For the three strong greenkeeping team at coastal Golspie Golf Club in the far North of Scotland, December 14th 2012 was meant to be the start of their annual break. Nature, however, decided to intervene.
Alexander MacDonald and his two fellow greenkeepers had plenty to celebrate on Friday 14th December. A ranking of 54th in National Club Golfers UK Top 100 Links courses earlier in the year had helped to emphasise just how hard they had worked to improve the 200 member club and one of the most challenging summer and autumn seasons appeared to be behind them.
Any thoughts of a few days off were dashed, however, when Mr MacDonald received an early morning call from the club the following morning. The worst storm in the club's near 125 year history had breached the sea defences, not only flooding the bulk of the course but also bringing tonnes of rubble and debris with it.
Boulders, some weighing around a tonne each, had been launched inland and onto the greens and fairways. The seventh tee disappeared along with huge areas of coast. More worryingly, the seawater on the course was 12ft deep in places and had nowhere to go, it reached over 160yds beyond the coastal defences and submerged greens, tees and fairways.
"We knew any thought of annual leave was over," says Mr MacDonald. "On the Sunday morning I arrived at 8.30 to make a start on clearing the greens only to be joined by a few of the club members later in the day to help us clear some of the rubble on the course. By the Monday after an appeal on the club's Facebook page, 24 volunteers arrived to help, this building to 100 people over the course of the next few days."
Equally heartening was the volunteer help received from staff from neighbouring Royal Dornoch, Tain, Bonar Bridge and Skibo as well as non-members from the village. Local contractors also helped with the loan of equipment, with well over a quarter million tonnes of debris being removed from the course over the following days.
"We were advised that large areas of fairways, tees and more importantly greens should be stripped, with contaminated soil removed and then replenished with clean rootzone and then turfed", added Mr MacDonald. "That would have been hugely expensive and way beyond the means of our club. In consultation with various outside agencies, we decided to try and work with what we had, ensuring that surfaces remained similar throughout the course instead of having 6 greens that performed completely different to the original, unaffected ones" said Mr MacDonald. "The first thing we had to do was to clean the rootzone of residual salt.
We aerated using what we had, a very outdated machine armed with 4 inch pencil tines, irrigated heavily for a week then hit them with rocastem and a potash based feed. This was repeated 3 times over 9 weeks and although it was reducing the surface salt levels, what was really needed was deeper aeration and flushing" said Mr MacDonald
Fast-forward to early March and the delivery of a Charterhouse Redexim Verti-Drain 7416. Offering a working width of 1.60m and designed to work at depths of up to 350mm, the Verti-Drain had been used on all the greens and six fairways by the end of the month and will be used pretty much full time until May.
"Our aim is to really improve drainage to help flush the salt down deep into the soil as it has nowhere else to go," says Mr McDonald. "We will then run the unit over the greens as and when it is needed. The Verti-Drain has really impressed us. Following a pass with a light turf iron you would not know the ground had been worked on with the Verti-Drain."
A further part of the equipment package brought in to recover the course is a Redexim 1575 Overseeder. Although designed to cover wide areas, the 1.5m wide unit has already been used to reseed the greens with a chewings and slender fescue mix, a bent mix having also been ordered in to help recover more damaged areas later in the spring.
Before the storm damage, Mr MacDonald says one of the poorest tees on the course was the seventh. As it had been washed away he and his team had no other choice but rebuild it, a task they completed in just three weeks. This new tee is now the best on the course and it has sparked a growing enthusiasm to not just recover the course but improve it too.
The rebuild and improvement programme has and will be eased by not having to borrow aeration and overseeding equipment. In the past, aeration work was carried out only when equipment became available from neighbouring clubs. Now the team can go out and do the job exactly when it is needed and most beneficial. The same applies to overseeding.
As to the immediate future, the full 18 holes at the club are due to be re-opened on 1st May. This is a stunning achievement. In the longer term, the new equipment that has been brought in to help with the club's recovery will also be used to enhance it's tees, greens and fairways over many years. The terrible night of 14th December 2012 will be remembered not just for the terrible damage it did at Golspie but also for how it enabled the club to invest in its future.
Charterhouse Turf Machinery Ltd., Weydown Industrial Estate,
Weydown Road, Haslemere, Surrey GU27 1DW UK
Tel: +44 (0)1428 661222 - Fax: +44 (0)1428 661218 - www.charterhouseturfmachinery.co.uk