March. The best 4-round final total will win the league and the mystery prize. The league is now well underway, so if you have not yet started amassing your 4-round total then you had best make arrangements to come down and play catch-up! There are plenty of Sundays still to come, but I am sure the weather will disrupt the schedule at some point.

That`s all for this month. I hope you enjoyed the science, and I hope you enjoy your golf as we head towards the last month of 2016!

A Long and Successful Season

Ok, I know there is still 6 weeks of proper golf season left before we even think about starting Winter projects and how to protect the course from the effects of Westerly gales, but typically the beginning of October is the time when we can mentally if not physically take our foot off the gas a bit. I’m not saying there is not plenty to do (there is actually a million things to do!), but once the days get a bit shorter and the peak daytime temperatures start to drop the necessity to be constantly on the ball to avoid potential catastrophic damage is replaced by the need to steadily toil away getting the playing areas prepared for the onslaught of Winter and ensuring that we have the greens, tees and fairways in even better shape going into next year. Yes, we are already thinking about next year. If you don`t think ahead, you`re falling behind!

This season has been relentless, and this is honestly the first time I have even had so much as a glance back to analyse how I think we have done. It seems like a lifetime since the Spring team challenge kicked off our year, but that early competition signalled the start of six weeks of outstanding weather that many people heralded as the beginning of the best Summer for 100 years. That turned out to be pretty much the worst prediction I’ve ever heard, for as soon as the utterance left their mouths the rain started and refused to stop, turning the fairways that had been baked and fast-running into grass factories that have really stretched the capabilities of our mower fleet. The greens that had been surviving just fine on a lean diet and an occasional sprinkle of water inevitably became hungry for nutrient and eventually, after several months of performing just the way we wanted them to, broke down and succumbed to a nasty outbreak of foliar anthracnose disease. The only way to deal with anthracnose is to properly feed the affected grass, which always pains us as it ruins the way balls run out on them and it makes it far more difficult for us to produce a decent surface to play on. In actual fact they have been ok though, we threw everything we had at them for the Black Sheep Open and most of the competitors seemed happy enough with them.

Which brings us to where we are now, with greens that have just been successfully aerated, overseeded and topdressed, tees which are lush and healthy (in direct contrast to how they appeared throughout the dry spell!) and fairways which look great when you cut them and then scruffy and hairy again the next day. There is a good stand of grass everywhere…even on that 5th green. Hopefully we will get a good mixture of weather through October so all that precious fescue seed we planted and germinated a few weeks ago will continue to mature and will help us through the Winter months so we can hit next season running, taking all that we learned this year with us!

The Frustration of Renovation

Ask any Scottish golfer whether they in all honesty think that Autumn aeration, overseeding and topdressing works are not just necessary but vital in order to ensure that the club`s greens staff keep their putting surfaces operating within a spiral of improvement rather than a spiral of decline and to a man they will tell you that they believe it is. Ask them why, and most of them will not be able to come up with a satisfactory answer. To me that is a pretty sad indictment on our complete failure to get the message regarding Autumn renovation across to them and to educate them as to exactly what it is that we are trying to achieve.

This year at Machrihanish Dunes we chose to focus on overseeding rather than aeration. We aerate regularly with solid tines throughout the year as a matter of course, which encourages air to circulate through the rootzones and helps create a favourable environment for microbes to break down thatch naturally. We also topdress with an 80/20 sand/soil mix on a very regular basis, which dilutes the organic matter that builds up on the surface when annual plant leaves die and grass clippings are inevitably spilled out of the mower boxes. In a way, we are building layered compost heaps on top of the green’s sandy base, which ensures that the surface hasn’t yet got soft, spongy and overly-rich enough for us to actually need to go hollow-coring. It takes a great deal of effort for us to build these rootzones up the way that we want them, so it would make no sense at all for us to remove that hard-earned preferential growing environment by tearing it out with hollow tines!

The solid tines we used during our recent program were much bigger in diameter than we would normally use, but this actually had little to do with a desire to increase the efficiency of the aeration. Fescue seeds are very large and it is difficult to integrate them into the soil profile using standard overseeding equipment, so we experimented with our Procore aerator fitted with a variety of different solid tines to see which diameter worked best to create a grid pattern of 1 inch deep holes for the precious seed to fall into. We found that the 10mm and 13mm tines made holes that were too small while the 19mm tines caused too much disruption to surfaces. Our solution was to run the 19mm tines over the tees first, then put them to work on the greens once they were worn in. This worked a treat, so we worked out a program where we would heavily topdress the green first, then aerate it, broadcast the seed using a fertiliser spreader and finally roll the greens out in two directions using handmowers fitted with stiff out-front brushes.

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A grid pattern of holes, full topdressing and the fescue seed!

