Situated close to the town of Hörby, 30 miles northeast of Malmö, Sweden, the 18 hole golf course was designed by Martin Hawtree, and is the site’s main attraction, but this is also now supported by an on-site hotel and restaurant.“
The fine turf to greens provides excellent playing quality at low inputs
The owners wanted to develop a golf course with high levels of playing performance, that was economical to operate and which would have a light environmental footprint. Their farming background made them well aware of impending legislation on pesticide use in Sweden and therefore the associated requirement to ensure land was managed with sympathy for local ecology.
The best grass to achieve the aim
The greens and tees at Elisefarm were built to USGA Recommendations and sown out to a fine fescue (Festuca rubra spp)/browntop bentgrass (Agrostis tenuis) mix. These species were selected as the developers had confidence that they would produce the quality of playing surfaces desired, while requiring relatively little water, fertiliser and pesticide input. Almost 6 years on and the greens now support a superb dense, fescue dominated turf with just enough organic matter accumulation to provide resilience to the putting surfaces.
High levels of playing surface quality have been achieved with the following annual inputs (average figures for the last 3 years):
Water - greens: 2,600 cubic meters, tees: 1,380 cubic meters
Fertiliser - greens: 60 kg/ha, tees: 80kg/ha, fairways: 60 kg/ha of nitrogen
Pesticides - 2 applications of fungicide, 2 of herbicide and no insecticide.
A low input management regime such as this, combined with good drainage, limited shade and cutting heights which never fall below 4.5 mm has encouraged fescue to dominate over the bentgrass from the blend that was originally sown.
On-going management of the greens entails a top dressing programme which is undertaken every third week and a policy of minimal irrigation.
Mowing across the course is less frequent than that which would be required for other, faster growing species than the native fescue. At the height of the growing season, the following mowing frequencies are all that are required to produce excellent quality playing surfaces:
Greens - mown 5 days a week but never to below 4.5 mm
Tees - mown 3 days a week to 10 mm
Fairways - mown 3 days a week to 13 mm
Rough - mown once a week to 60 mm.
Adding value to grass selection
The owners have adopted a very proactive approach to managing their course and emphasis has always been placed on using whatever resources and materials are available naturally.
Much consideration was put into the project at the design phase to ensure that the underlying soil profiles were as good as they could possibly be. There were a high proportion of stones in the soil before construction work began and it was decided to use an agricultural stone separator in order to remove these. Stones were removed completely from around the greens, yet all of the collected material was re-integrated into the ground beneath the fairways as a series of rows and columns to enhance the drainage qualities of the land. The rewards of this foresight have been the development of soil profiles which are free draining, uniform and supportive of deep rooted grass cover.
One of the owner’s latest initiatives has been to use sheep to graze the rough grassland, as it was decided that the rough was becoming too dense and clumpy and was slowing play. The flock is now utilised to cut the rough down while simultaneously thinning it out; tasks which the sheep carry out with remarkable efficiency! The conditions developed are now of the classic, wispy, links-style rough grassland that makes ball location easy, while still catering for a true test of golf. 50 sheep are kept on the course at any one time and are fenced in so that their grazing can be focused on a 100 metre by 30 metre area of rough for 10 days at a time. The sheep are relocated periodically in order to ensure the rough is consistent across the golf course. The only consequence of their presence is that they may sometimes wander onto greens, leaving evidence of their presence in the form of occasional scald marks and droppings. If anything, slightly higher concentrations of bentgrass may be identified at these localised areas of heightened fertility! In general, grazing activity can be easily controlled and the cost saving from no longer needing to machine cut the roughs has been considerable.
The decision to utilise fescue has achieved the aim of providing excellent quality playing surfaces to greens and tees, with a relatively low cost outlay. This most desirable situation is not only due to the low inputs of water, fertiliser and pesticide but is also down to the low intensity mowing and thatch management regimes required; favourable consequences of the slow growing nature of fescue. Revenue is maximised by the free-draining nature of the playing surfaces and the lack of severe disease scars coming out of the winter. The course is therefore kept open for play, and to good levels of presentation, for as much of the year as possible.
The use of fescue in the rough, allied with sheep grazing, provides a natural means of maintaining the grasslands in a condition which enables rapid ball location, heightening pace of play and therefore allowing more golfers round the course each day.
The example presented by Elisefarm clearly demonstrates that, even in the modern age, there is still great benefit to be found from employing more traditional approaches to course management. The grasses used across the course are the same species native to the original links, where golf has been played for hundreds of years and where the skills of the world’s best players have been both tested and proved.
As awareness grows of the benefits of fescue for golf courses across Scandinavia, there is rising interest in the capacity of this turfgrass to facilitate extremely cost effective mangement, while also providing excellent playing surfaces under a light environmental footprint, thereby facilitating compliance with growing legislation.
The owners of Elisefarm have learnt from the classic origins of the game and the management of the poor quality agricultural links land on which it began. These same approaches are now being put into practice in a modern day setting and with remarkable success.