St Andrews - the home of golf
By Gordon Moir
This year the Old Course is hosting the 2005 Open Championship in July for the 27th time and it will certainly keep St Andrews Links Trust staff focused. We are also involved in the construction and management of course number 7, the single largest investment ever made by the Trust. It will be a 7,000 yard 18 hole golf course designed by David Mclay Kidd. This course will help us to keep up with the demand for golf here at St Andrews Links.
I started my career at St Andrews in 1991 as head greenkeeper of the Eden Course and became links superintendent in October 2000. I am responsible for overseeing all aspects of managing the turf on all the golf courses at St Andrews Links, which currently comprises five and half courses - 99 holes of golf. The courses and the facilities are public, open to all golfers. We have well over 200,000 rounds of golf played here each year, with more than 40,000 rounds being played on the Old Course alone.
St Andrews Links were originally granted to the people of the town by King David in 1123. The land has remained in public ownership since that time except between 1799 - 1821 when it was owned by merchants who were using the land for rabbit farming. Today the 675-acre area is owned by Fife Council and managed by St Andrews Links Trust, a charitable organisation set up in 1974 by an Act of Parliament. The Trust has two committees which include representatives nominated by Fife Council and The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.
This year the Trust agreed to a request from the Royal and Ancient Golf Club to lengthen five holes by building new tees (2nd, 4th, 12th, 13th and 14th) for the 2005 Open. These new or extended tees will operate for the first time at the Championship and will not be used for normal play. These changes will alter the course length by an additional 164 yards, from 7115 yards to 7279 yards.
It is fondly known as the Home of Golf, as the sport was first played here some 600 years ago and over the years it has become one of the most famous golf courses in the world. The course is unique in that many of the greens are shared. These double greens are a special feature, one measures 100 yards long and takes two greenkeepers the best part of two hours to mow by hand. The course is made even more demanding by the fact that the golfers face 112 deep bunker hazards and ever changing winds.
The New Course (6604-yards, par 71).
Built in 1895, this course was designed by B Hall Blyth. However, it was the head greenkeeper of the day, Tom Morris and his assistant David Honeyman, who completed most of the shaping and modelling of the course that golfers still experience today. In fact, the design was so good that only one significant change, to the 15th hole, has ever been made.
Jubilee Course (6742-yard, par 72 ).
This course was built in 1897 and named to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. It began as a 12 hole course and was extended in 1905 to 18. In the mid 1980s, it was redesigned again, by Donald Steel and is today the toughest course at the Links.
Eden Course (6195-yard, par 70)
Designed and built by Harry S Colt in 1914, it provides a reasonable test of golf for low, middle and high handicappers, particularly the front nine with its large, undulating and plateau greens.
Strathtyrum Course (5620-yard, par 69)
Opened in 1993 and was the first new 18 hole course at St Andrews for well over 80 years. Designed by Donald Steel, it offers a different challenge having cunningly placed bunkers and heavily contoured greens.
Balgove Course (1520-yard, par 30)
This nine hole course was again designed by Donald Steel with beginners and children in mind.
Currently I have 48 full time staff plus six mechanics, six gardeners and one dedicated digger driver to manage all the courses. In April we take on another 20 seasonal staff to help out with day to day grass cutting operations. These extra staff stay until late September/October.
Staging the Open on the Old Course will result in closing all the other courses during the Championship. All my staff and machinery will be available for use, thus ensuring we have the best presented and conditioned course possible for the event.
Last October we started revetting and repairing the bunkers on the Old Course. We have re-built and repaired 94 of the 112 bunkers, bringing them back into shape and condition. In March we closed the course for two weeks to complete some final remedial and top dressing works.
All tees and greens are top dressed using compatible sand dressings. We tend to buy in our dressings from Levenseat Sands. We utilise some sand from our beaches for fairway dressings, bunkers and filling in divots. However, the process of collecting, cleaning and washing is long winded, so it is more cost effective and consistent to buy in materials for topdressing the greens, tees and approaches.
