While it’s great to be able to put a difficult 2018 to bed, it’s important that the rigours of last season aren’t forgotten. There’s no doubt about it, last year was tough, both physically and mentally.

The UK weather had an enormous impact on golf courses and the regulatory environment within our industry continues to provide challenges. I’m confident we have the ingredients for success, and I can’t wait to get going again this year.

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Greens

The aeration programme over the last 3 months has been intense, and we have targeted all depths in a bid to stimulate and promote root depth recovery and density. The scaring from the late fusarium attack has recovered and the surfaces have coped well through the recent heavy frost, snow and rain.

A granular fertiliser application was applied last week in time for the slight rise in temperatures and that should strengthen things up as we head towards spring renovation.

All the good work from the last 3 years has seen our organic matter levels reduce to a point where we can now begin to incorporate over seeding of the greens into our maintenance schedule. This will be done at 2 stages throughout the year and will help the bent grass population to increase.

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Tees, Approaches, & Surrounds

The newly seeded tees are settling down well and I’m delighted with the results. The process of ‘Fraize’ mowing a surface, which involves stripping the turf off and returning the tee bed back to its rootzone layer is a process widely used in stadium pitch maintenance at the end of the season.

I believe it can have a strong presence in golf course maintenance and can replace years of hollow coring to firm and level a tee or approach in a shorter time scale, while planting the exact seed needed for that area. We have successfully carried this out now on tees 2, 9, 12, 13, 20 and 24.

A number of the tees done later in the year will be over seeded and top-dressed in the coming weeks ready for the new season, and we have plans to do another lot of tees at the end of this season.

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The approaches and surrounds have gone from strength to strength over the last few years as we looked to increase the density and quality of the grass around the greens with a view to then be able to lower the height of cut to create some tighter lies.

Last year the well documented drought affected these areas badly, and they will require further work to try and maximise the recovery. We are looking to bring the approaches into line with the green’s renovation programme, and they will receive the same treatment. This will help firm them up and also improve the drainage.

Fairways

We have just over 15 Hectares of Fairway here at Moor Allerton and its an area we pride ourselves on as being some of the best in the area. Last year we didn’t get the opportunity to produce the goods. The extremely wet spring stopped us from using heavy machinery until mid-May and the opportunity to fertilise and lay down the foundations was missed. We then lost over 80% grass coverage across the site as the drought put most of the course into a state of dormancy.

The recovery process has been long and hard, and a number of applications of wetting agent, bio stimulants and late season fertiliser has seen the majority of the fairways recover. We still have an issue on some badly affected areas where the gaps in turf have let moss grow, but after a cut this week they will be treated with a soluble chelated iron in an attempt to knock the moss back. Cutting fairways in Jan / Feb is unchartered territory for us, but testament to the drainage work carried out and also the repercussions from the summer.

We are currently looking at the shapes of the fairways and as spring approaches you may notice a few subtle changes as we try to bring a number of the fairway bunkers into play, and also compensate for areas of ‘Eco’ rough that we may look to introduce in order to reduce cutting time in out of play areas.

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Bunkers

The bunkers here at Moor Allerton, and certainly in my time here have been the most scrutinised area of the golf course. This isn’t unique to us, and In fact, if you speak to any Golf course manager, they will tell you the same thing. I have my views on this and have aired them quite openly, sometimes bringing criticism from members. Bunkers are a hazard, and a hazard in the game of golf is designed to disrupt and to bring penalty.

Sand type is well talked about and I’m often asked why we can’t have the same sand as a course someone may have played elsewhere. Bunker sand is quarried, and the location of those quarries affects the price due to haulage and environmental costs. Sand when added to bunkers must be tested and the particle sizes must match what is currently being used to prevent layering and locking, which reduces percolation ultimately flooding bunkers.

The only way to change the sand type is to start again and remove what you have to replace it with a new type. Many courses you see on tv that hold major events will replace the sand every 1-2 years.

Sand depths are a contentious issue and one that many golfers I speak to have an opinion on. The official PGA and USGA guidelines recommend that sand depths should be 4-6” in the base, with 2-3” on the faces depending on style and shape of the bunker, and design and type of golf course. It’s important to remember that this is a guideline and not a requirement. Many of our bunkers are deemed not to have enough sand in, when In fact they have too much. The new bunkers constructed on 6, 14, 17 were deemed by many to have too much, when they were actually below the guideline.

There are a lot of other factors that affect the perceived quality of the bunker, rather than the depth and type. When our course was constructed the method of bunker drainage at that time was called ‘Sump Style’ which involved digging large sump chambers into a bunker that in theory would take water away and move it deep into the soil / clay profile. As the environmental conditions have changed over the years and the rainfall severity has increased the sumps haven’t been able to cope and once full have taken a while to empty.

This causes the bunker to hold water for longer, and in warm conditions in the summer condensation from the sump can often give the sand a crispy feel to it. Incorrect bunker maintenance over the years has also affected playability. Instead of re-distributing sand levels, many clubs opt to ‘top up’ the bunkers and as the build up of sand over the sumps has been too compact and severe, the drainage becomes blocked.

