The hickory experience at Kingarrock Golf Course, only 10 miles from St Andrews, was featured in August 2013 on this website. A personal view of the experience is given by plus 1 handicapper Michael Bekken, a US student, following a recent visit is available here.
Play at Kingarrock is restricted to the use of hickory clubs and the maintenance of the course attempts to replicate that of the 1920’s. Owen Browne, formerly of The Dukes St Andrews and Gleneagles, took over the greenkeepers role at Kingarrock in March 2014 with a remit to retain the management philosophy but to use his years of expertise to enhance the quality of the playing surfaces. In just over 12 months, Owen has overseen a notable improvement across the course, but particularly to the greens.
The maintenance regime for the greens is basic and simple, relying on:
- mowing at 6 to 8 mm up to three times a week at the height of the growing season. No mowing was undertaken on greens from December 2014 to February 2015, with mowing recommencing in mid-March
- use of grooming reels on the mower, set at 1 mm through the growing season, which aids weed suppression without harming desirable grass species
- hand-weeding and plugging (using a hole changer to transfer clean plugs from green collar and an open-tine core sampler) through 2014 primarily to remove daisies (Bellis perennis) and plantain (Plantago species)
- slit tine aeration delayed from October (due to ground conditions) were completed in early March 2015 using a tractor-mounted Sisis unit in two directions
- fertiliser is applied to help the grass on greens compete with weeds, dog lichen and mosses (based on STRI information from the 1930's). Two applications of an 8:0:0 product at a rate of approximately 35g/m2 were made in 2014, providing a total of 28 kg/ha of nitrogen. This has to be considered minimal feeding! Both applications were timed to coincide with forecast rain to reduce the risk of fertiliser burn as there is no irrigation capability. The fertiliser programme for 2015 will provide a similar level of nutrition
- an application of 0:0:10 plus 4% iron was applied in September 2014 at approximately 50g/m2 and was followed by scarifying on October 7 and 8 to remove moss and dog lichen and to enable recovery before winter.
The maintenance regime for the greens is basic and simple
The manual weed control has been extremely time-consuming, but the results have been excellent, with very few broad-leaved weeds seen to greens in spring/summer 2015. There was a huge variation in the number of weeds per green, for example the 5th green required 21 man hours and 60 plugs, the 9th green 12.5 hours and 32 plugs, and the 2nd green 2 hours and no plugs. Top dressing of scars remaining after hand-weeding (using handfuls of sand) resulted in improved recovery.
The combination of fertiliser application, grooming and scarifying has resulted in the reduction of the visual and golfing impact of other weeds such as clover (Trifolium repens) and moss, though pearlwort (Sagina procumbens) remains a notable contaminant of greens. It is hoped that the current basic maintenance package will reduce the amount of pearlwort in greens over time. Reports from golfers suggest that the current level of weeds to greens does not adversely impact ball roll, as most of the broader-leaved weeds have been eradicated through the manual weeding exercise.
Other areas of the course
Collars have been introduced to prevent wear on green edges from fairway mowing and to reduce the possibility of weed seeds blowing onto the greens from fairway mowing. These areas are also being used as a turning area when cutting greens and this has reduced the pick-up of grass clippings onto rollers which consequently affects quality of cut. Collars consist of three cuts with a pedestrian greens mower following the green perimeter in alternating directions. Collars were originally cut at 15mm but have gradually been reduced to 10mm and are cut 2-3 times per week through May through September depending on growth. The collars will continue to be used as 'nursery' areas for future plugging of greens if required.
Fairways are mown every week to every two weeks, as the weather allows, through the growing season using tractor-trailed gang mowers. Some fairways are quite heavily infested with weeds, such as daisy and buttercup, but as these do not interfere with the lie of the golf ball no direct control methods are currently being contemplated and the use of a herbicide is not up for consideration due to the desire to replicate 1920’s maintenance.
Bunkers are raked weekly. The desire to give a natural look to the backs of bunkers hit problems when dense grass growth affected playability for golfers running balls into these areas. There are only three bunkers on the course and efforts to produce a thin-swarded turf face by regular raking proved successful at the 7th but less successful to the two bunkers at the 5th. Yellow rattle, a parasitic plant which attacks lush grasses, was introduced within the immediate surrounds of all three bunkers to reduce grass sward density and this seems to be having some success.
The degree of improvement to the appearance and playability of the course at Kingarrock has been such that there are no plans to introduce a more intensive maintenance regime.
The course only receives light play at present, and attention may have to increase to teeing grounds, in particular, if the number of golfers visiting Kingarrock increases – as we all hope it will.
One thing is for sure; Kingarrock will remain in a time warp and course management practices will continue to replicate what was possible in the hickory era.