Perfect Conditions

Usually, my Facebook feed is full of posts from other links greenkeepers moaning about the weather, and while it has been colder than average throughout April, I have heard precious little negativity voiced on social media. While our cohorts inland have struggled to get their courses dried out sufficiently in order to avoid early season damage to their playing surfaces, down at the seaside we have enjoyed an almost-perfect mixture of sunshine and showers that nobody could really find a reason to complain about. The course dried out a bit following four consecutive days spent under constant scrutiny from the big ball of fire (27th-30th April), but as has happened so often this spring, just the right amount of rain arrived to stop me from even thinking about reaching for a hose. Since then, things have cooled back down, hampering our prospects of achieving much recovery from what little winter damage we encountered, but certainly making our lives pretty easy in general! I am sure things will start to heat up a bit as we go into May and head towards the longest days of the year, but if these ideal conditions continue, then we should be able to produce some pretty good conditions for you over the weeks ahead.

A fabulous early-morning view of the 2nd green, just after mowing. It is not always like this on the west coast of Scotland, but when it is, we must have the best office in the world!
A fabulous early-morning view of the 2nd green, just after mowing. It is not always like this on the west coast of Scotland, but when it is, we must have the best office in the world!

What Works on the Greens Doesn’t Necessarily Work Everywhere Else

Last month, I went into infinite detail about how I feel we are now in a position where we can cut back on the amount of nutrients we apply to our greens, and why we would want to do that. I explained how we had worked to increase the humus content of our rootzone in order to favour the growth of fine-leaved, perennial grasses and how I felt that with the aid of compost tees, humus-rich fertilisers, regular aeration, and the employment of sensible heights of cut, we felt like we were going in the right direction—a direction that would lead us towards having strong, resilient, fescue-dominated surfaces that would make it easy for us to present consistently good greens all year ‘round. So, given that we appear to be on the right track in that regard, it would make sense that we would treat our tees exactly the same way, wouldn’t it?

A typical tee at Machrihanish Dunes. The design creates a great visual impact but they are very small, with limited scope for shifting markers to allow germination of new seed and recovery from wear.
A typical tee at Machrihanish Dunes. The design creates a great visual impact but they are very small, with limited scope for shifting markers to allow germination of new seed and recovery from wear.

Well… maybe.
In an ideal world I would say, yes, it would be great to think that we could limit nutritional inputs to help promote the growth of fescue and bentgrass over poa annua on our teeing grounds, but this method has not been working for us for several reasons:

  • Many of our tees are very small, which gives us limited scope to move the markers around in order to spread wear from feet and damage from divots. Once an area of tee has been damaged in this way, it must be reseeded in order to fully recover, and it is notoriously difficult to establish new grass seed when a surface is still being played on and mown at a low height of cut. If we compound the issue by trying to implement a low fertility maintenance program, the chances of establishing that seed are compromised still further. When we think about the intensive program of feeding and watering that we would employ if we were building a new tee from seed, and how vehemently we would protect that area from being compromised by foot and machine traffic until establishment was complete, it is unsurprising that our reseeding efforts fail so regularly.
  • Damage from insects has become more widespread since the implementation of a ban on the cost-effective pesticides that we used to have at our disposal to fight against them. We have used expensive natural treatments on our greens this year in an attempt to discourage crane fly and minimise the effects that their foraging larvae (leatherjackets) have on our root systems and have achieved limited success with these. But we would need to see a far greater positive impact from these treatments before we could justify the financial impact of using these on our tees, as well. We have noted damage on a few of our tees caused by leatherjackets, but because we have kept nutrient inputs at a healthy level during the last two months, we have been able to offset that damage and present playing surfaces that would be considered more than acceptable by golfers, despite the relatively cool spring temperatures.
I’m glad to say that this is the area of tee that has suffered the worst from leatherjacket damage. The grubs hide down old aeration tine holes and then come to the surface under cover of darkness to nibble the grass around the edge of the hole. What was a 13mm solid tine hole is now a 25-30mm indentation. The damage will not get any worse than this and now that temperatures have been sufficiently elevated to allow strong growth, the tee will quickly recover from this infestation with adequate nutrition. We currently have five tees (out of 79) showing these symptoms, which is annoying but certainly justifies our decision not to spend the huge sum of money that it would cost to prevent this using materials which I do not fully trust to work effectively in the first place! In the past, it was an obvious decision to just spray a cheap insecticide on the tees but that option is no longer available to us. My experience tells me that attacks like this are very random, and seeing this level of damage on less than 10% of our surfaces while most of the other tees appear to have suffered no infestation at all is just what I would have expected.
I’m glad to say that this is the area of tee that has suffered the worst from leatherjacket damage. The grubs hide down old aeration tine holes and then come to the surface under cover of darkness to nibble the grass around the edge of the hole. What was a 13mm solid tine hole is now a 25-30mm indentation. The damage will not get any worse than this and now that temperatures have been sufficiently elevated to allow strong growth, the tee will quickly recover from this infestation with adequate nutrition. We currently have five tees (out of 79) showing these symptoms, which is annoying but certainly justifies our decision not to spend the huge sum of money that it would cost to prevent this using materials which I do not fully trust to work effectively in the first place! In the past, it was an obvious decision to just spray a cheap insecticide on the tees but that option is no longer available to us. My experience tells me that attacks like this are very random, and seeing this level of damage on less than 10% of our surfaces while most of the other tees appear to have suffered no infestation at all is just what I would have expected.

