Another unprecedented year has passed and it’s been a particularly challenging one for us all again.
Personally, I’m grateful for the job I have and the opportunity to have a constant focus during these difficult times.
Despite the challenges of the last 12 months, we find ourselves looking forward with a great deal of optimism at the club. However, there are more challenges ahead and in this blog I’ll summarise the last year and look ahead to 2022.
2021 in Summary
The first quarter of the year had us in lockdown and it was only the Greenkeepers that continued to work on the course while all other staff were on furlough.
With no play on the course, our time was focused on improvements and preparation for reopening. The weather at this time was terrible, with a very wet and cold January and February.
March was much improved on that front though and the course came out of lockdown in fabulous shape.
April saw golf return and the course was stacked out, and the good weather felt like a reward for the tough period that we had endured up to then.
As we went into May though, the dry weather continued and began to become a problem when we suffered the loss of our irrigation pump.
This led to one of the most difficult periods in my career, as the combination of a drought, being let down badly by the company supplying a new pump and then the loss of our main tractor due to a serious mechanical failure. All of this coinciding with a significant loss in revenue because of the enforced closures.
It was a period of damage limitation for around 6 weeks, with keeping turf on the greens alive the priority.
This struggle led to issues with Leatherjackets that were eating at the turf base (below pic), at a time where the greens were unable to sustain growth without sufficient available moisture and with temperatures very low for the time of year.
The knock on effect of resources being prioritised on the greens, was that the fringing rough became too thick at a time when it would normally have received a mid season cut.
By late June, Arden Lea irrigation had stepped in and installed a new irrigation pump. This allowed automatic watering to return and we were eventually able to catch up on cutting the fringing rough.
By mid July we finally had the course back in our control and for the rest of the season the course was in fabulous condition on a consistent basis. It was nice to finally enjoy standards which had never previously been seen at Hunley and this remained the case for the rest of the year.
Unfortunately, the challenges never stop coming though and leading up to the Christmas period I noticed a few greens under the bridge looked a little sickly.
Having planned a granular feed for the new year, I hadn’t been overly concerned. However, by the end of the year it was clear that the issue was again being caused by Leatherjackets, with a loss of turf cover on 3-4 greens like I have never seen before (pic below). Although we saw an effect from the grubs on the turf at the start of this year, it wasn’t too bad and also didn’t become noticeable until early spring. To see damage so early and to a greater extent is a major concern.
We will begin sheeting the greens overnight immediately, in order to bring the grubs to the surface so they can be removed. Then the planned granular feed will be applied to strengthen the turf, but we are also likely to need to overseed the affected areas in an attempt to restore grass cover.
We have been very proactive in our sustainable management of the courses here, and have achieved fine grass dominance on our greens in recent years.
Having also used zero chemicals on our greens since 2015, we have seen fungal diseases reduce and now have no concerns at all during the winter from the most commonly known disease, fusarium.
Despite the positive progress, it’s still incredibly frustrating, but as we live in an ever changing environment as Greenkeepers, you are always reminded that you never have it cracked!
Unfortunately, I fear we are all going to have to learn to accept some damage to the turf at times during the year going forwards.
As we stand the problem is isolated to a few areas on only a few greens, but never the less, we will do what we can to limit the damage and aid recovery as quickly as possible.
The 2 biggest positives to come from the year though came in recognition for both our work as a club and also personally.
In spring I acheived Master Greenkeeper status and became the 85th Master Greenkeeper, which combined with the Gold Badge I received from the R&A in 2019, makes me the first person to receive both awards, something I’m incredibly proud of.
For the club, we acheived GEO certification for our work in sustainable management of our facilities. This is a status shared by very few clubs across the world and is the most widely regarded measurement for sustainable management.
Overall, most of the news I can bring is positive and from the beginning of autumn until the end of the year, we have managed to complete several improvements to the facilities.
New tees have been constructed on Warsett, Cottage Corner and Brownie’s Bough holes.
Working with the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust, we have created a large wetland between the holes Davy’s and Cottage Corner. The ponds are now filling up and will begin to mature as we go through next year, transforming a previously bland part of the course into an atrractive feature.
Bunkers have been refurbished on Cottage Corner, Wetlands, Warsett, Hick’s Chair and Toon’s Tier.
Toon’s Tier green surrounds have been modified with new mounding, sand capping of the wet areas and fresh turf laid to improve year round playing conditions and to make the hole more rewarding to well hit shots.
The pond on Dickens Dilemma has had the bank graded so that the green is more visible from the tee.
Storm drainage has been installed to several areas of the course to take care of accumulations during heavy rainfall and overall drainage has improve dramatically in the last few years.
Heading into 2022 I’m pleased to also bring more positive news. The club has placed an order for a new 60 horse power tractor that will arrive in March and become our main working tractor. Problems with our previous tractor last year highlighted it’s importance and it was decided that replacing it was going to be essential going forwards.
This now gives us 2 powerful tractors, both able to carry out a variety of important tasks simultaneously.
Another issue on the course has been with the new green recently constructed on Rawcliffe. Having created a much improved hole compared to the previous one, the green itself hasn’t turned out as well as we’d hoped.
Although alterations have improved things, we wanted to create an exceptional hole, rather than just improve upon the old one.
With this being the case, we decided to get some advice from one of the most experienced in the industry when it come to course design and construction.
Chris Haspell & Associates have worked on many world renowned projects and were involved in the creation of Castle Stuart Golf Links, which has been hugely influential on our work here at Hunley.
Having discussed the new hole on Rawcliffe with Chris, he has agreed to work with us in January to help make the adjustments to the green that will achieve the end results that we really wanted.
The plan is to lift the whole area of the green and it’s immeadiate surroundings. Then keeping the original design principles, Chris will remodel the green and the surroundings to help it fit more seemlesly into the new layout of the hole.
We’re delighted to have secured Chris’ services and look forward to working with him in January.
Finally, Simon Becconsall will be leaving us in the new year. Although he’s only been with us for just over a year, he will be missed. However, after having received an opportunity he couldn’t turn down, Simon goes with our blessing and we wish him the best of luck in his new role at the fantastic Northumberland Golf Club.
Simon’s departure though creates an opportunity for young Jonathan Fawcett who has just completed 6 months with us on the government kickstart scheme. Jonathan has come on in leaps and bounds and has fully earned the opportunity to join the team. We look forward to having him with us from January. Lucy also completes here 6 months with us and it’s great to have had her to keep pushing sustainability at the club. Her final blog is available by clicking the link below.
Many thanks for all your support in 2021 and we look forward to providing you fantastic facilities to enjoy in 2022!
Golf Course Manager
Hunley Golf Club