Scroll down for monthly updates from our Course Manager, Brian, and his team here at Baberton GC.
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September is now behind us and sadly the summer has gone. We basked in a week of fantastic weather at the start of the month, but Autumn is now very much upon us; daylight is getting shorter, leaves are falling from the trees, worms are casting and we endured a storm together with a significant amount of rain. All these factors result in the course having a more ‘wintery’ feel. Members will notice some A-frames have already been placed out to protect some areas, and we will start putting ropes out as conditions demand.
Plan for October
Our aim throughout September was to present and retain the course as best as possible knowing that in October we kick start our agronomy plans to safeguard it for the winter.
This Autumn we are carrying out our works in three stages:
1. Scarify and dress
2. Hollow core and dress
3. Verti-drain and dress
Throughout this process we will monitor the organic matter in the greens which is vitally important for playability and performance. It’s pleasing to see that our greens have performed better this season than in the last few. We monitor performance by inspecting water movement, firmness, disease resistance, ball roll and green speed.
During stage 1 the greens are scarified at a depth of 6mm. Past experience tells us this process removes around a quarter of a tonne of unwanted thatch per green, the space is then filled with dry porous sand to firm the greens up.
Stage 2 is the hollow coring stage, where 10mm diameter tines at a depth of 2 inches are used. Over a tonne of organic matter per green is removed with this process, focusing on mid-range thatch removal. We capitalise on the newly created holes by over-seeding with ultra fine dwarf grasses. Again, sand is applied to complete the process, diluting the thatch and creating more air space.
Stage 3 is the verti-draining process which is purely for air and water movement whilst providing root stimulation and movement. The aim is to get around 40/50 tonnes of sand into the greens at the end of all stages. A fertiliser will be applied to all greens to aid recovery and protect them through the winter months.
Tees will be solid tined, top-dressed and fertilised to strengthen them through the winter. We will monitor the weather before we start thinking about mats going into play. New Huxley mats will be built into the tees at holes 1, 2 and 7 before we move to the winter course set-up.
Carrick Sports will be on site at the start of November to do some shaping work on our ongoing bunker reconstruction programme. This winter we are focussing on bunkers at the 14th green and also considering a reshaping of the 9th fairway bunker. The size and shape of these bunkers will be finalised after consultation with Carrick Sports.
With David having left us to join Heart of Midlothian we have undertaken a review of the team make up. We’re delighted to confirm that Senior Apprentice Matthew Symons Wearne has been promoted to the full-time position of Junior Assistant. Matthew has been brilliant during his time with us and has one year left at college before he becomes a fully qualified. Cementing Matthew into a full-time position is a positive move for both Matthew and the Club.
We’re also pleased to confirm that Matthew Mairs, our Junior Apprentice, has been promoted into the role of Senior Apprentice. Again, this is in recognition of his development and excellent work to date.
In response to this team movement a recruitment process has been undertaken to appoint a new Apprentice, and we are delighted to announce Frankie Innes will join our team on Monday 9th of October. Frankie applied for the role last year and despite being pipped to the position by Matthew Symons Wearne, he came back more determined for the position and we are pleased he is now joining our team.
Finally, members will be aware that Brian also moves on to a new opportunity next month. The recruitment for a new Course Manager is ongoing and we’ll update the membership as soon as possible.
August was one of our busiest months as we held various club and open tournaments. The weather was mixed, and we were closed for one day due to the volume of rainfall. The mornings are getting darker and the temperatures dropping through the night. We continue to monitor ‘growth degree days’ which are now starting to decline. The colour of the trees is changing which only means autumn is approaching.
It has been three years since Brian joined us here at Baberton, so August 2020 marks the start of his 4th year, but final year. Brian has been reflecting on these last three years and looking back at the situation when he first arrived – his first initial report to the Board was the basis for the creation of the long-term plan that has since been put in place and seen the incredible improvements in the course. Putting construction work to one side (new paths, bunkers, tees etc) our main issue was the weak state of our greens. On average we were applying 8 fungicide treatments a year costing thousands of pounds. Our greens had a toxic black layer over all our surfaces caused by anaerobic bacteria which released hydrogen sulphide gas. If we had continued this practice, there was a high probability of ‘losing our greens’.
Our goal as a team was to develop a plan that strengthened our greens, increased our root vigour and density, decrease/eradicate the toxic black layer giving us more sustainable surfaces that gain us better playability all year round.
Roll on 3 years and the results are transformational. The implementation of various methods of aeration, aggressively changing our cultivars, suppression of our annual meadow grass and the creation of a programme that included both inorganic and organic fertilisers coinciding with soil-based sprays, introduction of bacteria and fungi activity have all helped create a healthier soil. Our team are delighted with the results and members have seen consistently good putting surfaces. To date this year, we have applied one fungicide treatment, almost eradicating the toxic black layer and managing the organic matter level at 6% which our greens are performing brilliantly to.
In late August we had a productive course walk with members of the Course Committee, where we shared ideas and agreed the various changes / improvements that will be built into our winter work programme. This will be shared with members shortly.
