COURSE REVIEW & WINTER PROGRAM 2019/20
As we come to the end of another season, we have made plans for the program of work to be undertaken before the start of the 2020 golfing season. It is also a good time for me to provide a quick review of how the course is developing and how the Greenkeeping operation is coping with the many challenges that are presented on and off the course.
We are now 6 ½ years in to a 10 year plan for the course and overall we have made pretty decent progress. Although at the beginning, there wasn’t a single area that didn’t require attention, below lists those key areas that have received significant alteration. I will then provide some details on each.
- Fairways, approaches & green surrounds
- Long grasslands
We are now in a very strong position with the greens. Having moved away from Annual Meadow grass dominant turf to fine perennial grass dominant turf, performance and maintenance regimes have improved dramatically.
We have no longer any need to carry out aggressive renovations, with small accumulations of organic matter degraded naturally by soil biology.
There have been issues with turf diseases on the greens throughout the year, but on the whole any damage has been minimal. Take All patch has caused the most damage on around 6 greens with Toon’s Tier and Guibel worst affected. However these areas have been seeded with fescue and are already beginning to recover.
With the significant reduction in resources now required to maintain quality surfaces, we have been able to allocate more resources to other areas, which I will come onto later in this report.
Management of the greens now only requires the following interventions from us other than mowing and rolling:
- Monthly applications of wetting agent (March – September) to maintain consistent moisture distribution in the soil
- Monthly micro tine aeration at different depths to maintain water percolation, root development and provide air to aid natural organic matter breakdown from soil microorganisms.
- Top dressing with sand and compost to maintain surface smoothness whilst maintaining a balanced growing environment for all beneficial plants and soil biology.
Fairways, approaches & green surrounds
Having treated much of the coarse Ryegrass in the turf over the last few years, the grasses are much finer and more suitable for the type of golf shots required to negotiate the courses at Hunley. There is still quite a bit of Ryegrass within the turf, however it is not causing a significant problem to the quality of playing conditions. Since the graminicide Rescue has been removed from sale, there is no option for us to further reduce Ryegrass in the turf, but we are happy now that we are in a good position to manage what we have and provide high quality playing surfaces.
Approaches are now of a high standard and over the next 2 years we will be extending the area of closely mown turf surrounding the greens. In order to improve these areas, overseeding, top dressing and some returfing will be carried out. This will require some roping off in order to allow for new seedlings to establish and then protect them from excessive wear.
As this was one of the biggest challenges for the Greenkeeping team, there is still more work to be done. Originally there had been many, very large bunkers that were prone to washout, flooding and wind blown erosion which required an enormous amount of resources for their upkeep and therefore led to them being often in poor condition.
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.
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.
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 grasslands adjacent to the fairway are becoming thinner, making wayward shots easier to locate and we now have both Barn Owls and Kestrels regularly 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.
We have seen a significant improvement in wildlife on the course as a direct result of our management. Leaving out of play areas alone, minimal routine maintenance of woodland and scrub as well as grassland management has improved diversity across the site.
Outside support has helped further, with the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust providing and monitoring bird boxes on site. Advice also from Ian Kendal at The Land Trust and from industry expert ecologist James Hutchinson, have helped us to further develop the land.
Seeing a pair of Barn Owls rear 3 chicks and also a family of Tree Sparrows using another of the boxes, have been highlights of success from our combined effort.
In more recent years the team of Greenkeepers has developed as well. We have had great success stories from previous employees that after gaining R&A Scholarships with us, have moved on to develop strong careers working at venues hosting major championships as well as achieving Head Greenkeeper status.
We currently have a very settled team who are progressing and developing their skills nicely, despite some only in the early stages of their Greenkeeping career. Having the team working so well together has seen improvements to the course move to another level and it is very pleasing to see them do it with a smile on their faces!
Good news in this area is that we have been able to take on an extra member of staff. This has come about as a direct result of maintenance costs on the course coming down. Some of you may have seen Tony on the course through the summer since he joined us on a seasonal contract. He has impressed during his time and demonstrated a great work ethic, so it is very pleasing to be able to retain his services through the winter months and will give an opportunity to provide further training in preparation for the 2020 golfing season.
Having recently sold our old Utility vehicle and attachments, we have been able to purchase a new machine in the shape of a 4 wheel drive John Deere Gator.