I believe species selection is far less important on tees than it is on greens, so it is of limited concern to me if we are unable because of factors outwith our control to promote a monoculture of the species of grasses that we would ideally like to have on our teeing grounds. Greens need to be firm and fast, have the necessary resilience* in the grass to reward a good shot, be consistent across the site, and remain playable throughout the toughest weather conditions. Tees on the other hand… well really, they just need to be flat and be covered in grass. We have found that trying to limit nutritional inputs on our tees in order to favour certain grasses has not worked for us for all of the reasons I have stated above, and we believe that in the future, we would be better served to ensure that the grass in our tees has sufficient food reserves to allow it to recover quickly from wear, to provide an even, consistent surface, and even to establish new mature grass plants from the seed that we apply. My experience leads me to expect that we will still end up with a mixture of fescue, bent and annual meadow grass no matter how much we feed and water, but that this mixture will have a lusher appearance than it has had in the past and will probably need to be mown shorter and more often. At this juncture, I would rather have that than tees full of old divot marks with some showing signs of severe insect damage. We will, of course, monitor this program as we go through the season and adjust our maintenance practices as, and when, required.

*resilience. One of the benefits to the golfer of promoting the growth of fescue and natural bentgrass in greens is that the leaves of these plants are rough to the touch and will, therefore, help to grip a golf ball when it lands. A well-struck iron shot played into a green populated by these grasses will spin and stop no matter how firm that green is, whereas a surface made up mainly of annual meadow grass or ryegrass plants (both of which have smooth, shiny leaves) will have little impact on a ball no matter how much spin has been skilfully applied to it. It has been a long-held belief among supporters of the links game that the ultimate seaside green should be as firm as possible and be completely populated by fescue and bent, in order that the player who has the skill to impart the right amount of spin on the golf ball should be able to gain an advantage over a player who does not have the skill to do so. This resilience of leaf is critical if we find ourselves playing a course which suits the running game, as it allows us to use the spin imparted from a clean strike to control the ball when it lands. This resilience of leaf will be less important in the grass on teeing grounds, as most of the spin initially imparted on a golf ball will come from the grooves on the clubface itself.

What’s Up Next At Machrihanish Dunes?

We are well into the main body of the season now and the hotels are regularly full of golfers playing all three courses in the area. Competition-wise, though, things are relatively quiet in May, with a medal at the end of the month being the main attraction. It won’t be long though before the Shepherd’s Cross is upon us (held on June 17ththis year), so if you wish to enter a team into that, please contact the professional shop at Machrihanish Golf Club at your earliest opportunity as this is always a busy event and I would hate for you to miss out! This year the Shepherd’s Cross will revert to its original orientation, being played over the first 9 holes at Machrihanish Golf Club before crossing the fence to play a selection of holes at Machrihanish Dunes, finishing at the 18th.

