Nature is steering the ship…

…and all we can do is help to keep it afloat.

No matter how much we like to think we are in absolute control of what we do on the golf course, we ultimately have no say in how fast it is going to run, whether it is going to be attacked by pests or diseases, or whether a totally unexpected disaster awaits us when we come in to work in the morning. A respected senior greenkeeper once consoled me during a period when everything seemed to be going wrong by telling me that good times will always follow the bad times, but that inevitably the bad times will come around to test us once again. Of course, this is one of the things that keeps our job fresh and interesting!

Because we have so much pride in what we do, it can be very stressful if something goes wrong and turf condition is affected as a result. This stress is multiplied if disaster strikes in the run-up to a tournament. We all want our courses to be in optimum shape during competition weeks, as our ability to manage is scrutinised more closely than ever, not only by our members but by visiting golfers who have elected to spend their hard-earned money to play and possibly also stay with us during the event. The course should be in perfect shape for them, and the infrastructure around it should run like clockwork.

The infrastructure is relatively easy to put into place- these things can be meticulously planned many weeks in advance. Scoreboards are constructed, extra signage is posted, pin sheets are drawn out and distributed, and everybody is allocated specific jobs to ensure that the whole tournament runs like a well-oiled machine. Preparing the course is slightly more problematic. Somebody asked me last weekend how far in advance  we start planning our pre-tournament maintenance for an event like the Campbeltown Open. The obvious answer is that we are always preparing for it. Our main season really begins on April 1st, and from then on, our focus is split between providing daily optimum conditions for golfers and ensuring that we are capable of peaking the golf course for major events. These targets are what gives us our focus in the first instance. As a major date approaches, we carefully monitor our applications of nutrient and topdressing to align growth cycles in such a way that we can provide competitors with the fastest, smoothest surfaces possible over the course of the competition – while simultaneously ensuring that plant health is optimised so that our greens, tees and fairways can remain in excellent condition, despite being subjected to extra maintenance stress.

This is where nature can (and quite often does) throw a major spanner into the guts of our machine. It is all very well for us to plan nutrient programs and tailor cutting heights to suit, but if the weather goes hot and dry, and a strong easterly wind blows up to render our automatic irrigation system unusable, we are left with no choice but to haul out the hoses. This will take three men off jobs that are crucial to the pre-tournament manicuring of the course and have them stand and water the greens by hand instead. There is no point in entrusting greens irrigation to automatic pop-ups if those sprinklers are throwing most of the water into the rough! The same is true if we encounter opposing conditions and the weather suddenly goes wet and muggy. When greens suddenly become boggy and slow, we are left with no choice other than to lower the height of cut to a level that negatively impacts on both the short and long-term health of the grass, and roll the greens incessantly in order to attain a green speed that we could maintain so easily just a few days previously.

These are the times when snap decisions can make or break tournament preparations. Although we tailor our maintenance programs many months in advance to ensure that our surfaces are in peak condition for our premier events, we almost always find ourselves scrambling about at some point in the run-up to the event, trying to force an issue that was not even apparent a few days previously. This is where our experience from previous years becomes hugely important – we are always learning what we can get away with and what we cannot. If we push too hard or move in the wrong direction, we can easily exacerbate problems and make matters even worse. However, if we do too little, our surfaces will not peak as we hope they would. At times like this, it is very satisfying for golfers to compliment us on the condition of the course. When players return with their scorecard and tell us how well the greens were running, or how good the tees look, or how tidy the place was, we go home truly vindicated! We’ll know that those conditions that favoured them were achieved because we worked tirelessly and made brave decisions that positively impacted on people’s enjoyment. Until the next time!!

2nd green on a not so spectacular day.

