The off season can be a testing period for Greenkeepers, with no better example than last winter. Despite that though, I’ve always seen the time away from the regular course set up as an opportunity to make improvements to the course that make for a better course year on year.
This month’s blog includes a reminder of what we’re trying to achieve with the course and why there has been so much change. Then there is a summary of our plans for this winter with a brief run through what we’ve done so far.
Over the last 6 years since I joined Hunley, there have been significant changes to the course. The long term goal was to give the course real identity, but also to move away from a high maintenance course to a low maintenance one, which was more natural looking and more considerate to the local ecology and wider environment.
Previously the course was intensively mown throughout with elaborate striping patterns, the course was set up for target golf with lots of forced carries before greens and the bunkers were large and plentiful. My education has always taught me that a golf course should fit into its natural environment, rather than impose upon it. I also believe that we should be managing courses in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. This philosophy was at the heart of the vision for Hunley and it was clear from the start that this vision was shared from top to bottom within the business. This would be critical to making the vision a reality, with so much work to do on and off the course.
Changes were needed from the type of turf grass species, the courses playing strategy, the style of bunkering, mowing regimes and beyond.
To help demonstrate, below are pictures of Celtic Manor (first image) and Castle Stuart, both constructed in recent years and really highlighting the contrasting styles of golf course. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with Celtic Manor, or that Hunley is going to look like Castle Stuart, it just helps to highlight what we believe is the right style for Hunley and to give an example of how that might look.
Creating The Style And Identity
The running game – Grass species have been evolved to finer fescue and bent grasses, promoting firmer playing surfaces. Minimal inputs of water and fertiliser have encouraged the finer grasses to dominate. As a result golf is now needing to be played more along the ground, running the ball into the greens with skill and imagination as opposed to flying the ball directly at the target. This greatly increases the enjoyment for all abilities as well as creating greater variety when choosing how to negotiate each hole.
Fine fescue now dominates the turf
Bringing nature and golf together – Large expanses of grasslands were previously mown regularly which was unnecessary, unachievable and offered no benefit to potential wildlife on the course.
Creating large stands of rough grasslands was easy, but the quality of the grasslands was poor and needed management. By infrequently cutting and removing the grass clippings, slowly the grasslands have improved in texture and species content. The closer to the fairway the rough is, the more cutting and collecting has been carried out in order to aid ball retrieval.
The rough is now an attractive feature of the course and we are beginning to see the benefits to both golf and wildlife. The grasses adjacent to the fairway are becoming thinner, making wayward shots easier to locate and we have recently had both Barn Owls and Kestrels using the grasslands as hunting ground for their food, a key indicator for its improvement.
Added to all that, maintenance of these grasslands is now greatly reduced, meaning we have been able to devote more time to other tasks as well as lowering our carbon footprint through reduced fuel consumption.
Rough grasslands have transformed the landscape
Greens contouring – Some of the contouring on the greens was extreme to say the least, but particularly so on Rawcliffe and Toon’s Tier.
Toon’s Tier has had both tiers increased in size with contouring softened. This has been a huge success creating a real gem of a Par 3.
Rawcliffe is currently having a new green constructed ready to replace the current green in 2019. The current green is excessively undulating with very few available pin positions. It is also blind to approach shots with a mound at the front making it a lottery as to where the ball bounces, even if you are able to hit the green when approaching.
The new green is in clear view for approach shots and with subtle undulations, will make for a much more enjoyable playing experience.
There are some other greens around the course requiring smaller alterations such as Gray’s Tor and Redding’s Apron. These changes will be carried out in the near future to complete the set up of the greens surfaces, taking away the extreme difficulty and offering a more healthy challenge.
Bunkering – Previously the bunkers were large and there were close to 90 in total, with many positioned where they had no impact on the strategy of the holes. Problems with flooding and wind erosion caused regular issues with their condition and the resources required for their maintenance was enormous.
Bunker positioning has been altered with consideration to the running game of golf now required and the style has also completely changed. Pot bunkers are now situated by the greens using revetted turf faces, which has greatly reduced the impact of flooding and wind erosion as well as giving the course a really distinguished look.
Revetted pot bunkers
Fairway bunkers have been linked into the rough grasslands, framing each hole and merging the closely mown fairway to the rough. This more rugged appearance fits our vision and has greatly reduced their maintenance requirements.
Fairway bunkers now connect natural areas to the short grass
Greens – We will be repeating the same process on the greens as we did so successfully last year. Hollow coring will be carried out across all greens with fescue seed and top dressing mixed together and brushed into the holes.
With a high content of fine grasses now in the greens, increasing the fescue will continue to improve the percentage and ultimately their playing performance.
The removed cores will then be used for the grow in of the new green on Rawcliffe. This will result in much quicker establishment and also result in a green that more closely resembles the others.
Aeration – Deep spiking is to be carried out on all of the fairways. This is to be completed by contractors in mid November to improve soil structure, help surface drainage and increase rooting.
Tees, aprons and greens will also be deep spiked, but this work will be carried out by ourselves in the new year.
Bunkers – We will be looking to revett as many of the remaining green side bunkers as possible. With 16 still to go, it’s a tall order for us to complete them all, however we managed 10 last winter even despite a horrendous run of weather.
Fairway bunkers will also continue to be given more shape and treat with Rescue to remove coarse grasses from the faces.
Rawcliffe – With the new green almost complete, bunkering on the hole is to be altered. The fairway bunker on the right will move up and across further to the right and a new one introduced on the left side. This will complete changes to the hole.
Ecology – There is quite a bit of management required to the out of play areas.
Many non native species are beginning to increase and need to be removed. Poplar and Crack Willow are invasive species and in many areas are increasing.
Gorse is a key species on the site and further cutting back of the older stands will take place. New plants will also be introduced to bulk up weaker stands and create some new ones.
Machinery – This is always an important part of our winter program, with servicing and blade sharpening occupying quite a bit of our time in the off season.
So far, we have completed the new green on Rawcliffe with all shaping finished and the area all seeded with hollow cores spread as well.
Having overseeded the greens in October, the cores removed while pot planting fescue were used to help grow in the new green. All 27 greens have been hollow cored, seeded and top dressed in October.
Finally, we have also improved the left hand side of the 18th green on Morgan’s and Imperial courses, with the pictures below showing before and after.
In the summer all of the new turf will be mown as approach now as the contouring has been smoothed out. This was previously an area lacking quality with uneven ground and full of coarse grass species. The difficulty of maintenance contributed to this as well as being a safety issue for both golfer and greenkeeper.
With 3 large projects already complete, we’re very happy with the start to this years program.Lets hope for that the weather holds and we can continue in this way over the coming weeks.
Any questions are always welcome, so please get in touch. My email is [email protected]