This more or less completes planned changes to the equipment that began 6 ½ years ago. Having the right equipment to maintain the course is critical to our success and the commitment from the business to help facilitate this, especially in very challenging times for the industry, has been key to making continued progress.
We have also been able to improve the organisation of the workshop, with better record keeping and stock control, which has led to an overall improvement in the day to day operation on the course.
WINTER PROGRAM OF WORK 2019/20
The following work is planned this winter, the order and timing of the work will depend upon weather conditions but it is our intention to complete all of these before the start of the 2020 season.
Snaith’s Green Surrounds
The area immediately surrounding Snaith’s green has long been a problem for us where maintenance is concerned. The sharp undulations are difficult to mow and also often don’t reward a well thought out approach shot.
Our aim is to soften the undulations by recontouring the surroundings, then returfing with fine grasses to allow for close mowing going forwards. This will greatly enhance both visual appearance and playing quality.
Whilst recontouring takes place we shall also reconstruct the bunkers in the same revetted style as others have been on the course. There will also be an additional bunker placed short of the green on the left, which is being introduced to make a direct shot onto the green more challenging. With the addition of this bunker, the bunker on the right will be moved slightly further over, allowing those laying up to the right of the hole an angle to approach the green which currently does not exist.
Redding’s Apron Green Surroundings
Much in the same way as Sniath’s, this green surround also needs contouring softened. We will also be building up the approach to the green to make running the ball onto the green an option going forwards, as currently the approach is too steep for this.
The bunker on the left will be moved forwards to bring it into view, which will then allow us to extend the top tier of the green. This will give extra pin positions whilst also taking away the extreme difficulty of holding a ball on the top portion of the green.
We are considering an additional bunker on the right of the green but will wait until the first phase of work is complete before assessing this option further.
Our pathways have always been a problem and as the cost of creating something permanent, such as tarmac, is too great we have found a potential solution.
We recently took delivery of some used artificial turf and we intend to use this material on the paths.
It won’t be straightforward to install, but we believe that this will create a better look on the paths, reduce this issue of erosion and flooding, whilst also being much quieter.
Since altering the 2 greens on Toon’s Tier and Rawcliffe, neither have automatic irrigation. This will be something that we will address this winter.
The cost of the work being carried out by external contractors has prevented us from adding the irrigation before now. However, we now have the knowledge and equipment to carry these installations in house.
Although this may take several weeks to complete, we have planned for this work to be completed in preparation for the 2020 season.
Woodland, Scrub and Grassland Management
Further clearance of non native Poplar will be taking place as well as clearance of scrub and other previously unmanaged areas.
Although there will be some visual benefits, this is more about maintaining a good balance of species that can further improve biodiversity on the site.
Plants such as Gorse and Sea Buckthorn are of great benefit to wildlife, providing both excellent nesting sites and food. However, both are an invasive species and therefore need to be managed correctly in order to maintain that biodiversity.
Grasslands cover a large part of the course and requires further management. Cutting and collecting has already started and we hope to cover a large area of the out of play areas to continue to thin out and reduce the density of the grass.
This will maintain the grasslands, but also will improve the diversity of species within them. As the soils nutrient reserves deplete, more wildflower will begin to emerge and the greater benefit they will have for a larger variety of species.
Other routine work will be carried out such as:
- Aeration to the key playing areas
- Machinery servicing
- Course furniture refurbishment
- Revetting of some more bunker faces
- Levelling of selected Tees
- Rawcliffe new green to open in January
Before we start with any of the above, we will be carrying out some remedial repairs to areas of the course that require it. This includes:
- Thin areas of turf around recently constructed bunkers
- Some areas of returfing that have subsequently sunk and need lifting
- The surrounds of the new green on Rawcliffe have struggled to mature due to lack of rainfall, so will be turfed to have it ready for the new year
- All Tees will be renovated to aid recovery after winter tees are introduced to play.
Above sets out our intentions for the forthcoming winter period and also some of the reasoning behind the changes. We hope to complete all planned work, but such is the nature of our unpredictable climate, this may not be the case. For the same reasons, timing of the work is subject to change but we will keep you updated as things progress.
Any questions are always welcome, so please get in touch. My email is
Thanks for reading.
Greg Fitzmaurice, Course Manager