Machrihanish Dunes Golf Course Update – August, 2014

Our monthly golf course update from our Head Greenkeeper, Simon Freeman:

The typical Scottish summer has been throwing all kinds of conditions at the Machrihanish Dunes greenkeepers over the last few weeks.  Just when we thought we were heading into a period of mixed weather and strong growth, the hottest week of the year appeared out of nowhere. Then, just when we had the pump going flat out and the whole course covered in irrigation hoses, the heavens opened!  Nobody could ever accuse the weather on the west coast of being boring.

The main focus of our maintenance regime during this period has obviously been cutting grass and trying to present the tidiest, most visually attractive golf course that we can. This means mowing fairways twice a week, constantly controlling thick rough that threatens to strangle the finer species present in our floral infrastructure, and, of course, maintaining greens and tees in order to give golfers the best playing surface we can.  It takes many man hours each week, but we have still found the time to factor in some necessary overseeding and aeration work.

We’ve been focusing on overseeding bentgrass rather than the fescue we were using earlier in the season. Fescue plays an important part in our program as it is extremely drought-tolerant and can be germinated at relatively low temperatures, but it can’t really tolerate the low heights of cut that we have to employ to keep the greens fast enough to be enjoyable to play on. The bentgrass, on the other hand, will only germinate once soil temperatures have become sufficiently raised, so although it integrates well with annual meadow grass to form a good summer sward, it cannot be used effectively in the shoulder months to fill in weak areas. Ideally, a thick carpet containing all three grasses would provide an ideal surface for Machrihanish Dunes, so we will continue to plant both species at different times of the year. The hope is we can bring a percentage of these plants to maturity.

    Left: red fescue seeds; Right: browntop bent seed                                Toro 648 Procore Aerator

Next month, we will begin our main aeration program…I can hear the collective shout of “oh, no!” already – but fear not!  The process will not be nearly as intrusive as you might think.

The relatively juvenile rootzones under the greens at Machrihanish Dunes have not built up a big layer of thatch which might force us to undertake highly intrusive holocoring surgery. We will not be vertidraining the greens (as we do not need to increase airflow or break up pans at those depths), and we will not be removing large amounts of material by coring with 14mm or 21mm tines as many courses blessed with soil-based greens have the necessity to do. We will spike the greens regularly over the next two months with 8mm tines using our Toro Procore, and may occasionally run the same machine with 10mm coring tines, removing a relatively small amount of material which will be replaced not with sand as is so often the case, but with a humus-rich organic product designed to help accelerate the march towards rootzone maturity. This product will encourage soil bacteria to flourish and will also retain moisture during dry periods, helping to reduce the incidences of localised dry spots which currently hamper our efforts to force maximum efficiency from the sandy bases of our greens.

If any of you are out playing and you see us undertaking one of these projects, please feel free to approach us and ask questions- no matter how busy we may appear to be, we will always have the time to explain the process and arm you with the correct information to pass on to others.

We look forward to seeing you out there!


Simon Freeman
Head Greenkeeper