Founded in 1817 by a few members of the St. Andrews Society of Golfers, Scotscraig Golf Club is the world's thirteenth oldest club and is located close to the estuary of the River Tay and around fifteen minutes away from the famous Old Course, St Andrews. Course Manager Chris Barnard has been at the club for fifteen months and, in this article, he explains the challenges the site presents and the improvements being made
After my school years, I did two years of applied chemistry at college and quickly realised that I was meant for an outdoor job. I had a summer job as a gardener at a local park prior to enrolling on the NC Greenkeeping course at Elmwood College, where I did my NC and SVQ level 3. At the end of the course, I had to find a work placement position and I was fortunate enough to start at Kingsbarns Golf Links in March 2000.
I was kept on for the summer in a seasonal position before gaining full-time employment later that year. After seven years I was promoted to First Assistant, which is where I remained for almost four years before moving to New Zealand on a permanent basis. I worked there as second in command at Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, just north of Wellington, for fourteen months. I then moved back to the UK as the Course Manager at Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club in Kent, where I remained for three years before moving back to my native Fife and my current role at Scotscraig Golf Club.
The 18-hole course at Scotscraig is a links/heath hybrid, with a few holes in the corner which lean towards a more parkland feel, owing to heavier soils. Broadly speaking, the course is situated in a square of land covering around sixty hectares. This is broken up into 2Ha of greens/surrounds, 0.8Ha of tees, 12Ha of fairway and around 8Ha of maintained rough. The remainder is largely Fescue rough, gorse/broom and pine trees, interspersed with heather. The course is currently 6669 yards long and par 71 from the Championship tees.
The soil profile at Scotscraig is generally a stone free, sandy loam, which is ideal. However, there is a corner of the course which is very close to sea level and the soil is significantly heavier here with a higher clay content. The greens are constructed using the indigenous sandy loam for the most part, but there are a few newer tee constructions that are built out of a heavier material, which must have been imported in the past. The process of reconstructing these to change the rootzone has already started and will continue over the next few years.
I've had soil samples tested twice since starting at Scotscraig. A few of the greens perform differently to the others and soil testing was one way of working out what was actually going on to cause this. We suspected it was more of a physical issue, for example shade from trees, and the sampling showed that the soil at least was relatively similar over the site, even on the newer greens.
Shade is a minor issue given the proximity of some of the pine trees to greens and tees, but worse is the dryness underneath as the tree roots take up all the available moisture leaving very little for the turf. The sand here can also become quite compacted owing to its relatively small particle size so we have to keep on top of the aeration on greens and tees. Hole changing in summer can become quite challenging when the greens are dried out!
We have irrigation coverage on all playing surfaces, but it is rarely used. The greens are generally hand watered with hoses or by manually operating the sprinklers. In an average season, there are perhaps 10-12 programmes put out using the computer. Tee irrigation is normally only used to water in wetting agent. The fairway irrigation is only really used manually in areas of high divot pressure to help seed germination and recovery.
We only have drainage in the low lying corner of the course where the soil is heavier. The remainder of the course is sandy and free draining.
The drainage works are something that we plan to look at over the coming few years as they don't perform as well as they could. Air flow has also been a problem in the past as a result of the gorse and broom becoming massively overgrown. We are currently in the process of cutting it all back to ground level in winter and allowing it to regenerate, before maintaining it with a flail mower.
Flooding can be an issue in the low corner of the course, especially in winter. All of the drainage system empties into a burn crossing the course, but it's not unusual for high tides to cause this to back up as the River Tay is only a few hundred yards away and only a few feet or so lower.
Winter is not an especially hard time, but spring can be challenging. It is generally cold, dry and windy, so we struggle to get any real growth until well into May. This makes life difficult as the majority of the club events are in the first half of the year. It's just not a great time to present the best surfaces for competition, so I'll be campaigning to have the fixture list reshuffled!
We can't force anything to grow in the spring, so the only way forward is to ensure that we have the best possible cover of grass going into winter. Following that, it is essential to manage winter wear, which is the hardest thing here. Lots of posts and rope fences to direct traffic and the use of artificial mats on tees goes a long way towards relieving wear, but the greens still suffer. The club's frost policy is currently under review as a result.
