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.
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?
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you enjoy your golf throughout May, and we look forward to seeing you out on the course!