As we leave 2023 behind, there is plenty of reason to look forward to another exciting season of golf in 2024.
Firstly we can hope for a drier, warmer year, which after the wettest coolest year in my eleven at Hunley, should be a reasonable expectation.
Secondly with the facilities continuing to improve year on year, there is again positive improvements to both playing conditions as well as new course features to look forward to.
With this being the final update of 2023, I’ll summarise the last 12 months, as well as give a flavour of some of the exciting new changes to the course for 2024.
2023 in Summary
The highest rainfall in my 11 years at Hunley of 956.5mm hit the course, 39% Higher than average.
Average temperatures were also well down, with even the warmest month in June only averaging a high of 18C.
Another notable change was also in the frequency of onshore wind, which we experienced for more than 60% of the year in 2023, with what used to be the prevailing wind from the west only happening 25% of the time.
The year started so positively as well, with a mild and dry January and February.
This however turned out to be a false dawn, with all other months seeing above average rainfall except June.
Our biggest project to date began at the end of February, with the complete replacement of our failing irrigation system.
Starting on holes Pennington’s, Davy’s, Cottage Corner and Brownies Bough, with this section being the most troublesome for leaks.
The complete project is likely to take around 3 years to finish in its entirety, although all the old main PVC pipework will have been replaced by spring 2024.
3.9km of pipework has been installed so far, as well as 58 new sprinklers and a dozen new valves, which is a great effort by the team whislt being done alongside routine course maintenance.
Despite being in prime condition to start the year, greens were again affected by leatherjacket activity in early spring, although it was less severe due to improved growing conditions with a wet March and April.
So we took the decision to use an insecticide, applying Acelepryn this autumn. This is the first new product to come to the open market since the only previous option of chlorpyrifos, was understandably banned in 2020.
It’s hard to say why the problem has been more severe in recent years, despite no insecticides being used at Hunley for several years prior to the removal of Chlorpyrifos.
Best guess would be the removal of the chemical from use has seen an increase in the overall population of the insect, combined with cool dry springs being experienced more in recent years limiting growth.
With our greens being known for their year round condition, we hope our decision to apply Acelepryn will see the spring ahead show a significant reduction in damage caused from the larvae of the Crane fly (Daddy Long Legs).
Overall though, the greens have again performed consistently well throughout the year even despite poor weather.
The one dry month in June also highlighted the benefit of the irrigation work, with the four greens upgraded showing excellent consistency across the surface, which also saw a reduction in labour with no hand watering required.
With a long term approach involving minimal disruption maintenance on the greens, it will be more of the same in 2024.
Add to that new sprinklers going in on another 7 greens, we expect better to come in 2024.
Despite the obvious focus on the irrigation work, some more exciting course changes have been made too.
New tees have been created on Gray’s Tor and Snaith’s as well as upgrades to Jaws and Warsett teeing areas.
The focus on all of the new tees has been to create a better view of the holes, as well as enlarging the teeing area and the results are spectacular.
We can’t wait to introduce them to play for the new season, bringing even more wow factor to the courses.
A new tee on Gray’s Tor in particular has created a very enticing tee shot from above the green, where previously it had been a blind shot from below.
Morgan’s Mound green has always been an issue with questions regularly asked as to what plans were for the hole.
In October we combined two projects into one, as we constructed a new pond to the left of the green. This enabled us to extend the current green to the left using the soil removed for the pond.
With new mounding all around the pond and to the side of the green, the shapes have increased the visual appeal of the hole and the larger green will reward good shots as opposed to so often being punished like before.
Again we are very excited about the changes here and I’m sure everyone will enjoy the experience of playing the hole once all the areas are returned to play.
Whilst we all love the setting, the view and the challenges that the courses provide here at Hunley, what makes it even more special is the incredible array of wildlife seen during a round of golf.
Throughout all of our maintenance we take very much an integrated approach to meet the needs of all users. As a user of the course, nature benefits greatly and many of you may not know, but over one hundred and fifty different bird species have been recorded at Hunley, which is as good a testimony to its value as you can offer.
Tree Sparrow, Brown Hare, Yellow Hammer, Linnet and Grey Partridge are all red listed species living on the course.
Most ecology work is ongoing, with Poplar tree removal, grassland and scrub management the main focuses. Woodland management gets less attention but we hope to do more given the time.
The only new development has been with the creation of a new wetland on Morgan’s Mound as mentioned earlier.
This is a project instigated by the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust with the aim of safeguarding Great Crested Newt populations which reside on the course.
A previous project with the Trust provided great results and we hope to see similar again here.
Several wetlands have been introduced in recent years, of varying sizes and are of great benefit to nature, but they also benefit the golf course, with excess water being taken away from playing areas.
We still continue to do our best to provide high quality facilities with the resources available to us.
With the club growing in recent years, especially in terms of membership numbers, it’s been frustrating that rising costs in all areas have meant that resources available to us are still much the same despite the growth.
With work done to lower requirements for general maintenance in the way of consumables such as fertiliser, fuel etc, the rising costs have been absorbed pretty well. So much so we have even managed a small increase in investment in this area.
We currently have the required equipment to continue to maintain and improve playing performance and we intend to replace 1 of our older mowers used for greens and tees.
A full service program will be completed early in 2024 in preparation for the upcoming season and will give us the tools to complete our daily work routines.
The most important resource we have is our staff though and in this regard we are in a good place.
Although a small team, the hard work, enthusiasm and output created more than makes up for the lack of numbers.
This is the biggest reason for the continued improvement on the courses and although the team are still relatively new to Greenkeeping, the last year or two has given them lots of experience and they are all becoming more than capable of producing the goods.
I know this is widely appreciated, but most of all by myself.
We still have a couple of months to continue installing irrigation, with our aim to get sprinklers on 6 more greens and approaches as well as on the newly created tees.
Then focus will turn to preparing for the new season with the following intentions:
- Machinery serviced and sharpened
- Course furniture repaired and updated
- Health & Safety policies reviewed and updated
- Bunkers checked and topped up with sand
- Penalty areas redefined
- New tees and Morgan’s Mound green prepared and returned to play
With still a lot to do, we hope that the weather will be drier to start the year, allowing us the ability to make much quicker progress. If this doesn’t materialise then we may have to cut short some of the planned irrigation installation.
As a team we spend most of our time with our heads down, focusing on the job in hand, so it makes these updates important to us as well to keep perspective. Especially during prolonged periods of poor weather.
Reviewing the last year certainly reminds me of how fortunate we are to have a place like Hunley to spend our time.
The combination of a fantastic golf course, in an amazing setting, surrounded by nature really makes it something to behold.
I hope we can continue to do justice to the place as the custodians of the land and I’d like to thank everyone for the continued support and wish everyone all the best for the year ahead!