 

This winter, one of our main priorities was to address this issue and the team have set out on a huge task to renovate each bunker, and refresh the sumps, while redistributing and ameliorating the sand. The findings were as predicted and many bunkers had over 3 times the amount of recommended sand, compacted into layers within the base. The team have completed Holes 1 through to 13 and will continue through the course over the next few weeks.

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Trees & Wildflowers

Looking after the site here at MAGC is more than just golf course maintenance. We are lucky to be situated in a very scenic part of the country, with some spectacular views and features. As many of you know it was a priority of mine since coming here to really try and show off and highlight such features and improve the aesthetic layout of the land as well as the playability of the golf course.

Part of the plan was to try and introduce some wildflower meadows and areas in and around the course to inject a bit of colour, in an attempt to also improve our ecological footprint and to help attract native butterflies and insects. We carried out some very successful trial work in 2017 which saw the emergence of 2 large plots on the 6th and 18th holes.

Unfortunately, they also fell victim to last years weather and the decision was rightly made not to plant the plots. The ladies’ section have very kindly donated the funds for the project and this years seed has arrived and will be planted towards the end of February. If anyone has any suggestions as to where they might like to see some new plots planted, please do let me know.

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We have had some great feedback regarding much of the tree and plantation management work that has been carried out and that has continued this winter in conjunction mainly with the tee upgrades.

Thinning around the 13th tee will help promote more bluebells for the spectacular scenery we get in May and it will also help the quality of the tee surface. This is a similar situation with the 25th tee.

Major tree work with permission and cooperation with the Farm owners has been carried out around the 5th green, with some finishing off still to do. While showing off and bringing into play the lovely water feature it will also give vital light and air flow to a green and surround that struggles during the winter months.

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Pruning and limbing of all plantations is important not only for aesthetic value but also health and safety. We audit many of the trees regularly and try and remove any diseased or damaged trees before they become a safety risk. The current storm ‘Eric’ brought to light why this process is important.

Thinning of copses reduces the amount of manual labour hours spent having to strim plantations by allowing us to pass through the areas with specialised mowers. This also speeds up play as you can easily identify your ball. Lack of plantation management causes more harm than good as overcrowded trees struggle to compete for light and root space. This is evident between holes 22 and 23 where the large dividing copse doesn’t house a single fully-grown mature tree.

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Projects, Drainage and Course Improvements

One thing we can’t be accused of is standing still and lacking ambition. Along with the hard work to improve the quality of the surfaces at MAGC we have also carried out a lot of larger scale projects in a short period of time. With the support of the club we have completed the rebuilding of the 17th complex, the 14th after the flood damage and also the redesign of the 6th green area. The lake construction in front of the 27th was a successful large upgrade and all these projects have been done with the sole aim of improving the course and member experience.

Last year the weather affected our winter work quite badly and in hindsight we were maybe a tad too ambitious starting given the conditions. The team alongside our fantastic contractor Martin Crompton battled well to complete the construction of the 6th bunker and surround and the path moving on the 3rd-4th tee area but unfortunately, we were unable to complete the full works as the ground conditions became unworkable. We have now added the final touches and will complete the path topping work before the start of the season. The new greenside banking’s on the 3rd and 6th will be over seeded and fertilised to bring the sward density into align with the rest of the area and cut at semi rough height.

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I’m really pleased that the drainage work is starting to have such a positive affect and the feedback from long standing members is great. The large scale work around the 1st and 10th green, and I think more noticeable on the 14th and 16th fairways is excellent. More recently the mole plough work carried out in September is having a huge affect, especially in the roughs and carries such as the 2nd, 3rd and 21st that used to get extremely wet. The club supported our plans and invested in the equipment the team needed to be able to carry this work out in house and I’m excited to be able to extend the drainage plans across the full course next year.

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As part of our ongoing bunker upgrades, we have this week broken ground on the 21st hole. It’s no secret that the 21st has some of the poorest bunkers on the course. The fairway / approach bunker is not fit for purpose and constantly floods, whereas the greenside bunkers often penalise players with unfair lies due to the shape. We are rebuilding all 3, and by the time you read this report the main construction and shaping will be complete, leaving us to install the drainage and final grading next week before turfing.

We had looked at numerous plans for this area, ranging from building a lake, to an open ditch. After surveying the land, the most cost-effective solution was to re-design and rebuild the bunkering, while installing new and refreshing old drainage in the area. I’m confident this will be a great improvement to the hole.

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You may have seen us investigating the area around in the woods near the 14th tee a few weeks ago. This is actually the site of the original 14th tee, and those of you who have been at the club for a long time will certainly remember playing the hole from that position. After some research, aerial drone footage and a rough clearing of the area it’s clear to see how the hole was designed to play and what a fantastic project it would be to get back into play. I believe it was abandoned due to poor light and drainage and its clear there is work to be done to re-instate it properly but it is a project we are looking at for the end of this season, along with the renovation and upgrade of the lakes and stream.

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Let’s all hope we have a kind spring and summer, and we can all enjoy a fantastic 2019 season.