Hot on the heels of the Shepherd’s Cross comes our weekend festival of golf, the Campbeltown Open (30th June-1st July). Most of you will have played in this stroke-play tournament before, but for those of you who haven’t, we have the following itinerary planned:

  • The 36-hole strokeplay Campbeltown Open itself
  • The Colin Chrystie Cup- an eclectic competition where players can amalgamate their best scores at each hole from their two rounds
  • The 18-hole Ladies Campbeltown Open
  • The Junior Drive, Pitch, and Putt competition
  • Saturday evening entertainment in The Ugadale Hotel and a Sunday barbeque at the Golf House.

If you have any enquiries about any of these competitions or would like to book your place in the Campbeltown Open, please phone Lorna Barr at the Golf House on 01586810058 or email her at golfhouse@machdunes.com.

We hope you enjoy your golf throughout May, and we look forward to seeing you out on the course!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fescue to the Rescue

Well, March Was No Better Than January!

It is tradition that I start these reports by having a moan about the weather, but this time it is with a good amount of justification! February ended with a couple of glimmers that gave us hope of some early growth that we might be able to use to get ourselves ahead of the game, but those hopes were dashed almost immediately by the “beast from the east”. Because we luckily missed the snow, it could be argued that the beast actually did us a favour by drying the site up a bit, but easterly winds as ferocious as that always have a negative effect on air and soil temperatures. Easterlies have been a feature of the weather of late and because of this prolonged onslaught, the course still looks as if it is in the throes of winter. When we get conditions like this in March, we can easily be panicked into trying to rush the course into summer by cutting everything down to the heights we would ideally wish to implement rather than the sensible, carefully considered heights we actually should be implementing. We greenkeepers quite often moan about Augusta syndrome, a phrase historically used by people in our industry to describe a golfer’s lack of patience with the early season condition of the greens at their own club when they see how perfect everything is at the Masters. But I’m aware of how lucky I am in this regard not only to be tending a relatively dry and healthy course (which can be very playable all winter and will look pretty reasonable by the second week in April regardless of the weather), but also to be working with a group of members who appreciate that we are trying our best for them at all times and that we have their best interests at heart. Obviously, we will occasionally take short-term liberties to provide optimal playing conditions, but that attitude is always carefully considered against the detrimental effect it might have on long-term plant health.

The 10th green after a fresh cut on a freezing cold Monday in April.
The 10th green after a fresh cut on a freezing cold Monday in April.

So How is Plant Health at the Moment?

Considering the unseasonably cold weather and the subsequent lack of growth, we are quite pleased with the condition of the course in general at the moment. We have been doing a lot of patching, replacing worn-out areas of turf, and covering over rabbit damage. Craig and Gus have also been successfully waging war on moles. I’m not sure exactly how many they have trapped but I do know it has made a massive difference to the number of unsightly mounds of soil that blight the look of the golf course when these pests are up to their nonsense. I know John Rennie and Stewart MacMillan have trapped at least as many moles on the Machrihanish side of the fence, and I’m sure every landowner would commend the considerable effort that has been made by everyone involved in this initiative. The greens and tees at Machrihanish Dunes are being hand-mown regularly and we are constantly monitoring the speed and condition of the greens to ensure that we can maintain health during this period of colder-than-average weather while still providing decent conditions for golf. The greens are more consistent from site to site than they have ever been and they have a higher percentage of fescue going into the season than they have had during my time here. This is, of course, a shift in physical make-up that we want to encourage, because I believe there is a tipping point in terms of grass species composition where fescue becomes sufficiently dominant in the sward that we can tailor our maintenance regime to suit the desires of that grass rather than to suit the somewhat greedier needs of annual meadow grass and non-indigenous bentgrass.

