February has been a continuation of this winters trend of weather patterns. Cold spells followed by wet spells followed by cold spells have really tested our resolve as a greenkeeping team.
Only around two thirds of the winter program has been completed and there are one or two projects underway that are still to complete. That said, under the circumstances the team deserve great credit for making a very good fist of it and ensuring that come spring the course will benefit from significant improvements still.
As the weather has been the consistent talking point throughout this winter, I thought in this months blog I’d recap on our long term vision for the course and report on the progress being made towards the end goal. We can’t ultimately achieve perfection and whilst there will always be room for improvement, I’ve given a percentage to each area as a guide for our progress.
Our long term goal was to produce greens that are firm, smooth and true all year round. The best way to do this is by having the best grass species on the greens and over the last 5 years we have been working on a species exchange from predominantly annual meadow grass to fine fescues and bent grasses.
So far we have reduced from around 80% annual meadow grass to more like 30%, which is a phenomenal achievement and has exceeded even my expectations. To put this into perspective, there are only a handful of courses in the UK with fine grasses to this extent, particularly where fescue is concerned, which is now our dominant species on the greens.
For more information on this you can read a previous blog here
We will continue to strive for improvement, but undoubtedly the greens have reached a level that is more than acceptable and progress on that front is certainly ahead of schedule.
Progress – 80%
Fairways and approaches
The goal here was to have consistent playability in these areas with good tight lies from which to approach the greens.
5 years ago these areas were very uneven, with tufty Ryegrass species being problematic and also thin turf often resulting in bare lies.
With the use of the selective herbicide ‘Rescue’, Rygegrass has been either eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level. Increased aeration and reduced mowing heights (12mm) have seen turf density improve enormously also.
Approaches have seen the most significant improvements, with surfaces now more like an extension of the greens. Our aim is to now extend these areas around the greens to further enhance the quality of the turf and the course.
Progress – 70%
Bunkers were both unattractive and impractical previously, requiring so much in the way of time and resources to maintain that they were also always in substandard condition.
To achieve improved aesthetics and better consistency was the main goal here, but also to give the course real identity, we needed a particular style to them.
Revetting began on the green side bunkers last year and so far we have completed 15 of the 33 green side bunkers on the courses.
All other bunkers have been sculpted with irregular shaped edges and the faces have been allowed to grow long to give a natural rugged look. So far 11 of the 25 fairway bunkers have been completed in this fashion.
Drainage in all but 1 or 2 has been carried out, meaning flooding is now only a temporary issue and only after substantial rainfall.
Progress – 60%
The long term aim is to have fine wispy rough grasses bordering all the holes fairways, that looks beautiful but allows wayward shots to be located.
The thinning process began 2 years ago and is paying dividends already with the roughs becoming slower in growth and more open in density. The downside has seen an increase in Clover populations which has invaded space left by the work. This has become a real problem when trying to find a ball that has found a patch.
Although progress has been made, a real focus is needed for us to achieve our aims in this area and treating Clover with selective herbicide will be one of our priorities this year.
Progress – 50%
As the one area of the course where you are able to choose where you tee up, our tees are mostly fit for purpose. That said our goal was to give them more character and there are also a few that require leveling.
Recently a couple of new tees have been added to improve the strategy of holes and the first tee on Pennington’s has been landscaped to good effect.
Progress – 50%
Obviously once a course is built it’s difficult to make wholesale changes, but improvements are certainly possible.
On that front we are lucky to have a very good layout and an excellent variety of holes to play.
Our aim was to have the best layout that we can, offering challenging yet enjoyable golf. Improvements discussed already to the turf and to bunkering has been a big part of this but there were larger structural changes needed too. A couple of greens were too extreme and in need of major alterations.
Toon’s Tier was recently remodeled and is now a lovely Par 3 hole, certainly enhancing the courses overall appeal.
Rawcliffe is the other problem green and this will be changed this coming year with a new green to be constructed and grown, in a new location ready for 2019.
Finally, our third loop of 9 holes will begin to be altered next winter, after we recently removed the extra 2 holes of our 29 from the original set up.
Once complete, these changes will result in 3 truly fabulous sets of 9 holes that will be really tough to better elsewhere.
Progress – 50%
Whilst all of our work is environmentally considerate, we have also being carrying out work to improve the ecology on the course. We want a golf course that works in harmony with the surrounding environment that can benefit both golfers and wildlife.
Managing the rough grasslands, gorse, small areas of woodland, ponds and hedgerows as well as introducing things like bird boxes and bug hotels, all contribute to improving habitat for the ecology on and around the course.
Progress – 40%
While all these areas are of primary importance, other areas such as equipment upgrades and staff progression are also vital areas, receiving ongoing improvements and we are striving for the best for these areas too.
On that note we are saying farewell to one of the team in March. Tore Hansen, who has been with us for the last year has secured a role at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, a course ranked 27th in the UK’s top courses and 85th in the world. Whilst we’re sorry to lose Tore, but the opportunity to work at such a venue and with the British Masters held there this year, we can only wish him all the best for his future.
It is also a testimony to the caliber of greenkeepers that we are now attracting to Hunley and it has certainly been reflected by the consistent improvement in the courses.