December 2019

December 2019

In the last month the weather has certainly taken a turn for the worse, with temperatures dropping much lower, producing ground frost, long periods of fog cover and the most problematic, high rainfall figures to deal with. In the month of November we experienced 106 mm of rainfall (64 mm average), following on from 118 mm (79 mm average) in October. Both these accumulations are clearly way above a normal month and have helped contribute to what looks like to be a record year for rainfall in our area. So far this year we have experienced 980 mm of rainfall and if you compare that to the average of 711 mm or last year’s total of 597 mm, you will understand the course and the greenstaff have had to deal with a lot more water this year than normal.

Course Conditions and Disruption

As the weather continues to be far from perfect, course conditions are being affected and altered on a daily basis, leading to restrictions, closures, reduced access and playability. The decision to introduce these measures is made after careful consideration by a senior greenkeeper each morning, even though we understand at times these decisions can prove to be unpopular. One thing that can be assured is all the greenstaff want the golf course to be prepared to the best condition possible and we work tirelessly to deliver the best standards we can at all times. The two main reasons for restrictions to be in place on the course are as follows.

  • For health and safety reasons to protect members from injury.
  • To minimise further damage to the course.


The last two years have seen quite a bit of disruption on the course from September onwards due to CIP activities which as you know was a rather extensive piece of work. We appreciate the support of our members and hope that you can see that a tremendous transformational change has been undertaken on the course in the last two years. All the components are coming together and whilst we will always have more to do, the signs are that the course will definitely be something to be proud of for the 2020 season.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, as 2020 promises to be a year with significantly less disruption.The various sub committees are finalising next year’s fixture list and it looks like next year will be our longest golf season in 10 years with competitions extending out to 18th October, which is a full 5-6 weeks more than we experienced in 2018 and 2019, and something to look forward to.

Winter Course / Greens

Next year the club will take a good look at the setup of the winter course. Many members thoroughly enjoy the shorter course over the winter months but the feedback from the recent survey shows that many other members would prefer to stay on the main course (where practicable). Our review will aim to find a balance which keeps the course on the longer setup for a longer period of time. You may have noticed that in recent weeks we have tried to keep as many of the existing holes at their longest length possible to offset the impact of the other holes affected by CIP work.


The question of winter greens being in play due to frozen ground arises each winter and we can appreciate it is very frustrating when you look forward to your game of golf and then are confronted with winter greens for what sometimes appears to be for no apparent reason. Hopefully this segment explaining the issues we face and our decision making process will help make the members understand the need for the actions we make, even if they are at times unpopular. We have thresholds in place for differing situations and we act on these each morning before play, with winter greens being introduced for the following reasons.


  • Greens are left saturated following heavy or prolonged rainfall.
  • A white frost is clearly visible on the greens surfaces.
  • Underlying soil on green is still be frozen after prolonged low temperatures.


Frost on grass leaf blades tells us that the water inside the leaves is frozen (80% of plant tissue is made up of water). When this water is frozen, foot traffic on the turf causes the ice crystals in the cells to puncture through the plant cell walls and kill the plant tissue (this means when golfers walk on frozen turf it leaves black or brown marks and then becomes sparse). The fine turf on greens is much more susceptible to these problems as they are under more stress due to being cut much lower.


When we check the conditions of the greens first thing in the morning when the temperatures are low and decide what actions to take, we then update the course status on the website. If winter greens are in play we will monitor conditions regularly through the day to see if the frost lifts and main greens can go back on. If there is no sufficient prospect of any significant change by early afternoon and depending on when the sunset is due we will keep winter greens on for the rest of the day.


More long term damage can be caused when play takes place as the turf is thawing out after a prolonged freeze. Under these conditions, the top surface of the turf may be soft but the underlying soil will still be frozen. Root damage occurs easily as the roots sheer off completely with every footstep and pitchmark made (this can cause disease and weed outbreak, uneven surfaces and reduced turf sward). The best way to check this is to poke a nail or screwdriver into the greens surface, if there is resistance it means the rootzone is still frozen solid (usually when there is a prolonged freeze it takes at least two days for the frost to come out the ground).


These instances and thresholds apply for golf buggies also, although they won’t be on the greens, just fairways, aprons and around tees. Golf buggies are much heavier obviously than people and will cause much more stress and disturbance. In times of white frost and ice, golf buggies will not be allowed on the course at any time as continued use in frozen conditions will only promote further turf decline as low soil and air temperatures prevents turfgrass recovery drastically. Restrictions are also placed on golf buggy use in very wet conditions, on the grounds that buggy use will cause damage driving on saturated ground and on health and safety reasons as golf buggies are not fitted with four wheel drive or all terrain tyres (much more susceptible to loss of control and possible accidents).


Course Improvement Project

The sand installation is nearing completion, with us just needing to complete 2 more bunkers to cross the finishing line. When the sand install is completed we will have added just under 190 tonnes of sand, by hand. As mentioned last month, we are putting the final desired sand depths in sooner this time around to give the sand the best opportunity to settle before they are open for play.  It will also give us time to monitor any problems. The sand depths are the same as Phase 1, which is 2 inches around the edges and faces, blended into 4 inches in the base. After the sand install is complete we will use a whacker plate to compact sand as much as possible, and top up levels if necessary.