For me, the nirvana in greenkeeping has always been to reach a point where everything works in harmony with nature to such an extent that all we have to do is go out and cut the grass. Golfer expectations have gotten the point now where reaching this goal is pretty unrealistic but designing our maintenance program to favour fescue gives us the opportunity to get closer to that idyll than if we were pandering to the needs of the other species I mentioned. There are many pros and cons to consider and to describe all of these in my usual flowery language would result in you, the reader, needing to take a week off work to read this report, so I’ve boiled it down to a few key points to think about:

Bentgrass/Annual Meadow Grass:
1) Both grasses require similar levels of nutrition, with the result that annual meadow grass will win a straight-up fight on our specific site for several reasons:

  • The alkalinity of the soil
  • The low levels of light and relatively high temperatures in late autumn and winter
  • The likelihood of fusarium patch disease when the relatively high nutrient inputs required by these species are added, and
  • The relatively high disturbance from aeration machines required to mechanically break down thatch caused by the more aggressive maintenance regime helps the annual meadow grass to prosper.Remember, meadow grass is the shallow-rooted vacuum grass that grows in your gutters, the gaps in pavements, and would probably grow happily on the soles of your shoes if you stood still for long enough. Because of this resilience and the fact that it can seed at such low heights of cut, it is going to win a battle for supremacy over bentgrass every time stress of any kind rears its head. Every bentgrass plant that withers and dies in a green for any reason provides space in the sward for an annual meadow grass plant to seed into.

2) Because inputs are higher in terms of nutrition, water, and the mechanical actions required to keep them in good health and to keep surfaces in optimum playing condition, these two grasses in a mixture are more expensive to look after.

3) Because more mechanical work is needed in order to keep these plants in good health and optimum playing condition when we need them the most, bentgrass/meadow grass surfaces need to be disrupted more often, and the type of disruption they need takes longer to recover from.

4) Typically, these two grass species are more prone to disease and at this time when governments are imposing ban after ban on the chemicals we have relied on for decades to fight these disease attacks, more and more often we are seeing diseases cause higher levels of damage to green surfaces.

5) I have found that these two species are far more suitable than fescue for use in poor-performing soils with a low humus content. They can be artificially maintained to grow on pretty much any medium, whether that be straight sand, a USGA greens mix, an agricultural soil, or even a clay soil. Because they require higher inputs to flourish and then mechanical actions to control their organic matter build-up, greens with poor structure populated with these grasses can be manipulated easily to provide a good surface. Once this aggressive strategy is implemented, though, fescue will inevitably go into decline as it is inevitable that the green will be cut at a height that suits the other two grasses better in order to provide the golfer with an acceptable playing surface. Once this decline has started, all the negatives noted above will have to be taken into account.

Fescue/Annual Meadow Grass:
1) If it is growing in a healthy medium suited to its general health, fescue can survive quite happily with far lower nutritional inputs, which obviously weakens the onslaught of the annual meadow grass. Although the two grasses grow happily side by side in our specific environment to provide a good putting surface, it is possible to use a low-nutrient, low-disruption maintenance program that will result in the preferred species dominating rather than being dominated. Fescue is also less susceptible than either bentgrass or annual meadow grass to the two diseases (fusarium patch and anthracnose) that most often affect our greens. It stands to reason then that the more fescue we can introduce into the sward, the less scarring there will be from disease and the less important it will be to us that the products we have come to rely far too much upon are being removed from the marketplace. As I said earlier, I have always believed that there is a tipping point where the percentage of fescue in the sward reaches a point where we can start to tailor everything to its needs, including using disease as a weapon to further weaken the weaker grass. I would never encourage incidences of disease, but I would be much slower to reach for the fungicide in the future if I knew that the results of a major outbreak were only going to impact on a small percentage of plants that I didn’t really want to favour in my greens anyway!

2) Because of the lower inputs and the resulting slower pace of growth, disruption from the more intrusive forms of aeration can be kept to a minimum as thatch growth will be far slower. Every soil needs to be aerated in order for plant roots to remain healthy, but it may be possible to use regular solid tining, spiking, and brushing instead of hollow coring and verticutting when using a low input program.

3) Because fescue and indigenous bents that also thrive under lower input maintenance regimes are true perennials, greens that are dominated by these species will perform well all year round and can provide good putting surfaces during all four seasons.

So How Do We Go About Creating a Healthy Medium?

