Craigielaw Golf Club's Head Greenkeeper, Brian Mckendrick, once made parts for combat aircraft. Now he plies his trade at one of Scotland's golf coast's newest courses. It is a transition he has made smoothly, but he confesses to being a perfectionist!
Thirty miles east of Edinburgh, on Scotland's golf coast, lies Craigielaw Golf Club. Near golfing neighbours include Royal Musselburgh, Gullane and Muirfield, yet this fifteen year old course should, in no way, feel inferior to them.
Designed by Donald Steele, it is one of the finest examples of a links course less dominated by dunes and affords spectacular views over the Firth of Forth, Gullane Hill and out towards Edinburgh and Fife.
During its short history, the course has been host to many national events, including the 2006 Scottish Amateur Strokeplay Championship, and was a qualifying course for the 2007 Seniors Open at Muirfield. It is renowned for its undulating greens and cavernous bunkers.
In this question and answer session, Head Greenkeeper, Brian Mckendrick, talks about how he came into the industry and the challenges that he and his team face on this exposed, yet beautiful stretch of coastline.
Pitchcare: How did you get into the industry and where did you work prior to your current position?
Brian Mckendrick: I started out making precision parts for commercial and combat aircraft at Bruntons Wire Mill. l loved this job but, with the possibility of being laid off and with a young family, I had to take the gamble and move on. An opportunity came up at Gullane Golf Club and I haven't looked back since.
What training and education did you undertake?
I did block release at Elmwood College between 1995-1998, completing my Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs). In 2002, I became a D32/33 Qualified Assessor.
Was there one person who inspired you?
Coming from a highly disciplined background, I was able to incorporate those work ethics into my new career. I was able to pick up the profession for, as we know, it is handed down and progressed with experience. Back then, it was all old school - hand brushing, hand topdressing and days of caning. But it took one person who helped put it all together and combine old and modern practices for me, and that was Paul Seago, who is now at The Renaissance Club just along the coast. He got the best out of me, worked me hard and made me want to always be better.
Are you responsible for budgets or do you report to someone else, for example a greens chairman or committee?
At this moment in time, budgets are not part of my responsibility. I meet most Tuesdays with our Director of Golf, Jonathan Porteous, where we discuss coming events, course maintenance and issues that may have arisen. On occasions, I will meet up with our General Manager, Derek Scott, to update and discuss course matters.
What type of course is it?
I've been asked this question on numerous occasions, as some are not quite sure. I answer by saying "it's a links hybrid". It has all the characteristics of a links course, but with the added bonus of undulating, table top greens that are exposed to the elements. Added to this, there are cavernous bunkers, traditional fairways, golden rough, great views and a breeze that will catch out the most educated of golfers for, as you know, links golf is a thinking man's game.
What is the total acreage and how is this split up?
There is one 18-hole championship course covering approximately 165 acres, plus a 6-hole short course of around 4.5 acres and a golf academy driving range that is roughly 6 acres which incorporates three practice bunkers. A new fairway with a practice green is being added.
Off the white tees, the 18-hole course measures 6,601 yards; off the blues 6,043 and, off the red tees, 5,371.
Tell us about your team and what additional help you get?
My deputy head is my brother, Colin Mckendrick, who's been here eighteen years. Conor Gilles is my senior greenkeeper and Craig Imlah completes the qualified staff.
We also have two apprentices - Allan Hay and David Kelly. This is going well, although it does take up a lot of my time. But, at least this way, we can train them in the way we like the work to be done.
Our goal here is to get everyone up to speed as soon as possible so the pressures are shared and the responsibility divided evenly. We have three qualified sprayers, so this task is also shared as evenly as possible.
Training is ongoing and we attend what seminars we can. We've recently signed our new health and safety legislation forms. Three of us are qualified first aiders, with one qualified to use the defibrillator.
Our agronomist is David Stansfield, who visits us in February of each year, but is on call 24/7. T.I.S are our irrigation contractors and we also get support from Rainbird's Kneale Diamond.
We don't currently employ a workshop technician. Being a small team of just six, we do what we can, otherwise it is outsourced to Thomas Sherriff & Co Ltd, the local John Deere dealer in Haddington, five miles away.
Where does presentation rank?
I have this notice in the shed: "If you can't give 120%, perfection will just have to do". Presentation is paramount, as are good work practices.
Simply hand cutting greens puts them on a different planet where presentation is concerned. We came up with various cutting methods which I find suit the course for various occasions, from traditional links style fairways to variations in the angle of cut; whichever style we choose is also reflected on the tees.
