Head Greenkeeper Report – June 2019

Head Greenkeeper Report – June 2019

Dear Season Ticket Holders,

Before I go into the recent work which has been undertaken on our greens, I would like to apologise on behalf of us all at MGLL for the misunderstanding leading to the monthly newsletters not being sent out on a regular monthly basis to all our season ticket holders.  I have written a monthly report every month since arriving last July in order to explain our on-course maintenance and help STH develop an understanding of why we do such maintenance.  My understanding is that all backdated newsletters have now been sent out if anyone who is interested in receiving these and hasn’t already please inform the office and we will have the information sent out promptly.

Improving our putting surfaces

As I approach one year here at Montrose links I feel we have made great strides forward in almost every area – none more so than on our putting surfaces.  We are in my opinion miles away from where I would like us to be in terms of consistency but as I have said before Rome wasn’t built in one day, there is no doubt though we are making progress based on feedback from both visitors and STH alike. As most STH will have noticed we have very recently over-seeded our greens with browntop bent grass species, using a pot-seed method.  I do not want to dwell too much on what we don’t have, but as previously discussed we are not in the fortunate position of having niche pieces of equipment which would make the process a lot smoother.  In the absence of an over-seeder we punch holes on the surface large enough to allow seed-to-soil contact while as small as possible to minimise the adverse effect on ball roll.  In the absence of a pedestrian aeration machine, we utilise a tractor-mounted unit which is effectively 4-5 times the weight we would ideally prefer to have on the greens.  This results in what should be a fairly smooth process (although some disruption should be expected), into our putting surfaces becoming a little bumpy in the short term until fully healed.

So why do it?

The first thing to say is that this is not a vanity project, the maintenance is carried out to improve firmness, trueness, speed and consistency of the greens.  Every single maintenance plan which is executed is carefully thought out, scheduled and then implemented with the absolute minimal amount of disruption to play.  In order to improve our putting surfaces for the short and long term, there are essentially three major components Aeration, top dressing and over-seeding.  I have written about the benefits of these practices in previous newsletters from an agronomic perspective, this month I would like to talk more in terms of playability and hope to explain well enough to get the message across that everything is connected.

Aeration. Perhaps the single most important maintenance procedure carried out on any golf course. There is a common misconception that links golf courses do not need to aerate due to the indigenous links soils being free draining therefore no risk of flooding etc.  I can assure our STH this is absolutely not true.  Every top links course St Andrews included aerate their greens in some way shape or form.  In years gone past here at Montrose, this is a practice which has been done on average twice per year at most and this is quite simply not enough.  Greens are the most intensively managed area of any golf course, where every single player ends up eventually.  Foot traffic, mowers, rollers, and other daily events place an enormous amount of stress and pressure not only on the grass plant but also on the soil below.  This leads to a build-up of organic matter and the squeezing together of soil particles which then leads to compaction.  Compacted soils in turn have less air pores and a higher water holding capacity, which drain poorly (see figure 1).  If the greens are not draining fast enough then this is where we can experience surface water which will lead to slow and inconsistent putting conditions and in extreme cases, course closure.


Figure 1. 16th hole 1562 course saturated after only 8mm rain


I have been Head Greenkeeper at Montrose for almost one year and have been banging on about the dry climate right up until last month.  Only in the months of May and June have we exceeded our monthly average of rainfall and this has further highlighted our compaction issues (see figure 2).  The simple fact is that we are holding far too much moisture in our rootzone.  By punching holes in the playing surface we also allow for gas exchange and the flow of oxygen, which in turn will stimulate micro-organisms, break down organic matter and lead to firm, consistent greens.  Consistently true, smooth and firm greens is our main objective and without aeration, this is almost impossible.

Figure 2. Our 9th green 1562 course the same morning after 8mm rain

Our moisture target range should be around 20%, this provides optimal green speed and resilience without being overly receptive, at present we are holding double this figure in some areas of some greens (see figure 3).  Again this all leads to soft, slow and inconstant putting surfaces.