We prepared well for the Autumn Meeting and still have Captains’ Day and numerous competitions to prepare for during this month so we will try and retain our current conditions. We have fed both our tees and aprons with a granular feed so you should see some good recovery and colour in these surfaces. We used our verti-drain over our greens on the 4th September, and directly ironed after. This task aids water movement and root stimulation without causing too much disruption to our greens.
Staffing – A Message from Brian
It has been well publicised that I will be moving onto pastures new. This new opportunity was put to me at the end of July and despite the clubs’ best efforts to retain me I felt it was the right move for me to further my career. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity and support Baberton has given me during my 3-year spell and will leave with the conscious that the course is in a better place than it was 3 years prior.
On top of my departure, our assistant David, after 9 years of employment at our club, will also be leaving to take on his dream job as deputy head-groundsman at Tynecastle. David has always wanted to go into groundsman-ship and was successfully selected out of 30 applicants. This is a step up the ladder for his career and I’m incredibly proud of him.
I will be working my 3 months’ notice and will be involved with the recruitment process to get our staff numbers back up and select the right candidates.
July has been another busy month as we endured heavy rain and great grass growing temperatures. Whilst this combination brought lots of work, it was hugely beneficial, particularly in seeing recovery on problematic worn walkway areas. It’s amazing how much the course has recovered from the dry spell in June; grass all over the course has regained colour, growth and density. An increase of cutting routines was implemented as a result and we also applied plant growth regulator around some of the more vigorous areas. Some of the burnt-out areas on bunker faces will need to be addressed and turfed as part of our winter programme.
The weather has also been of great benefit to the greens, the controlled release fertiliser we applied in June has been ticking away nicely and our greens have been lean and rolling beautifully. This has been a good spell for the greens as pace and trueness have been ideal. As a team we now look to reach those conditions earlier in the season and maintain them for longer.
Historically, this time of year sees us enter a disease prone period. The abiotic pressure over the last few months takes its toll on our annual meadow grass, which is already weak due to the volume of play and stress from machinery. Our greens generally succumb to anthracnose which is a fungus called Colletotrichum Cereale. This is normally triggered by climatic conditions and inadequate levels of fertility. Having sand-based surfaces and a high population of poa grass is our own downfall. We have a long-term plan in place to subdue the poa and increase other grasses that are more tolerant to any anthracnose outbreaks.
However, in the meantime we need to proactively deal with anthracnose, to do so we put more air into our greens and apply a granular feed to increase the nitrogen levels, whilst we also increase the height of cut to protect the plant. In the past this has been successful in pushing out the anthracnose, but created conditions for outbreaks of fusarium, this then leads us to spray an application of fungicide. So, members will see work throughout August to deal with this and keep on top of it.
Work on approaches
Members may have noticed the commencement of a significant amount of work on the green approaches. This work is part of our medium and long-term plans to gain better surfaces on these approaches. We want to increase the volume of finer leaf grasses whilst firming and smoothing them out. To achieve this, we need to decrease the volume of thatch and rougher grasses (i.e. Yorkshire fog, rye and annual meadow grass) whilst introducing finer leaf grasses in the form of ultra fine dwarf rye. Scarifying, topdressing, spiking and over-seeding have all taken place recently.
Remainder of August
With disease pressure high, August is one of the busiest months on our calendar. We host many of our big tournaments so it’s important we retain our course standards. We have a few members of staff on annual leave so will monitor growth and continue to spray plant growth regulator to aid us with maintaining all surfaces.
Despite it on being August we already have a view towards winter. Whilst the outline plan for the winter programme is in place, this will be tweaked and adjusted in the coming weeks in collaboration with the course committee. The final plan will be confirmed in October and shared with the members.
Another Club Championship done and dusted!
The Championship preparations took a great effort from our team. Whilst the warm weather was welcomed and fantastic for golf, averaging 10 degrees overnight and above 20 degrees during the day, it also gave us issues as the heat and lack of moisture impacted the course. Seeded areas failed to germinate and we struggled to get worn areas to recover. Our newly planted trees and wildflower areas toiled, and the annual meadow grass on our greens protected itself by producing more seed heads. We had to create a plan to deal with all of these abiotic pressures.
We had a full complement of staff but never enough working hours in the day to combat the issues without the course condition being impacted. To free up time we blanket sprayed large areas with plant growth regulator to slow growth, with semi-rough, fast-growing areas of rough, greens, tees, and aprons all receiving the treatment. This reduced the need for cutting so we could hand water dry surfaces, water our new trees and plants, and work on our greens to get them to tournament condition.
Our greens are sand-based with a high percentage of annual meadow grass so it takes a lot of work to gain smoothness, pace, and firmness. They don’t like heat or drought so it’s important to manage the biology in the soil as well as what is visible on the surface. The surfaces are pushed very hard in June to be championship-ready, but this approach is unsustainable all year round. We are working to change our greens cultivars through inter-seeding so that they will become a lot more manageable.