 

You can see from this first picture just how effective this program was in getting the seed into the holes. Excellent growing weather throughout September ensured that we got a massive germination strike just at the time we were starting to back away from pushing the greens to their limits, which allowed us every opportunity to bring these new plants to maturity. Overseeding successfully is all about timing and forward planning- if you seed too early in the hope of taking advantage of higher soil temperatures then you risk cutting the new seedlings back out as your maintenance program will be too aggressive for them to handle, whereas if you seed too late it might be too cold to germinate much seed at all.

The most important facet of our program this year was the way it was carefully structured to avoid surface damage and to minimise disruption. Most people would core first and then topdress the sand into the holes but I do not understand why anyone would do that- why haul a massive topdresser loaded with sand over a green that has just been decompacted? Not only does that negate the effect of the aeration but it also creates loads of ruts which are grim to putt over and will then cause your mower to scalp. A lot of people would also insist that a dedicated machine is required to integrate seed into the rootzone, but I have never found a dimple seeder yet that is capable of making big enough holes to capture a good percentage of fescue seed. This is why we used the massively versatile Procore to make holes which were not only the right diameter but also the right depth. The sandy topdressing we had already applied readily fell into the holes along with the seed, creating a suitably oxygenated environment in which the seed can now germinate and mature. I have a very good 6 foot wide brush that I normally tow behind a triple mower to brush topdressing off the surface and down into the area around the crown of the plant but on this occasion it was left in the shed in favour of using handmowers with outfront brushes to force seed and sand into the holes. Again this was a carefully planned attempt to ensure that we avoided damaging and rutting the surfaces so we could re-instate them to a playable condition as quickly as possible. The large roller on the back of these handmowers compacts the surface just enough to tap down any undulations on the green and to add sufficient firmness to resist further damage being caused by foot and future machine traffic. This second picture shows just how effective this program has been…it was taken two days later! Every single hole on this green is filled with seed and sand, and yet it is already not bad to putt on at all.

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The 17th green 2 days after our programme had been implemented

This programme would not suit every golf course, and of course to avoid hollow-coring in the future we will have to go back at regular intervals and solid spike with a variety of different tines set at a variety of different depths, but it does show how it is possible to take some of the pain out of Autumn renovations just by taking the time to think about how you can avoid tearing up and rutting the surface. A lot of the time there is just no need for it!

 

Renovation Rewards

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The picture above was taken 8 days after the first pictures, and clearly shows the same grid pattern of holes now filled with fescue seedlings.

The germination we saw has been superb, with almost every hole filled with new grass plants which have now been brought to full maturity just in time, before the onset of more testing meteorological conditions. This entire program was completed with minimum disruption to our surfaces, and within the timescale for recovery that we were given. The picture below was taken on the morning of the Shepherd`s Cross, when the greens were rolling as good as they had been all year. Even though Craig has just mowed the 18th here, you can still clearly see all the lines of seedlings shining in the sun. It`s just a pity the whole day didn`t stay like that, but then it always seems to rain on the Shepherd`s Cross!!

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What’s Up Next?

With the main competition schedule now over, members can look forward to our Winter League which starts on the 15th October. Every Sunday we will hold a simple stableford sweep, with cards from that day going towards an amalgamated 4 round total. The highest 4 round total stableford points score when the Winter League finishes at the end of March wins the league, so the more Sundays you can come and play the more chance you have of winning. Monthly medals will be played as stableford rather than strokeplay throughout the Winter months, so even scores from these competitions can count towards your 4 round total. We really hope to see a good number of people entering this league and competing on as many Sundays as possible. If you have any questions regarding this competition feel free to email me at simon@machdunes.com, or phone Lorna or Peter at the Golf House on 01586810058.

 

Enjoy your golf in this coming October!

Sun and Soil

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

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

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

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

Tee Time

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next For Mach Dunes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

In El Nino We Trust

Working for 15 years on a golf course with no irrigation at all gave me a keen interest in studying weather patterns. I desperately sought some kind of indication as to whether I could expect my greens to be good that year or whether I could expect them to turn into something that resembled a toasted digestive biscuit!

It was a breath of fresh air to move from Machrie to Machrihanish Dunes in 2014, and have that stress removed from my shoulders. I can tell you that at times like we are having now (6th June), it is still a joyous novelty for me to be able to type in a simple watering program on our computer and go home and leave the sprinklers and their decoders to do the work for me. Even plugging a hose into a box at the back of a green and water a green manually is a vast improvement.  I didn`t even have the technology to do that in my previous life!

I don`t know whether there actually are any indicators out there that can accurately be relied upon as a forecast for a “good” or “bad” summer, but one thing I have always kept an eye on is the El Nino effect in the Pacific. This year`s El Nino was one of the strongest on record, and it is interesting that this has coincided in one of the best starts to summer we have had in many years. The last time the El Nino effect was anywhere near as pronounced was the winter of 1997, which just happened to be followed by another fantastic early summer in Scotland. The jetstream that would usually bring South Westerly winds and rain from the Atlantic does appear to be weaker when El Nino is stronger, allowing warm air to be drawn in more readily from the Azores and Continental Europe during April, May and June. Of course, this effect will soon be neutralized by that other famous Scottish weather phenomenon, “The School Holidays Effect.” As soon as the schools break up for the summer, it inevitably starts raining, and then it forgets to stop. This particular weather cycle is not impacted upon by any outside forces…it does that every year!!