Figure3. 10th green showing more than double our desired moisture content.


Top-dressing. The standard amount of sand top-dressing to be applied to links course greens per hectare is 150 tonnes per annum; this is a target we have met in the past year.  Heavy applications are required usually after renovation projects such as over-seeding or hollow-coring, but by applying regular 8ton applications (see figure 4) most golfers probably will not even notice this has been carried out and that is obviously our intention.  Top-dressing has numerous benefits, apart from diluting thatch and improving infiltration rates of water, topping off the greens surfaces on regular occasions ensures the greens runs smooth and true while also maintaining firmness.  Any blemishes on the green such as repaired pitchmarks, hole plugs or recovering disease scars are covered by the sand which again improves the ball roll on the greens surface.


Figure 4. Light dusting of sand on 18th green 1562 course


Over-seeding.  The recent over-seeding operation on the greens has led to some STH asking why this is carried out as we approach peak season time, I would like to make clear that I fully understand why these questions would be asked especially when this has never been done before.  Firstly this week was chosen specifically for a several reasons.

  1. Soil temperatures are now conducive for bentgrass seed germination (see figure 5 & 6).
  2. Weather conditions were favourable i.e. dry and not too windy
  3. We had minimal annual leave booked which allowed us to carry the work out as quickly and efficiently as possible
  4. We were 6 weeks away from our Open week; we would not want to be any closer to that date when carrying out this operation.

Links courses are synonymous with fescue and bent grass.  This is simply because they provide the very best putting surfaces at a consistent pace year-round.  Currently, we have a grass sward which is on average 60/40 dominated by poa annua with bentgrass making up the rest of the coverage on our greens.  In an ideal world we would be looking to over-sow fescue along with the bentgrass to give us that ideal sward composition however until we get our thatch and moisture levels under control then this would prove to be a waste of time and money.  Therefore we have opted to improve our greens by introducing more bents.  If we are to carry out this operation in November or February then the healing process would take considerably longer – potentially anything up to 2 months as we are in the dormant season.  This way we are up and rolling again inside two weeks (see figure 7) it is very much a case of short term pain for long term gain.  Poa annua grass is notorious for its susceptibility to disease, high water and nutrient requirements and more importantly from a golfer’s perspective seedheads, which affect ball roll like nothing else.  By managing our greens in a way which suits the fine grasses i.e. less water, nitrogen and overseeding with the bents then we will dramatically improve consistency.


Figure 7. 14th green 1562 course 13 days after over-seeding


I have heard some comment that our greens have always been pretty good and at times excellent in the summer, so what’s the point of this disruption?  Again I completely understand why we are being asked these questions.  I would like to point out though that our greens do have a history of inconsistency and more recently have become more and more prone to flooding.  If we do not start to address the issue then we will have more compaction which will lead to worse drainage leading to slower softer greens.

On a recent survey of Carnoustie country 74% voted our greens as being the best of all four courses – courses with considerably larger budgets than ours.  Another recent survey from market leader 59Club scored us 93% for on-course presentation.  This is not in spite of our maintenance practices it is in my view because of our maintenance practices.  Everything we do is aimed at producing the very best playing conditions for our STH and visitors and we are confident that this will continue to bear fruit as we move forward into the business end of the season.

Seniors/Ladies concerns

Myself, Les and other board members met with representatives from RMGC to discuss proposals to make the 1562 course more enjoyable without removing any of the challenges for the lower handicap golfer.  I am pleased to say this was a very progressive meeting and work is already underway to address some of these concerns (see figure 8).  I would like to thank David May, Doug Robb & Mike Stewart for the constructive way this was brought to our attention, communication is vital and it is important that we listen to the concerns of our STH to make our courses as enjoyable as possible for all standard of golfer.


Figure 8. Heavy rough being made less penal on 1562 9th hole


That’s all for this month

Regards for now

Darren McLaughlan



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