Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Things I Learned about St. Andrew’s Yesterday

On Tuesday I saw Gordon McKie – head greenskeeper at St. Andrew’s - give a lecture regarding maintaining the Old Course. Today I'm off to Guelph to speak myself.

The Maintaining of St. Andrew's

The entire complex has 60 full time employees and grows by another 20 in the summer months. They tend to have anywhere from 20 to 25 interns at one time. It takes 19 people 3 hours to mow the entire Old Course in the morning beginning usually in the summer at 5:30am. He pointed out that it takes 6 people 3 hours to mow all the greens by hand. He mentioned that due to the excessively long lines you have to graduate to walking greens on the Old Course. He joked about the fact they have a state of the art 4000 head sprinkler system as “insurance” – but the reality is that almost all watering is done by hand.

For the Turf Heads out there: They only need to core harvest two small areas of the property – and one is the right side of 18 - in that case due to the buildings and winter shade problem. There is no need to amend the rest of the soils since they are pure sand. The course is regularly aerated and occasionally verticut with thatch being a minimal concern. He has been using the hydroject on the greens but also points out that the key still remains the heavy topdressing program – which is still sometimes done by hand!

One of the things they do is a lot of scarifying to remove dead turf in the fairways, followed by topdressing and over-seeding. He pointed out that he over-seeds the greens with a mixture of 50% chewings and 50% slender red fescue 5 times a year hoping to strengthen the diversity over time. He talked about 1% each time + 1% the next time slowly adds up. He regularly over-seeds the fairways with 30% red, 30% chewings, 30% strong creeping red and 10% browntop bent. He told us that the 1st tee and 3rd tee receive 30% perennial rye due to the excessive wear.

There is a feeling at the Trust that the emergence of the metal iron and revetted bunkers occurred together. It is speculated that the new metal iron was the cause of damaged faces and the solution emerged to revett the faces to protect them. It was likely begun with the Hell bunker – since the first revetted bunker found in photo was the Hell bunker. The revetted bunkers tend to last around 4 or 5 years but the south facing ones last as little as two years – a problem we share. There are no burrowing animals on the old course due to a paid rabbit hunter and the aim of keeping everything very firm and dry. When the soils are damp or organic – they tend to get more burrowing.

They are currently experimenting with transplanting sea grass and Marram grass on the top of the bunkers in the rough to limit the drying out that seems to break down the tops. Although most get damaged at the base through play and begin to erode from the bottom up. He hates repairing the old course sod walls with anything but existing turf from on the course since all other sources are too organic and leading to new problems. There is a small nursery hidden between the holes – but it is very small and limits what he can do. The rest are done from a nursery two miles away – which has organics mixed in with the sand. A surprise to me was they also have enormous trouble with the wind relocating the sand on quite a few bunkers.

He stated that the course has not had any fungicide or pesticide applied to it for 17 years and uses cultural practices to maintain that fact. They do use herbicide to deal with weeds only in the fairways – and the greens and tees are “weeded” by hand. Speaking of greens, the speeds are all dictated by play on the 11th with 10 ½ being the maximum they will run the greens due to slope – and we are talking during tournaments too.

They are making changes to the course – but they are subtle and interesting. They have identified areas of gorse that were former areas of heather and have set out a long term program to control or eliminate some areas of gorse. After the 2010 Open they plan a major campaign in this area. More interestingly they have identified a series of bunkers that had rough around them in the past likely due to the complications of maintenance. They have cut the areas down so that a ball will be funneled to or run to these bunkers where the rough kept you out of them. The fairway bunkers on the 5th are now in fairway and the greenside bunkers left of 14 green are now surrounded by short grass and will funnel the ball in. They are looking currently at fairway bunkers on the 14th too.

Gordon summed it up well – he’s the 9th superintendent since Old Tom) - We are here to preserve the course and pass it along the best shape that we can.