How would you describe the soil profile generally and what additional problems does that bring?
Other than the greens and tees, the general profile is a soil loam, interspersed with areas of high clay content and sandy loams on the coastal side of the course.
The greens were built to USGA specification. The odd one is sheltered, as is the whole of the academy course, so those greens are irrigated less to reduce high moisture build-up and, on occasion, cored with 12mm tines rather than our standard 8mm tines. Elsewhere, good, basic turf maintenance procedures prevail.
We do have some small issues with shade and airflow, but this is dealt with mainly by trimming and thinning out dense shrub areas and tree branches and, as said before, good turf maintenance practices seem to do the trick.
An irrigation system was installed during construction, as was the drainage system. In the past, we suffered badly from flooding in certain areas, so additional drainage was installed on high risk fairways, and a pumping station was fitted on the lower end of the course to divert excess water, plus the fairways are now verti-drained annually with 18mm tines.
We also cut down into wet areas around the course, using a simple patcher, to break through clay locked areas down into the porous strata and fill to ground level with gravel. Simple, but very effective.
Do you use temporary greens?
When revetting greenside bunkers, we will, on occasion, put the flag on the approach, especially on the par 3s. Also, the odd green is susceptible to hard frost so occasionally, but very rarely, we will place those flags on the approach.
Tell us about your weekly/monthly maintenance regimes?
Height of cut on the greens ranges from 4mm in summer to 8mm
in winter. John Deere 2500E triples or John Deere 220 pedestrian mowers are used, as required. We'll cut the greens every day in the high season, but perhaps only once or twice in the winter, or when required.
Green surrounds are cut at between 10mm to 15mm, depending on the season, using a John Deere 2653 utility mower. During the high season, this will be once or twice a week, but will go out to once fortnightly or even once a month in the winter.
Height of cut on tees and approaches ranges from 6.5mm in summer to 11mm in winter. We use our John Deere 2500E mowers for this task, cutting twice a week in the summer out to fortnighty or monthly as required in the winter.
Fairways are maintained between 11mm to 15mm using our two John Deere 2235Cs - twice a week in the high season and fortnightly once we have run the verti-drain over them. We also verti-drain greens, tees and surrounds.
We overseed greens and tees using the Verti-Seed 804.
We use an Aercore 1500 for our coring and solid tining needs in all areas. The greens are solid tined once a month from April to September.
What end of season and ongoing renovations do you undertake?
We don't really have an end of season, golf is 365 days weather permitting but, saying that, we will start to put out traffic control areas, bunker revetts, verti-draining etc. from around mid-October, working around the golf and vice versa.
Renovations are prioritised by
situation rather than budget, but you learn to walk before you run.
How have the changing weather patterns affected what you do?
At this moment in time [mid-December], it's damp and 13OC degrees outside, plus we have had double the average rainfall, as has much of the UK. Keeping on top of disease outbreaks is always on one's mind. Increased cutting around the course is a more evident this year but, like a lot of jobs, you become tuned in to changes and adapt.
Do you take regular soil samples to ascertain what work is required?
Samples are taken in February when our agronomist visits, and later if necessary. We also routinely check the moisture levels of the greens throughout the summer and adjust irrigation as and when required.
How do you interact with your club members?
Newsletters, notice board, emails and the occasional course walk helps us to integrate with our members, plus the odd chit chat when working out on the course. Keeping members informed and updated is the best way to alleviate any frustrations or common problems that can occur out on the course.
Are you working on any special projects at the moment?
We are putting a new practice hole in the academy to help ease the pressure on our short course.
What projects have been undertaken in recent years?
Our water course on our 11th fairway was edged with sleepers and new bridges were built to improve the appearance and strategy of the hole. T.I.S levelled the ditch and put in the sleepers and we constructed the bridges.
How do you undertake pest and weed control?
The odd mole trap does go down and, when it comes to total weed control, we changed to Rosate for it seemed the weeds became resistant, the Roundup Pro which we had been using for a few years.
Are rabbits, badgers, foxes, geese, chafer grubs, worms etc. a problem?
Touch wood, we have no real problems. We do have the odd badger, moles, geese, swans, the obligatory worms and grubs, but no real problems as such. A close eye is kept on any movement that may arise to cause concern.
How important do you consider the local flora and fauna?
Indigenous flora and fauna is essential, especially for a links style course and, luckily or unlucky for us, there is a constant uptake of flora and fauna caused by seeded bird droppings, wind blow and foot traffic. We have areas of certain links plants that have naturally grown this way.