Anyway, regardless of whether or not I have any right to be walking around wearing a cloak of smugness after publicly airing my El Nino theory back in February, we have been positively basking in sunshine for weeks now on the West Coast of Scotland, and the course looks brilliantly fiery as a result. We have been keeping the moisture levels up at a healthy level on the greens and we have been watering tees by hand whenever we have had the chance, but the rest of the course has a stunning golden hue at the moment and those fairways must be an absolute joy to play from. Now if we could just get the pesky rabbits to stop digging in them…

The scorched 3rd fairway. That is surely just asking to have a bladed 3 iron drilled from it! Now if only I could remember where I left my skills?
The scorched 3rd fairway. That is surely just asking to have a bladed 3 iron drilled from it! Now if only I could remember where I left my skills? 
The approach into the 2nd green. There can`t be more than 1 or 2% moisture in these fairways, but as soon as it rains they`ll green right back up again. And it will rain. It is Scotland after all!!
The approach into the 2nd green. There can`t be more than 1 or 2% moisture in these fairways, but as soon as it rains they`ll green right back up again. And it will rain. It is Scotland after all!!   

Signs Of Improvement

Much of the criticism that we receive about the layout of Machrihanish Dunes almost always relate to two issues:

    1. The walk between the greens and the next tees are very long.
    2. The signage is poor and it is difficult for the first-time visitor to work out where they are supposed to be going.

We have attempted to reduce the impact of these issues by purchasing an extensive new signage package, which is being put in place as I write this. All of the current wooden signage will be removed from the course. It has served Machrihanish Dunes well since opening day, but the fact remains that wooden signs have a limited lifespan.

New Signage
One of the new signs set to be placed around the course.

One of these map signs will be placed on the walkway between every green and tee, giving the golfer all the information they need as they approach the next hole. Providing this level of information will not only make it easier for the player to find the specific teeing area that he or she is looking for, but will also create a point of interest midway down what some people might consider to be a fairly long and boring walk. At Machrihanish Dunes there are always rare flowers and insects to look at, but we accept that not everybody is as interested in the environmental aspects of our course maintenance as we are!

How’s That Turf Nursery Coming Along?

As promised last month, we removed the remaining vegetation from the site and turned the rootzone over using a tractor-mounted rotovator, which we borrowed from the Barrs at the neighbouring farm (thanks for that!). Craig has just started this task in the picture below.

Craig on Rotovator
Craig turning the rootzone in the turf nursery using the rotovator.

Once the rotovator had loosened everything up with two passes in a low gear, we raked and tramped the entire site until we had an even and consistent covering of soil and then we simply broadcast seed over it with a spreader, raked it in and added a pre-seeder fertiliser. In this picture you can see that I`m watering everything in once we`d finished.

3 weeks ago
Turf nursery three weeks ago.

So that was 3 weeks ago. Here is what it looked like yesterday. I love it when a plan comes together! Again, though, if it wasn`t for the luxury of that irrigation system we wouldn`t have found this project nearly so easy to implement. The combination of warm, sunny weather and regular applications of water in the evening have helped this to establish in record time.

today
Turf nursery today.

Golf Matters

This is the portion of the report when I usually remind you that we have a competition coming up…well, this month surely none of you need reminding that the Campbeltown Open is on over the weekend of the 25th/26th June. The first time as a 36-hole tournament, we are hopeful that this event will be bigger and better than ever, and we are once again running our junior “Drive, Pitch & Putt” competition in conjunction with this on the Sunday afternoon.

Junior tuition from qualified PGA professionals will be available for free at specified times throughout the weekend, so if you have children who are keen to play or to improve their game then Campbeltown Open weekend is a great time to bring them to Machrihanish Dunes for some coaching and a lot of fun.

For information on any of these events, or to book a tee time for the Campbeltown Open, please just phone Lorna or Peter at the Golf House on 01586810058 or click below.

Campbletown Open Details     Junior Chip, Putt, and Drive Details      Register Today 

Enjoy your golf in June, hopefully the El Nino effect (or whatever it actually is that is driving this summer) will ensure that the sun keeps shining for you long into the school holidays!

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Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper
Mach Dunes Golf Club

Nursing A Top-100 Course

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

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

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

Turf Nursery…The Second Coming

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Side-to-Side Roller and the IMP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Range

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

Largs Golf Club

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

 



Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper
Mach Dunes Golf Club

 

Germinating Seed & The Augusta Syndrome

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Simon Freeman
Head Greenskeeper
Mach Dunes Golf Club