Greg’s Greenkeeping Blog September 2021

Greg’s Greenkeeping Blog September 2021

WINTER PROGRAM 2021/22

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 2022 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.

COURSE REVIEW

9  years into a 10 year plan for the course and overall we have made pretty decent progress. As we near the end of the 10 years, our focus is turning to the next 10 years, but in this report we’re going to concentrate on the winter ahead.

9 years ago every inch of the course needed attention with the list below showing the key areas that have received significant alteration. Below I will provide a little detail on each.

  • Greens
  • Fairways, approaches & green surrounds
  • Bunkers
  • Long grasslands
  • Ecology
  • Staff
  • Equipment
Greens

We are now in a 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 no longer have any need to carry out aggressive renovations, with small accumulations of organic matter degrading naturally.

There have been issues with turf diseases on the greens throughout the year, but on the whole any damage has been minimal. Any scars are used as an opportunity to get more fescue into the greens via small scale seeding applications.

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
  • 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 only when required, to maintain surface smoothness. The compost helps the soil retain sufficient moisture and nutrients as well as supporting a richer population of beneficial microorganisms.
Fairways, approaches & green surrounds

Having treated much of the coarse Ryegrass in the turf a few years ago, 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 continue to provide high quality playing surfaces. 

Approaches are now of a high standard and over the winter we will be extending the area of closely mown turf to all of the green complexes. A few greens still have uneven, sharp banking around them, especially where old style bunkers remain. These areas will all be landscaped and old bunkers revetted, in order to facilitate close mowing like in the below picture.

Bunkers

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.

All but a handful of bunkers are now of this new style. It is our intention to alter the remaining few this winter, as well as rebulding some of the bunkers where original revets are wearing out.

Long grasslands

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.

Unfortunately, this last spring didn’t go to plan and rough grasslands in close proximity to play got too thick. Losing irrigation during a drought, combined with a major tractor breakdown caused an unprecedented situation that could not be avoided. 

Having got through that difficult period, grasslands have continued to refine and reduce in vigour.

We hope to cut and collect areas of long grassland out of playing areas this year with the help of a local farmer. This will further improve the open grasslands year on year.

The rough is an important and attractive feature of the course and the correct management is vital for the overall success of the facility.

Ecology

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. 

Achieving GEO certification this year rewards and ratifies all of our efforts over the years. Less than 5% of UK Golf Courses have achieved certification and being in this elite group for sound management of our golfing facility makes us all incredibly proud.

Staff

We have a strong philosophy of career development at Hunley and this has served us and the industry well.

We encourage our staff to use their initiative and to take personal responsibility, so that they can grow as individuals and progress their skills and careers, giving them support as they go.

Many have done just that, becoming Head Greenkeepers and Course Managers and we expect more to follow.

Gavin Kitching (Below right) has excelled in the more senior position of Deputy Course Manager, bringing many years of transferable experience and knowledge. His discipline and motivation has brought an improved level of organisation to our team and having gained an R&A Scholarship, is well on his way to completing a HNC in Golf Course Management.

Simon Becconsall (below) has now completed a year with us after over 20 years previously in Greenkeeping at a variety of clubs. His cheery personality combined with his experience has been invaluable during a difficult year and we’re glad to have him on board.

Callum Richardson (Above left) only began Greenkeeping at the start of 2021 but has advanced at an incredible rate. His practical skills have come on far faster than anyone I have worked with previously and he has shown so much natural talent for the job. So much so, he has already been accepted onto the HNC in Golf Course Management starting January 2022.

Despite having had the last 6 months with a team of 7, due to the addition of extra employees through the kickstart scheme, we are now on the lookout for a new team member. It would have been good to have retained the same team going forwards, but for one reason or another, things haven’t materialised as we’d hoped. Recruitment will begin immeadiately though and we hope to find the right candidate to join us in the near future.

A long standing member and volunteer, Dave Smelt, has chipped in on a regular basis again and we are very grateful for his assistance. 

Equipment

Having the right equipment to maintain the course is critical to our success and the commitment from the business to help facilitate this, especially during such challenging times, has been key to our continued progress.

Investment on battery powered equipment has been a real success, which combined with maintenance alterations to teeing grounds, has increased team productivity while reducing fuel costs and emissions.

Further investment is planned this winter, so that we can improve our efficiency whilst at the same time make improvements to playing qualities across the site.

Winter 2021/22

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 2022 season. We have hopes of work on other areas, however these are dependant on factors out of our control at the moment, so included below is the work planned for now, although is subject to change.

Pond Construction

We have worked closely with the Tees Valley Wildlife Trust in recent years and I’m pleased to say that we have received some funding towards the construction of a new feature between Davy’s approach and Cottage Corner tees. The area was identified as an ideal place for a series of ponds that will both improve habitat diversity and also create an attractive feature for the long term.

The Trust are supporting the introduction of 5 ponds in the region and we are delighted to have been selected as one of the sites.

In order to offer the most diversity, the area will incorporate 3 separate pools and have varied depths of water. This document gives a good description for those interested in knowing more –

https://assets.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/pond-creation.pdf   

Green Surrounds

Some areas surrounding greens are still a problem for us where maintenance is concerned. The sharp undulations are difficult to mow and also often don’t reward a well executed out approach shot.

Our aim is to soften the undulations by recontouring the surroundings, then re-turfing with fine grasses to allow for close mowing going forwards. This will greatly enhance both visual appearance and playing quality. Below is Snaith’s, which received such work recently and gives a good example of what we are trying to achieve across the course.

Whilst recontouring takes place we shall also reconstruct some of the bunkers in the same revetted style as others have been on the course. 

Jaws, Walker’s Gully, Metcale’s Ace, Boulby View, McLeans, Catersty and Hick’s Chair all require such changes. Each hole will be assessed independently, with some reconstruction of bunkers taking place, but also with some bunkers being replaced by closely mown grass swales. 

Pathways

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 solution.

Using reclaimed astro turf, we have already completed some new pathways. Further notorious areas will receive the same treatment and whilst not aesthetically ideal, they do provide a practical solution in the short term. Longer term (if resources permit), a more attractive surface can be laid on top of the astro turf to provide a more appealing finish.

Irrigation

I’m sure you’re all well aware of the limitations of our irrigation system, but few will be aware of the enormous costs involved when installing even the most basic new system. That said, it is a must in order to maintain the course and we are making plans for the future in this regard.

Some of the recent repairs and installations will help towards any new system, but there is much to consider. Water source, pipework routing, operating systems, type of valves and sprinklers, areas to be irrigated and manufacturers will need to be explored, but for now though we are looking to instruct a specialist to design a new system for us first. 

This will give us a clear picture as to what is required to help us to work out how we will implement a new installation.

Many thanks for taking the time to read this months update, as I know there’s a little more information to digest than usual.

As always, any questions please direct them to my email which is [email protected]

Greg Fitzmaurice

Course Manager

There are 2 comments
  1. Avatar
    David Pearson

    Thanks for that Greg, very worthwhile and informative read as always. I look forward to watching the improvements you have planned coming to fruition.

  2. Avatar
    Barry Wrench

    thanks for thr info Greg,as alway very informative

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