We plant the occasional gorse and broom, then thin out and replant to help with course definitions and help to create wildlife corridors. A small battle with sea buckthorn takes place over the winter and a high percentage of this is windblown and by bird droppings.
Along with the creation of any new golf course, nature conservation is an aspect that is always included. We worked alongside and took advice from the local nature reserve ranger concerning the wet areas, ponds and water course on our 11th. But, like many links courses in our position, we actually provide a more diverse and wider natural corridor, thereby offering a wider variety of flora and fauna.
In the odd damp areas in the rough, we have planted marsh grass to complement and to add character on the course. These plants are thinned out from areas on the estate and replanted.
What would you consider to be the state of our industry?
In the past, it was considered by some as a jack of all trades but a master of none, but this now is history, due to the training and skill set required just to be a routine greenkeeper itself.
Are we undervalued? I personally don't feel unappreciated, mainly because we all communicate; be it the shed group, pro shop, clubhouse or management. We produce a product that needs a diverse group of individuals from many levels and backgrounds. From the upkeep of the course, clubhouse, restaurant and the Lodge, the added value of any good product can only really be produced by personnel who are professional in their work and feel appreciated.
How would you raise our profile?
It was suggested recently that the biggest problem for us is where we are situated, amongst some of the most high profile and historical courses in the world. My thoughts are that it's not a problem; you make your own history. Make the right steps and you will go in the right direction.
I say to the young lads; "let your work do the talking, not your mouths!"
Thank you for your time.
Out of my comfort zone!
In the winter of 2013, when I took up the positon of Head Greenkeeper at Craigielaw, it was a big step, for gone now were the days of coming to work, doing your job and then going home, which had become comfortable.
But, luckily, the majority of the squad, including my brother, had all worked alongside each other for a number of years.
The first thing we did was to pool our experience and knowledge and work our way forward from there. Our agronomist, David Stansfield, came in early February 2014. He asked us what direction we wanted to go. This was a back to basic principles of turf maintenance programmes which was great as we were all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Greens had a black layer problem. This has been alleviated greatly by those back to basic principles of balancing air to moisture content with an aeration programme of coring, verti-draining, slitting to spiking greens every month, with a little and often topdressing with PRO20 throughout the summer and reviewed spraying practices.
We now spray the greens fortnightly with a Farmura programme designed to give a more even uptake to even out the growth rate.
The greens haven't been triple cut for three months now as hand cutting is starting to become the norm.
A lot of work has been done on our greens surrounds to bring them into their own and, with guidance from our director of golf, Jonathan Porteous, we have improved the strategy and individuality of each hole by widening bailout areas and tightening the remainder to provide definition.
We restyled and rerouted fairways again back to more natural links shaped fairways. Verti-draining of the fairways was done February and November 2013, and once annually since then in November. Gavin Irons does this for us using 18mm tines; this has paid big dividends.
It all takes time and, as they say, Rome wasn't built in a day, but we are getting there - always reviewing, always learning.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 2500E greens and tees mowers x 2
John Deere HPX Gators x 2
John Deere 3235C fairway mowers x 2
John Deere 2653 utility mower
John Deere 3520 compact tractor
John Deere 4600 tractor
John Deere 220 pedestrian mowers x 4
John Deere ProGator
John Deere Aercore 1500
John Deere 72" rotary deck mower
Wessex HTC 18 rough cut mower
Charterhouse 7416 Verti-Drain
Charterhouse 804 Verti-Seed
Greentech brushes, poa busters, verticutter, vibrating units and saddle roller
Sisis Mega Slitter
"Machinery is generally purchased on a 5-year replacement deal through Thomas Sherriff & Co. Ltd.
We remain loyal to John Deere as long as the machinery and kit does the job we require. So far, Sherriffs have been great. Any problems that have arisen have been resolved quickly and professionally.
The Speed Link System on the majority of our John Deere machines has had a distinct effect on how we now analyse our cutting practices as the system is fast, efficient and very easy to adjust.
We trialed the Greentech vibrating units in July 2015 - and they never went back. They fit our triples, don't need towing around the course and, if you suffer from vertigo and motion sickness, no problem, you aren't going sideways!
As our greens are undulating, we have to take care for, when the wind blows and the greens dry, the speed on the greens automatically increase.
My wish list would include a 1.2m Sisis Multitiner - and another pair of hands -otherwise we're doing okay."