It would seem from reading the previous section that, in an environment like ours, it is surely worth chasing the fescue dream. After all, the fairways are full of fescue, and it looks superb. Tight-knit, healthy, and really easy and cheap to look after! Surely, if we got the greens to look just like a closely cropped version of the fairway, they would not only be cheap and easy to look after but would also perform superbly, right?

Well yes, theoretically they would. That was kind of what I had at Machrie by the time I left Islay (although those greens were never cut short and were always quite slow. We didn’t have a roller to help us back then though), and it is what I have been hoping to achieve since I came to Machrihanish Dunes. To do this though, I knew that I had to make the rootzones more humus-rich and, therefore, a more suitable environment for fescues to healthily grow in. In other words, we have been looking to turn the rootzones under our greens into something that resembles the rootzones under that good grass that is in our fairways. So many people assume that links courses grow on sand but that is absolutely not true. Although, I will admit that the soils under our fairways do not contain much organic matter or a high concentration of nutrients, they are made up of a healthy, well aerated, friable soil teeming with bacterial and fungal life that is the perfect natural environment for fescue to grow without us ever having to pass over it with a sprayer or a fertiliser spreader. The delicate balance of many greens’ rootzones have been ruined by greenkeepers spreading salt-laden fertilisers containing sulphate of ammonia and sulphate of iron and liberally spraying chemicals which kill the indigenous bacteria and fungi that work constantly to keep the natural functions of the soil operating. Of course, we have been getting better at this over the last few decades, but there are still rootzones out there that will have had their bacterial populations decimated by greenkeepers utilising such extreme measures as spreading mercury powder on them to kill leatherjackets! Imagine you suggested spreading mercury on greens now…you would be strung up! Since that many of the products we have used as a crutch for years have been taken away from us by bureaucrats, we now have to consider soil health more of a priority than we have at any time during the last century.

The more that damaging products are taken off the market to protect our own health, the more we are going to have to rely on nature to look after the health of our soils!

That forecast might sound a bit gloomy, like the removal of tried and tested products is leading us down a path towards inferior surfaces blighted by disease or insect infestations. But do we see these symptoms affecting the healthy fescue in the fairways that we have already mentioned, the fescue that we would love to see provide strong, easy-to-manage surfaces that could provide fantastic playing conditions at a much lower cost? No, we do not!

One thing we have re-implemented this year is a biological program starting with the construction of a compost tea brewer. My predecessor regularly used compost teas to introduce bacterial populations into our rootzones, and I hope we can replicate what Kevin did with even more success now that we have spent the last 4 years building up a good layer of humus-rich growing material in the rootzone of our greens. I have seen us successfully seed fescue into our greens over the last two autumns and have watched it survive there long-term, which indicates to me that we are now in a position where we can maintain these greens to favour that grass species. Using biological techniques such as compost tea brewing, while simultaneously avoiding using products that have a negative effect on the bacterial populations that should flourish in the more humus-rich rootzones should only encourage the spread of fescue even more and will hopefully result in:

  • greens in the future that are more consistent from site to site
  • have considerably better root development
  • are less prone to disease attacks
  • need less intrusive mechanical disruption (not that we currently have had to do too much of that anyway), and
  • are cheaper and less volatile to run

Obviously, everything has to be balanced against providing optimum playing conditions and ensuring that we balance our maintenance program so as to promote long-term health rather than just a quick experiment. But if we work with the general mindset that we constantly want to improve rather than destroy the healthy infrastructure of our soil, then maybe we will get to the point where we find we didn’t actually need to pour all those chemicals and salt-based fertilisers onto our greens in the first place. Just as we didn’t need to pour them onto those perfect, natural fairways!

