Grass Clippings

Improvement works on the golf course

One of the important tasks we do within the Course and Grounds Department is to review projects after a period of time. With five years of data now behind us we can quantify and, in some cases see, through photographs the improvements that have been made to the golf course during this time. It is pleasing to see that as a team we have made a positive impact to the course and the playing conditions. With the benefit of our agronomist, Sylvain Duval we are striving to improve all the surfaces of the course. In the last three years we have been working on a plan for fairway turf improvement, making the sward tighter and endure summer stress. This is a continual task that hinges on over seeding the fairways to improve the types of grasses in these areas, to those that can survive hotter summers. The sand, top-dressing programme is paying dividends after the last six years of applications and has changed the composition of the underlying soil of the fairways improving drainage and making them firmer even in the wettest of winters. This winter, so far, has been on the scale with recorded rain fall on site reaching 180mm (over 7’’) in the past seven weeks. The ground now is what we refer to as ‘at field capacity’, when the pore spaces between the soil particles are full of water and there is nowhere left for the water to drain to. Walking the fairways this week, they are still reasonably dry but the difference from these areas to the rough is noticeable. 

This year we have started the process of developing the rough and how we can improve the playability without the assistance of more water available for irrigation. To increase the irrigation system to make it ‘wall to wall’, from one side of the course to the other is unsustainable. The vast quantity of water needed is beyond the purse of the Club and the storage capacity needed would require space for an irrigation lake the size of one of the holes on the course. Then there is the mechanical element of pipe work and controller apparatus needed to deliver water out so far. With Sylvain’s assistance we are trialling seed varieties in the rough that are hardy and stay greener into the summer. Even if temperature extremes mean that eventually they go into a dormant state (at the height of summer), they will bounce back eventually in autumn when heat stress decreases. 

In 2020, we will be rolling out a renovation and over-seeding programme to take this work to the next level and concentrating on carry areas and the worst undulating holes, helping to create a better lie for the ball in these areas. With our contractors now renovating fairway bunkers we should have all the bunkers consistent by the spring and the fairway hazards will also have small irrigation misting points installed to help keep the turf in good condition longer. The landscaping project between the 4th / 7th holes and 14th green is continuing, Andrew Fisher-Tomlin and myself have agreed the planting plan and we are now selecting the plants for planting out in a few weeks’ time. Trees for this project are being selected from Barchams Trees of Ely, which is one of the UK’s best tree nurseries and has been the approved Club supplier for the last few years. These are only part of the improvement works that are ongoing for the sports surfaces and there is much to do for the future of the course but by continually assessing the work and achievements we can build on this for the future and keep improving the experience for Members.

Tending to trees

Members ask me about the process of tree management we are currently undertaking on the course. As reported in previous Grass Clippings there is a continuing process of tree and plantation management to develop the tree species and health of the woodland areas on the estate and particularly the golf course, having the largest number of trees on site. In the 1980’s there was much investment in planting at the Club specifically the central belt of the holes from 18 across to 10 and above, where, in decades prior the polo fields existed and so were less populated with trees. When instigating a new tree plantation for an aesthetical purpose, trees are planted at high density. Maybe as close as three-metre centres. Under this regimen, tree growth is accelerated, as growing together tightly they compete and protect each other better from the elements. Eventually a percentage of the trees are thinned out as the trees put on mass and start to crowd each other. As trees mature, they need to develop a full canopy and spread, and the root systems need to flex and reach out their network of roots. If they are squashed in side by side, trees might become misshapen, lack a leading branch that means they do not grow upright or have more tendency to split and become prone to disease or pest damage. In recent years, several tree diseases are now prevalent in the south east which were not even contemplated at the time when the trees were planted. Horse chestnut, oaks and ash all face issues which may mean that they go the same way as elm in the 70’s and 80’s and become a rarity in the UK. We are looking to restock trees for the future and in bare areas where there are no trees presently. As part of our ecology programme we are not wasting any timber harvested during this process and are now creating eco-piling on the course to create more habitats for insects. Jake Boardman is doing a fine job of creating the first pile near the 8th tee. By retaining cut timber, we are also reducing our CO2 emissions. The smaller stems and branches are being chipped which also returns this asset onto the composting pile for recycling.