Our surfaces are kept lean in the lead up to the championship with the input of surfactants, soil amendments, bacteria/fungi and iron. We keep the nitrogen at a low rate to prevent the increase of yield production. Our greens react and adapt well to this method for a short period of time before the plant then becomes weak and vulnerable - this is why we always do post-championship maintenance.
This year we verti-drained our greens, punching 8-10 tonnes of sand into the top 4" of the surfaces. We hired an Air2G2 air-injecting machine to blast air sideways at a depth of 9", leaving no holes and causing zero disruption. This work is vital for water movement, root development and reducing toxic black layer.
All of this was followed by the application of a controlled release fertiliser as our greens historically suffer badly from anthracnose from July to September. The current weather has kicked this fertiliser on and making both forms of urea and ammonia nitrogen readily available to the plant, despite the great recovery from our maintenance works it has produced a massive jump in growth! This has led us to verti-cut 4 times in a week whilst applying more plant growth regulator to slow things down. We had a watchful eye on our first ever Gent’s Open on July 2nd and were pleased our greens received so much positive feedback.
July and August are key months for us as we prepare for lots of big tournaments. The disease pressure is normally higher in these months, so we have altered our fertiliser programme to hopefully aid protection.
Our Deputy Head, Craig Surgeon, heads off to the prestigious Open Championship to represent Baberton and help out on the course. We are sure that he will do us proud and wish him all the best on his adventure.
We are truly into the thick of the competition season with preparation for the second Club Championship qualifying round and matchplay rounds taking our immediate focus. As the weather heats up nicely, it is important that we monitor both growth degree days (GDD), and growth potential days (GPD). The importance of these have been highlighted in previous reports and it's a way we can manage the best windows of opportunity to apply fertilizers, plant growth regulators and apply seed to gain germination. As we look back to last year’s records, we are currently 27 days behind last year and this has been a concern for most clubs in the area. The first half of May we only achieved 3 (GPD) which shows us how difficult it has been to gain definition, recovery and germination.
We are currently basking in a spell of fantastic weather for golf, but it is not so good for all our golf course maintenance tasks. We had a jump in growth which led to an increase in definition, seed popped up on tees and greens due to the fact we can get water to those areas. We have now applied a plant growth regulator to numerous areas around our course to manage the growth spurt. A big issue for us is how dry the course is becoming and the fact that worn areas around the greens are struggling to recover due to lack of moisture. We have plenty of soil and seed in these areas but unfortunately, we need a spell of consistent rain for these areas to recover. We will continue to white line these spots until recovery is gained. This year’s spring transition to summer has been the worst in a very long time and it’s the same observation for course management teams around the country.
We welcomed Gary Smith for our first STRI visit of the year recently. We performance tested our greens whilst discussing our team’s agronomy plans and any alterations that we have made in this problematic start to the year. We tested the greens for firmness/retention, smoothness, ball speed and moisture. Despite the fact that the greens are heavily seeding at the moment, they ran consistently at 9.5 on the stimp. More important to us was the smoothness readings which were likened to Open Championship greens. This data is a big complement to our team considering the difficult period we have been through.
Machinery has been a major issue for us over the last 3 weeks. Breakdowns on our 4500 (rough mower) 3250(tees/aprons mower) mdx truck, tractor/blower, 3400 (greens mower) and Toro workman/sprayer have all played their part. Gone are the days we can get parts the next day. All our equipment plays a vital part on our course, and we have limited back up when things go down. On a positive note, we received our new greens mower just in time for the Club Championship events. The purchase of a lithium powered Jacobsen Eclipse 322 greens mower shows the commitment the club has to support our golf course whilst taking a sustainable approach and consideration for our neighbours. The eclipse 322 has a patented cutting design which is regarded worldwide. This new mower will eliminate any potential oil leaks whilst provided a better cut for smoother, healthier greens.
One of the daily tasks for our team is bunker maintenance. As part of this we replenish sand levels and rake all bunkers to provide as much consistency and playability as possible for members. Despite daily requests on social media, regular requests to members and an instruction video on how to rake correctly we are continually seeing examples of unraked bunkers. Leaving the bunker unraked after playing your shot shows a complete disregard and lack of respect to our course staff and fellow members. This is a simple part of golf etiquette to be followed by all members and not just the majority of members for whom it is second nature. Your help is much appreciated, and any feedback or suggestions are welcome.
We have been running with a full complement of staff for two weeks now, both new members of our team have fitted in brilliantly and are up to speed with how we operate. As part of ongoing training two members of our team have completed their first aid training, giving us three qualified first aiders who can help in the unlikely event of an accident, or should members become unwell on the course.
Post Championship Maintenance
After the Club Championships have completed we have planned some maintenance on our greens commencing Monday 19th June. We have hired an Air2G2 machine for a week. This machine pushes air into our surfaces at the depth of 9 inches with zero disruption to our greens. Whilst this is going on we also plan to top-dress them with 10 tonne of sand whilst punching 10mm tines into them. This will aid thatch dilution, water movement, root development, firmness and smoothness. We will complete these works by applying a granular feed to aid recovery. We plan to start these works at 5am and will cause no disruption to any planned golf.