Plugs

These two plugs were extracted just a few feet apart. The one on the left is from the 3rd fairway and is in an area that has never, to my knowledge, been disturbed by an excavator. The one on the right is from the 3rd green, which was artificially built during the construction of the course. When I started working at Machrihanish Dunes four years ago, the profile of the plug from the green would have been almost entirely made up of the sand you can see in the lower section of the plug, whereas now, it has a humus rich upper layer that almost replicates what naturally occurs in the fairway. Now we have reached this point, we are finding that it is far easier to maintain these greens using a low-input approach than it was before, and far easier to get fescue to germinate and mature in our rootzones. Hopefully, we can promote this development still further by continuing to use humus-rich fertilisers and sensible topdressings, continuing to aerate the soil regularly using a variety of solid tines set at varying depths, and by implementing new ideas such as compost tea brewing that are designed to augment the actions of nature. Using a low-input approach means thinking carefully about everything we artificially apply in order to ensure that we don’t put ourselves on the back foot. Even something as simple as spraying mains water onto a green can have a negative effect on bacterial populations and soil health, as mains water deemed “fit for human consumption” is full of chlorine. When I see what damage these simple issues that we take for granted have on the health of our soils, it does make me wonder what kind of damage we are doing to our own bodies!

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Our compost tea brewer. It is basically just a 1000-litre plastic IBC tank with a mains-operated pump running a submerged aerifier…a bit like a giant fish tank. The green outlet hose feeds straight into our tractor mounted sprayer. The idea is that, once the water has stood for at least 24 hours to let the chlorine gas dissipate into the air, a specially blended dried compost containing many different types of beneficial bacteria and fungi is suspended in a permeable sock in the tank and an activator is added along with some concentrated seaweed. Once the mixture becomes wet and is constantly aerated for a period of time, the bacteria and fungi present in the compost multiply extremely rapidly and a massive number of them populate the water. After 24 hours, the mixture is ready to be decanted into the sprayer and applied to the greens, where the bacteria will hopefully develop a liking for our humus-rich rootzone where they will live happily, naturally fighting off disease pathogens, breaking down nutrients, devouring organic matter which they will turn into plant food, all as part of their daily existence. The more we can rely on natural processes such as these, the less we should have to spray chemicals and apply fertilisers, which will, in turn, allow us to maintain our greens in a way that favours the growth of fescue. The end result of this, as I discussed earlier, is a set of bulletproof greens that are consistent from site to site, require very little mechanical disruption and are as good to putt on in December as they are in July.

What’s Next for Machrihanish Dunes?

By the time you read this, the Kintyre Club Charity Am-Am will have been played, but it is only a few weeks until the Kintyre Team Championship, which is played over two days at Dunaverty and Machrihanish Dunes. If you have not already entered for that event and would like to play, you should phone Lorna at the Golf House on 01586810058 or fill out this form as soon as possible because the tee sheet is already pretty full.

Whether you play in competitions or not, we hope to see you out on the course over the next few weeks and hope you enjoy your golf. If you have any questions for us about the golf course, please do just come over and ask!

 

 

Golf Season Is on the Horizon

Summer is Coming!

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

Preparing for Tournaments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Change Is as Good as a Rest

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

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

The Island and the Resort

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

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

The Tournament

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

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

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

3
The paspalum on the 7th green looking flawless. The huge Colonial style house in the background was my favourite pad on the site.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back Home

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

Passage to Paradise: Win a Stay at The Abaco Club

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

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

Don’t say we didn’t warn you…

BASWAS Aerial

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

BASWAS Amenity 2

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

BASWAS Golf

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

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

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

*Click here for full terms and conditions.

2017: A Year in Pictures

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

January

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

Jan-2018-1

February

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

Jan-2018-2

March

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

Jan-2018-3

April

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

Jan-2018-4

May

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

Jan-2018-5

June

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

Jan-2018-6

 

July

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

Jan-2018-7

August

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

Jan-2018-8

September

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

Jan-2018-9

October

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

Jan-2018-10

November

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

Jan-2018-11

December

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

Jan-2018-12

Whatever next?

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

 

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

Course Closed

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

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

How Many Types of Frost Are There?

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

TYPE 1: Hard Ground Frost

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

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

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

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

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

 Summary

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

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Playing in the Sand and Getting Soaked on a Daily Basis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Winter League Is in Full Swing!

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

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

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

 

Goodbye, October – You Won’t Be Missed!

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

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

Balancing Turf Nutrition to Promote a Healthier Soil

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

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

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

Winter Projects

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your golf!

 

A Period of Transition

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

We Felt The Need…The Need For Seed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A New Champion for Machrihanish Dunes

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

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

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

Enjoy your golf!