Minimising Disruption, Maximising Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Black Sheep Cup and Other Stories

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


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

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