Temporary greens have only really been used for the two wet holes in the corner but, with the review of the frost policy, this may change to the point where we have them around the whole course for use in certain conditions. There are other options, like closing par 3s for play, except during competitions, to give them a rest. We will see what comes up in discussion with the club council.
This coming winter will be relatively quiet for us with the bicentenary next year, we will be focusing on the surfaces more than new projects.
Last winter was probably one of the most ambitious winter programmes ever undertaken at Scotscraig Golf Club and it ran a little longer than we would have liked due to us having one of the wettest winters possible.
Prior to my arrival, the focus was on gorse/broom removal as much of it had become neglected and out of control. Whilst some of it was removed completely, we have only cut scrub back to ground level since my arrival, as I feel we have the right amount of gorse and broom now as long as it is managed and kept under control. As it regenerates, it will be maintained on a three-to-four year cycle or depending on rate of growth. Last winter, we cut back around 5000m² and it made dramatic changes to the openness of the course. It will take the next few years to get on top of all of it.
We also renovated all the greenside bunkers last winter and, in total, we fully revetted twenty-one. Some of these had shrunk over the years and were reinstated to their original dimensions. There were a handful of bunkers where we altered them completely to fit in better with the hole and surrounding contours.
We also remodelled the tees on three of the holes to provide a larger playing surface, as well as partially remodelling two green surrounds and a par 3 walkway. We plan to do some more tee remodelling this winter, albeit on a much smaller scale, as well as relevelling one or two. The completion of the bunkers on the course will make up the bulk of this coming winter's project work.
The main project undertaken last winter was to rebuild the 4th green. Widely regarded as the signature hole of the course, it is a medium length par 4, with an approach shot played over heather and undulations to a plateau green, which falls off in every direction. The green was raised up around the 1950s and, as a result, had become very small, measuring only 10 x 15 yards. Being a very small target, it was being heavily worn and this, coupled with shade by trees and a poor quality rootzone, meant the green had become almost entirely Poa Annua and was prone to waterlogging.
The decision was made to remove the turf and lower the green by around two feet to preserve the plateau nature, but increase the playing area by just over three times. The heavy rootzone was removed and mixed with indigenous sand before being spread around the surrounds and used to shape. The green itself was then reshaped with contours similar to the previous green, only more subtle to give far more areas for placing a pin. Despite the green being a much larger target, the hole has not become any easier as many people suspected!
We are largely self-sufficient with almost all maintenance and project work carried out in-house. Some of the larger project work in the future may require contractors, depending on the scale of operations, but we will try to do as much as possible ourselves. We have a group of members who get together to help with fairway divot repair on a roughly monthly basis and that relieves a lot of pressure for the green staff.
The winterisation and spring prime up of the irrigation system is carried out by a contractor, but the in-season maintenance is done in-house.
From the environment side of things, we are also currently embarking on a programme to encourage more heather on the course. Scotscraig is a fairly unique site to the area in that it has features from a few course types: links, heath and parkland. We would like to enhance the heath type areas and have some heather around bunkers and on tee banks etc.
We have a small burn running through the corner of the course from our irrigation storage pond out toward the Tay via another pond. It is lined with slabs for the majority of its course and this not only looks awful but is hampering drainage from the fairways in the area. The plan is to remove the slabs and transform the pond into a slightly larger, more natural looking hazard, which will then add another dimension of habitat on the course. The higher pond which feeds the irrigation pond is rich in amphibian life with an abundance of frogs, toads and newts, and the hope is to get them to spread down to the other areas. We also have some bird boxes in the shed ready to go out for next season and we'll be making more, different types in the winter. There are a lot of places to put them at Scotscraig!
I think the local flora and fauna is very important. We don't spray any of the native roughs at all, in order to keep as much of the indigenous species as possible. When we remove any larger weeds, such as Ragwort, it is only when they are in play. If they are growing away from the main playing area, then I am happy enough to just leave them. None of the species we have around the course are particularly invasive, so it makes sense to let them remain providing a food source and/or habitat for local wildlife.
The course is situated close to the edge of Tentsmuir forest, so we find a lot of the wildlife from there spills across the course boundaries, including anything from deer, red squirrels and woodpeckers to frogs, dragonflies and butterflies. We have separate policies for management of the roughs, scrub areas and trees. These are in addition to the ten year course development policy which is currently in the process of being rewritten.