Of course, there are years when everything just seems to go right and we can drift seamlessly from one event to another without ever having to think too hard or impact negatively on the condition of our turf. We just make a plan, stick to it, work hard and get the results we deserve. 2016 was one of those years – from early May we had no real issues to contend with, despite 6-weeks of dry weather in the run-up to the Campbeltown Open. It seemed all too easy to just do what we set out to do, polish the greens for 3 days and politely thank competitors for their kind compliments. This year could not have been more different. Although we have received many great reviews from members and visiting golfers over the last few months, I will admit that it has been a battle and that there have been times when it has seemed like nothing was going right for us. Nature has shown us once again that we are not in as much control over proceedings as we would like to think we are, but we really did make some great decisions in the run-up to the Campbeltown Open, which enabled us to present surfaces that the competitors seemed to universally appreciate. It was extremely satisfying to go home on Sunday night knowing that questions had been asked of us and because of our experience and knowledge of our product (and the work we put in), we had come up with all the right answers. It is easy to feel good when things are going our way, but when things are conspiring against us and we still manage to cobble together a our our golfers love to play, it feels even better.

A Tough Test of Golf

Once we had eventually managed to “conquer” nature and present a decent surface upon which to play golf, we could enjoy watching the Campbeltown Open action unfold. Saturday was a testing day with winds gusting well over 30mph, and even though we had set the course up as easily as we possibly could, it was still offering competitors a tough challenge. The tough challenges seemed easily overcome by Andrew Wallace though, and he duly returned with a 73 to take a 5-shot lead into the second round. Somebody told me he bogeyed the last 3 holes as well – if that is the gospel truth then he really must have been playing some amazing golf.

First round leader, Andrew Wallace held on to the lead throughout the day, finishing the two day event with a scratch score of 151.

Sunday dawned just as tough, but the sun made a welcome appearance to put a smile on everybody’s face. Andrew closed out the scratch tournament as expected, holding off a late charge from Alan O’Neill who carded a 73 to finish second, despite hobbling badly on an injured leg.I’m sure the voucher and the magnum of Prosecco will have dulled the pain a little! Iain Logan put together two good rounds to take the handicap prize – clearly the pin positions suited him, although I’m sure he will still have something to say about the course setup when I see him next! The Ladies’ Campbeltown Open was played over one round on Saturday and was won by Anne Laing with a respectable 76. Sometimes I wish I could set the Ladies’ course up a bit harder for Anne and her friend Lindsay as I think they would probably enjoy a sterner test, but I am aware that there are many competitors who would argue that it is quite hard enough from the reds!

Anne CTOWN 2017
Anne Laing won yet another Ladies’ Campbeltown Open championship with a solid 4 over par round on Saturday.

This year we brought something new to the event in the shape of the Colin Chrystie Cup, an eclectic competition run over the two days which turned out to be a lot of fun. This was won on a countback by Stuart Gillespie. The other tournament taking place on the Sunday was the junior Drive, Pitch and Putt Competition which was run very efficiently by Andy Hogan, our Operations Manager. Brian McKeown from Uppermost Trophies had donated a huge haul of trophies and medals for this junior challenge and it was great to see so many happy young faces having a go at this and proudly accepting their silverware at the end. Hopefully some of these juniors will choose to come down and play a bit more often following their day out. Sunday was a great day – it was the intention of the management team at Machrihanish Dunes to create a gala atmosphere around the Golf House which would see everybody involved and it worked out perfectly. Bailey served up hundreds of burgers from his barbeque, Lorna and Peter worked tirelessly to attend to the needs of every golfer, and Kevin produced one of the most glorious scoreboards I have ever seen!

Thank you to everybody who participated in and supported this event. It gets better every year, but that would not be possible if it were not for the hard work of so many people and the support we get from competitors, staff, volunteers and from our many sponsors.

It’s Not All About The Campbeltown Open!

There is still much to enjoy in our 2017 golfing calendar, and the next thing we are looking towards is the Shepherd’s Cross, which this year is being held on July 30th. This event has historically been played from the 1st tee at Machrihanish Golf Club before competitors sneak through the fence at the back of their 9th green and play a composite back nine on Machrihanish Dunes. This year though, we have broken with tradition and the 2017 course will start at Mach Dunes instead. So if you are keen to try this new routing (as many will be!), you should enter your 4-person team with Machrihanish Golf Club by phoning them at 01586810213 as soon as possible.  Have questions about the event? You can get all the details from Lorna at the Mach Dunes Golf House (01586810058).


Enjoy your golf in July!