       Right Hand Greenside 5th Hole                   Right Hand Fairway 14th Hole

With the greenstaff filling the bunkers it definitely gives us an idea of how the finished product will look and how the new bunkers will affect how each hole will be played in the future. We are very happy with the end product. My personal favourite is the new layout at the 8th hole, with the view from the fairway down to the green being very cool, but a touch intimidating.

We have completed the planting of 80 young native trees to the right hand rough at 14th hole, in accordance with the proposed new hole layout and our Woodland Management Plan. The trees we have introduced are a mixture of Scots Pine, Field Maple, Norway Maple and Rowan. We hope these new arrivals can flourish over the coming years, adding character, definition and biodiversity to the hole, and improve safety issues regarding nearby houses. There will be a No Play Zone introduced to the area in the future to protect the trees until they are well established.

A different view down the 14th Hole in the future

There have been some snagging issues leftover from the contractor work, which we are working our way through when possible. We have completed remedial turfing around bunkers, turfed the12th tee banking and given the areas a general tidy up. The only outstanding snagging is to repair the damage done by the heavy machinery used by the contractors during the process.

The essential heavy machinery used left large parts of the course muddy, damaged and unsightly, which was sadly unavoidable due to the saturated conditions, even though they tried to limit this as much as possible The repairing of these areas was priority to us but sadly the rainfall we have experienced over the last month or so has made areas even more saturated and in turn we have not been able to do any work on them at all. We will carry out work on the problem areas, levelling, spiking, dressing, seeding and turfing as soon as the weather gives us an opportunity. The main positive we have in our favour for recovery is that the grass species (meadow grass mainly)in these damaged areas is incredibly hardy due to their aggressive growth habits and can establish quickly again given the opportunity and correct conditions.

Just for some reassurance, during my time working at Musselburgh Golf Club the River Esk burst its banks and flooded the whole bottom half of the course for over a month. When the water finally disappeared we were left with absolutely no grass cover and saturated fairways and rough. Given work and time to recover, the damaged areas started to improve and the course was back to normal for the start of the season and I’m hopeful this will be the case for us too.


Tree Work

As you will be well aware if you have played the course recently, there have been a number of trees felled around the course.The woodlands, copses and trees on the course provide many different functions, be it visual interest, providing separation, increasing challenges, enhancing biodiversity etc., so the removal of any trees can generate concern and emotion within the membership. We understand the importance of the woodland on the course and the surrounding countryside so no tree removal was recommended without good cause, working in conjunction with our Woodland Management Plan and the local authorities to gain the necessary tree felling licences.The reasons for the tree removal across the course included –

  • To improve air and sunlight levels to help playing surfaces.
  • Trees nearing end of their active life.
  • Health and Safety measures.
  • To encourage better quality tree development, diversity and growth.
  • Trees were encroaching and effecting play.
  • To improve biodiversity and wildlife value.

The infamous Leylandii at 10th is now gone

The largest tree to be felled was the huge Leylandii between the 9th and 10th holes. It was recommended to be removed as it is non native, with a short lifespan between 30 – 40 years. As well as looking contrived and offering minimal wildlife value, it produces a huge amount of shade over the 10th green. We plan to plant between 7 and 10 trees around the area to restore some of the barrier effect and in keeping with the rest of the woodland in that area.

The main trunks of the felled trees were cut up into sections which were then taken off site. All the left over branches were then put through a chipper, to be picked up at a later date. We will remove all wood chippings from the course as quickly as possible.



R&A Scholarship

The blog is a touch late this month because one of our greenstaff got some exciting news just before it was due to go to press. I couldn’t leave it out, so a quick redraft was required to include this new development.

The good news is that Grant Moran recently secured a scholarship from the R&A, which he was given the opportunity to apply for due to the fine work he has been achieving undertaking a HNC Management Course at Elmwood College. After the application process he was invited to attend an interview with the Head of Sustainability at the R&A and the Head of Greenkeeping at Elmwood. He passed with flying colours and was awarded the scholarship shortly afterwards. This accolade is a fantastic achievement for him and well deserved with the hard work and dedication he has shown over the last few years now paying off. The scholarship brings a number of things that Grant can use to help his future development such as financial support, networking opportunities, guidance, tournament experience and mostly the backing of the R&A for the rest of his greenkeeping career.He will certainly use this support to improve himself and Mortonhall going forward. Click on the link below to see what the scholarship is all about.


This is a unique opportunity as there are currently only 320 scholarships in place around the globe and our golf club has 2 of them (luckily I managed to secure one last year). After some research I have realised that there are only 3 golf clubs in Scotland who have more than one scholar on their greenkeeping team (the other two being St. Andrews and Carnoustie). You will agree this is quite an illustrious pair to be associated with and an honour and a coup for Mortonhall to be involved with the R&A in the future.


By Shaun Cunningham