Weed control is undertaken using the sprayer for the likes of daisies and clover etc. We are fortunate that this site doesn't tend to have a huge weed problem and we only go out with the sprayer once in the season, around July, and even then we only really have to spot spray. The sprayer would be filled with enough to cover half a hectare, it would be unusual to have to fill up again to finish the course.
We are starting to see some instances of pearl wort and parsley piert, but only on a handful of greens and tees; these will be controlled by knapsack spraying as, in total, it is such a small area. The larger weeds, such as ragwort, are pulled out as and when we see them but, again, we don't have a huge issue with them. If there are areas of ragwort, willowherb, nettles etc. that are out of the way, then we tend to leave them alone as pockets of wildlife habitat.
Historically, the course has suffered from Fusarium on the greens in late October/November. By changing things slightly, we reduced the severity of the outbreak last year to the point where no curative action was required. Last year was a bad year for Red-thread as well and virtually all surfaces were affected, with it being most prominent on fairways. However, we didn't consider it an issue and it soon cleared up on its own. So far, I am yet to spray a fungicide at Scotscraig and this is how I would like to continue!
The club has recently invested in some new machinery which has helped enormously. The majority of our fleet is now John Deere which works well for us as the local supplier, Double AA, is only a ten minute drive away should we require anything.
The main improvement we've seen is from the inclusion of turf conditioners on the cutting units. They've gone a long way in helping us train the sward to become tighter and more close-knit on greens, tees, surrounds and fairways. The Bent on the greens has really been improved by using them regularly. They've also meant that this season we've had no need to use the verticut/groomer units to do work more aggressively, which has meant less stress on the turf. The fairways have also improved as they are predominantly sheep fescue, which grows in just about every direction but upwards!
Moving forward, I would like to extend the shed slightly to give us more room between machinery for working on them. I would also like to alter the washdown area and fence it off at the same time. This would really improve the efficiency and tidiness of the area as we could create a separate area for filling and cleaning the sprayer. I would also like to include a four post ramp in the workshop at some point for working on machines. This is near the top of the list, if I'm honest; having used a ramp in New Zealand, I know the time saved working on machines is huge and I'd like us to become as efficient as possible.
All servicing and maintenance is carried out at the course by either the green staff or our local engineer, Brian Forsyth. I'm actually in the process of sorting out further training for the staff as I feel it benefits us having everyone able to do every job. The flexibility would be a welcome asset in such a small team.
It was quite apparent to me, whilst in Kent, that the majority of courses are quite closed off to each other. It is less so here in Fife but, in my opinion, there is a great opportunity for courses local to each other to band together to purchase essential equipment like seeders or compact excavators and share them around. This way, even small clubs can make progress through new projects and possibly gain more members and/or visitors by being seen to be forward thinking. With the right skills and approaches, projects on golf courses don't need to be costly.
I have a course blog which there is a link to on the club website homepage. The blog is used to help people understand what we are doing on the course and why. I add pictures to each entry, along with a brief explanation of what's happening. It's usually used to cover things that are perhaps a bit out of the ordinary, if we're doing something new or if there's a project underway. It has been a really useful tool in providing members with information and also helps the greens staff as it answers a lot of questions before they're asked!
The only real way to raise the profile of the industry is through education I think. Using member presentation nights, course blogs, reports and notices etc. to provide information about what we do and why can go a long way to letting people see what is actually involved in the industry.
There are always going to be the few who are not interested or of the opinion that they already know better, but they will always be in the minority and, who knows, after a few years even they might become converted.
Overall, I would consider the industry to be relatively stable at the moment. I've not heard as much about courses in financial difficulties or being threatened with having to close for a while. At the same time, however, it would be good to see some growth, but it is a difficult time for everyone. For me, greenkeeping is reactive and being able to take advantage of spells of good or bad weather, I think it's important not to stand still and constantly try to make improvements.
The Scotscraig greenkeepers
Chris Barnard, Golf Course Manager, fifteen months.
Gordon Wood is the 1st Assistant and, at thirty-four, is the longest serving staff member with fifteen years under his belt.
Connel Mckenna (24) is the first of our Assistant Greenkeepers and has been on the greenstaff for six years.
Doug Sutherland (26) joined us in August last year having previously been employed at g-West.