We recycle a lot of material. We collect all the grass cuttings from around the course and compost them along with other materials (turf, soil and sand) from any repairs and remedial works. This material is stored, rotated and then screened to produce a viable material for divot repairs and small reconstruction works around all the courses.
We try to keep cutting heights consistent on all the courses. We usually maintain the greens no less than 4.75 mm during the summer and mow at between 5-6 mm in the winter. The greens are now well established. We keep them lean and mean, in that we use very little fertiliser and water. Tees and aprons are cut at least three times a week with heights between 8mm and 10mm; fairways are usually cut twice a week with heights from 9mm to 12mm.
The greens on the Old Course are huge, seven of them are double greens with the 5th and 13th green measuring well over 37846 square feet (3515 m2). This green is over 90 metres long and 39 metres wide taking two men close to two hours to mow with pedestrian machines. Keeping the lines straight is a skill my staff have learned over the years, not always easy when the sward is so dry and short, the sun is low in the sky and you are leaving no visible shades to follow.
The greens are heavily fescue populated and dense with no thatch. The sward comprises around 60% fescue with the remaining 40% made up of browntopbent (15 to 20%), Poa and some rye grasses. The greens are built on natural indigenous sandy soils which have been characterised as fine sand tending to compact down more readily than a medium size sand, which is why we have to aerate more frequently to reduce this compacting effect.
Our policies of good aeration, along with minimum feeding and watering, tend to encourage deep rooting. We have root mass growing down to 300 mm on some greens. The high content of fescues and bents means that our greens are finer textured which is ideal for firm and fast surfaces. We try to maintain stimpmeter readings to about 9.5 which, coupled with the slopes and contours of our greens, can make them very fast and challenging.
Since I have been here in 1991, we have very rarely sprayed any fungicides. The combination of good cultural practices of minimal applications of feeds and water combined with regular, brushing, grooming, verticutting and topdressing have reduced thatch content, thus reducing the chance of creating an environment for disease to establish.
We only apply between 50-90Kg of Nitrogen per hectare per year to the greens (even less on the Old Course) we take regular soil samples to ensure we know what nutrients are required. Our only other feeds are some seaweed products and the odd application of iron to harden up the greens prior to winter. The tees receive a similar amount and we don't fertilise the fairways
Overseeding the greens is a difficult process due to the constant demand for play and the fact that major or important tournaments are played during the optimum weather windows for germination, July to September. We are now trying to overseed any small areas at every opportunity and having large greens helps this. This year, our last major event, the Dunhill Links Championship, finishes on October 2nd. We will overseed straight after this event and hope soil and air temperatures are still favourable for effective seed germination.
We are very well mechanised, utilising TORO equipment for the maintenance of greens and tees, Ransomes/Jacobsen for fairways, semi rough and rough, Ford/New Holland and McCormick tractors, along with various other equipment.
All the courses are open seven days a week, except for the Old Course, which other than for a handful of particular events each year is closed on Sundays. We use this opportunity to carry out any necessary works to keep the Old Course in tip top condition and at the same time we avoid disturbing golfers
We are also governed by our environment strategy which states that we endorse the adoption of environmentally friendly practices throughout the Links, and recognise the importance of such practices not only locally, but nationally and globally.
These practices include waste minimisation and recycling, energy efficiency, minimal use of chemicals, water resource management and nature and landscape conservation. To achieve this it is important to keep up with legislation and technology changes.
Communication is a key element in achieving the standards we set at St Andrews. All the greenkeeping staff have the opportunity to attend regular meetings and training days to keep them up to speed with the latest technologies. We are lucky in that along with Elmwood College which is just down the road we are able to send a number of our staff to various places to obtain the necessary training and education requirements to do their jobs.
For more information about St Andrews Links, contact:
St Andrews Links Trust
Telephone : 01334 466666 Web: www.standrews.org.uk