You will be well aware if you have been up to the course lately that Phase 2 of the Bunker Project is well underway, and starting to take shape. Carrying out essential coring and aeration work on the greens that are out of play has made life quite busy but exciting for us in the last month or so, which hopefully I can explain with a bit of insight in this blog.
Course Improvement Project
The greenstaff feel very lucky to be able to witness the changes the course is undertaking at close quarters, and it has been a privilege to watch the contractors go about their work landscaping and shaping the bunkers and surrounds to produce the end product that is on the architect’s plans. I really enjoyed watching the stages of how the bunkers were built last year and this year I would like to have a wee go at it myself, if they will let me. Obviously there has been major disruption to the course with play being confined to a shorter course with temporary greens and tees. Hopefully though, you can still enjoy your game on the different layouts. The temporary greens height of cut has been lowered to 5mm (main greens 4mm), which will be give them a reasonable putting surface. We plan to continue to keep these surfaces to a good level throughout the winter.
At the time of writing, holes 8, 10, 11 and 12 are being worked on, and day by day we are starting to get an idea of what the final product will look like and how the redesigned holes will be played in the future. If the weather plays ball, all the work should be complete, with concrete and all the sand installed before the real winter weather kicks in. By installing the final sand depths as quickly as possible (before the turn of the year) we will give the sand more time to bed in and settle before they are back in play. Weekly updates, further information and photographs can be found on the members section of the club website under “Course Improvement Project”
The greens have been performing well lately, with smooth, pacey and consistent surfaces all over the course – although they have lost a bit of colour due to the growth slowing down and the annual meadow grass going dormant with the cooler temperatures and less daylight. The feedback we have had from members and visitors lately on the greens has been positive and we are happy with them going into the colder months. We have encountered some fusarium outbreaks on most of the greens, which is quite normal at this time of the year. You get disease mainly in the cooler months when the growth is less aggressive, giving fungal spores an opportunity to get a foothold and in turn develop into disease. We have applied a suitable fungicide to reduce the problem, which has stopped any further spread successfully. We will continue to monitor the situation over the coming months.
We will raise the height of cut on all playing surfaces in the coming weeks for a number of reasons (stress relief, better disease resistance and quicker recovery rates being the main ones). This will have a slight negative impact on the playability and looks of the course, but it must be done as the growth and recovery rates will only get lower as the temperatures continue to fall. We will continue to mow playing surfaces regularly (although at a lower frequency) all over the course to maintain definition and playing quality.
In the middle of the month we had a couple of unwelcome visitors to the course – namely a couple of horses who escaped a nearby field and decided to stretch their legs (I have a great passion for horses but I much prefer them galloping around Cheltenham or Ascot and not the fairways of Mortonhall). We experienced varying degrees of damage to holes 3, 4, 5, 13 and 14 but the main problem was the damage caused on the 4th and 14th greens. The hoof marks made quite a dent on these greens but we managed to repair the them with a bit of persuasion and some top dressing (the process was a bit like repairing a pitchmark, but on a larger scale with a screwdriver and turf beater). We expect these areas to recover over the next couple of weeks, with some remedial work if required. The rest of the areas on the fairways and rough will hopefully repair themselves but if not, we will repair them in time with a mixture of forking and divotting.
Coring and Aeration Work
We have started our usual autumn renovation work on the greens that are out of play due to bunker work, by scarifying, verti draining and double coring (one pass with large core, then one with smaller core), followed by sand top dressing which we hope will improve the greens drainage, soil structure, thatch levels and compaction problems. The timing of this work was decided to give the greens the best opportunity to recover with the temperatures still not too bad for growth.
We’ve also managed to get some seed down (will explain later) which we are hoping will germinate and take a foothold before the winter kicks in. We will continue to do work on each green that is being worked on by the contractors until we start coring all the greens when conditions suit in October.
The objective at Mortonhall is to produce healthy, well paced, smooth and firm putting surfaces which will maintain a consistent performance throughout the year. Improving thatch levels is critical to achieving this objective. I don’t want to go into too much detail about thatch levels as I could write a novel about the problem, but in brief, thatch is a layer of dead vegetation that sits between the greens surface and the soil and it’s caused when the grass is growing and being cut faster than it can decompose. Thatch accumulation is constantly built up through the summer months with frequent mowing, which we attempt to remove during autumn and spring renovations. Coring, followed by top dressing is the key part to thatch control and reduction. After we have taken out the core we then fill with straight sand, which dilutes the thatch (basically we are swapping the spongey water holding thatch and replacing it with free draining sand).
On the education front this month, David travelled down to Wentworth to spend the day looking at the changes to the course and getting an insight into how the course was managed during the build up to the PGA Championship. The main reason for the visit was to gather information on the new creeping bentgrass we are using during our autumn renovations on the greens, finding out its benefits and how it has performed and establishes itself. By introducing to our sward composition a more stress resistant and disease tolerant grass (which creeping bent is) to compete with the undesirable and problematic meadow grass is something that would greatly improve year round putting and visual consistency. We are really looking forward to seeing how this seed mix performs in the coming months on our greens.
There was also the little matter of Craig going to help out the home greenstaff at Gleneagles to prepare the course for the Solheim Cup. Craig was on site for eight days with his main morning task being the preparation of the front nine bunkers. Other tasks included hand mowing some of the wettest fairways (yes, hand mowing) and a spot of bunker raking following the matches. It was clearly a wonderful experience to be involved in and play a role in producing a course to simply breath taking standards. Highlights surely include being able to walk inside the ropes, match raking in front of the massive crowds on the final day, feeding off the passion and dedication of the Gleneagles greenkeeping team and the satisfaction in producing high standards of work under close scrutiny from the team leaders.
As yet another instance of our greenstaff volunteering at a major golfing event, it made me think of the number of occasions this has occurred over the past few years. Mortonhall has been represented at 10 different tournaments and we have accumulated vital experience, knowledge and confidence which definitely benefits our own club in the long term. There is no club in the surrounding area which has this amount of tournament experience in their squad and it is something we and the club should be very proud of. During these tournaments the hours are long, at times stressful and your time is largely unpaid, but that said, I can honestly say they are the most enjoyable and rewarding times I have spent in my career as the buzz you get from the event itself, the home greenstaff and the volunteers is truly inspirational.
Thanks must go out to Mortonhall also, as without their support and understanding, attending these tournaments would not be possible for us. To give you an idea of what events we have been involved in over the last couple of years and what we have got up to, click on the photo above to view our YouTube video.
By Shaun Cunningham