Minimising Disruption, Maximising Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Black Sheep Cup and Other Stories

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

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

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

 

WHAT A YEAR THAT WAS!

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

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

January



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

February



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

March



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

April



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

May



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

June



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

July



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

August



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

September



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

October



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

November



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

December



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

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

Enjoy your golf over the festive period!

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

Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club Named IAGTO Sustainability Award Winner

It was announced today that Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club in Machrihanish, Scotland has been named the recipient of the Outstanding Commitment to Sustainable Golf Award by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), in partnership with GEO (Golf Environmental Organization).  This IAGTO Sustainability Award was given to Machrihanish Dunes in recognition of its “outstanding and inspiring work as a minimal-impact golf course, in harmony with its natural environment.”

To read the full press release, click here.