Scott Eddie (21) has been working on the greenstaff for four years and has just completed his SVQ Level 2.
Barry Anderson (18) joined us in April last year having just finished his National Certificate in Greenkeeping.
The greens vary in mowing height from 6mm in winter down to 4mm in summer. From daily mowing in summer, this can drop to as little as once every three weeks in winter where the roller takes over the majority of the work.
In late autumn, we normally verti-drain greens and tees with a 19mm tine to a depth of around 10-11" then follow immediately behind with a smaller ½" tine 3" deep to close the larger holes. A good roll then returns them to a playable level. The greens are usually spiked three times through the season with a narrow gauge solid tine and we sarrel roll in spring.
We don't do any scarifying on greens, but our new greens mowers have turf conditioners and these are used for the majority of the season; we only really lift them following topdressing.
In the lead up to larger events, we often take the mowing height down 0.25mm and set the turf conditioners to 2mm then double cut and roll. This is done intensively for four days and the results are really good, with the sward becoming noticeably tighter. By keeping on top of sward refinement this way, we avoid having to use any other means which would be more aggressive and knock back the Fescue we want to promote. Given the proportion of Bent, however, doing some form of regular sward refinement is unavoidable, and this way usually keeps stress to a minimum.
The cold and dry springs we typically get cause the Poa to become stressed and start to seed heavily. We try to counter this with an application of Primo Maxx as early as we can and then a good proportion of the remaining seed is taken off by the mowers following grooming.
Feeding is generally light and the greens receive 40-55Kg of N per year. The greens are low in several elements and these are targeted with the granular base feed in spring. Feeding throughout the season is then primarily through the sprayer using combinations of Sea-nymph seaweed, sulphate of ammonia, urea, phosphite, magnesium sulphate and liquid fertiliser. We keep iron use to a minimum as there is already a very high proportion present in the soil.
Overseeding on greens is done using the John Deere Aercore with ½" solid tines through spring and summer. We broadcast Fescue seed using the fertiliser spreader then spike the greens to around ½" deep. The Aercore has the metal dragmat attached behind it and it rubs the majority of the seed into the holes in one pass. We then topdress the greens using the washed dune sand from Hugh King to fill the holes before brushing and cutting. In autumn, the greens and surrounds are triple passed with the Charterhouse slit seeder to input as much Fescue as possible.
Mowing height on tees and surrounds drops from 10mm in winter to 8mm in summer. The surrounds are basically treated the same as the greens, but they are the weakest part of the course at the moment due to high levels of winter wear and summer traffic, so maintenance here is about to be intensified.
Aeration on the tees follows much the same pattern as the greens/surrounds, as does the grooming of the sward.
The tees here are relatively small, so we feed them a bit more and use Primo Maxx to help the sward thicken and heal from divot pressure.
We also overseed tees with Barmedal from Barenbrug as the dwarf Ryegrass germinates and fills out very quickly, further helping recovery.
Fairway mowing height is 15mm in winter and down to 10mm in summer. We stripe the fairways but, because they mostly comprise of Sheep and Hard Fescue, the stripes tend to disappear quickly. We do a lot of brushing in spring, while growth is minimal, to give a bit of definition and we have made our own brush and sarrel roller combination to do two jobs in one.
Fertilising on fairways is minimal, if anything at all; usually just some magnesium sulphate and a touch of iron through winter.
We overseed and divot using Bar 20 fairway.
All of our maintained rough is mown at 2" with a 1" collar around greens.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 220E pedestrian mowers x 3
John Deere 2500E greens/tees/surround mowers x 2
John Deere 7500A fairway mowers x 2
John Deere 8800A rough mower
John Deere 4520 tractor and 1 4066R tractor both with front loaders
John Deere Aercore 1500
John Deere Progators x 2
John Deere HD200 sprayer
John Deere TS gator and 1 CS gator
Dakota 410 topdresser
Charterhouse 7416 Vertidrain
Charterhouse 1575 Overseeder (borrowed from Kingsbarns Golf Links, thanks again Innes!)
Toro 3250 greensmowers with Thatchaway verticut units and topdressing brushes x 2
Amazone flail collector
Bernhard Express-dual and Anglemaster grinders
Greentek Dynaseeder and dynacore units
Major flail mower