Full Steam Ahead

The last two weeks have been kind to us weather wise meaning that last week we took the opportunity to concentrate our efforts towards increasing greens performance. I’m sure those that played would agree that it was a pleasant surprise how quickly they bounced back from winter and that we can look forward to an enjoyable season ahead. However, In order to start building towards the season first of all we must complete our spring renovation. The health and condition of the greens at the moment is very good and with a favorable forecast we have decided to bring spring renovation forwards to this week. We appreciate the member’s patience during this time as disturbance to both play and the playing surfaces cannot be avoided but this process is essential to build the foundations of a successful season. The work that will be carried out is as follows.


Scarifying – The warm and wet winter that we have just witnessed has meant that grass growth has been possible for the majority of the winter. This also means that organic matter is being created. To combat the creation of any new organic matter the spring renovation will start with scarifying the greens to a depth of 7mm.


Aeration – The greens will then be Verti-Drained using 17mm solid tines to a depth of 250mm (10inches). This is to create vertical drainage channels that increase the speed that water can drain away from the surface. Once the green has recovered and tine holes cannot be seen, they still continue to work throughout the season.


Topdressing – In total we will be using 60 tones of sand to help fill the drainage channels created with the Verti-Drainer, this ensures that the channels stay open for longer and once filled provide a good habitat for the grass plants root system, this in turn promotes root development.


N.B. In theory all tine holes should be 100% filled with sand. In reality this is near to impossible with the resources at hand without smothering the greens causing more damage. During this process we aim to work as much sand down into the tine holes without causing excessive disturbance to both play and the surfaces. It is important to create a win win situation for both the greens and the membership.


Aeration – We then use the aercore to aerate the greens using a 6mm solid tine to a depth of 75mm (3inches) this further helps migrate the sand down the Verti-Drain tine holes and creates more tine holes to be filled.


Topdressing – Topdressing is carried out again to top up any holes that require it and in the following weeks lower rates can be applied to maximize migration and to smooth out the playing surfaces.


Verticutting – The first part of this operation is to target organic matter and we finish up with a verticut to a depth of 3mm targeting thatch the same as scarifying but to a lesser degree. Verticutting maximizes organic matter removal but by doing so at the end of spring renovation we also further push sand down into the soil profile and clean the surfaces of any smothering sand. Spring renovation comes to a close with a blowing of the greens removing any debris and a double roll to help settle and smooth the playing surfaces.


Once again we thank you for your patience during this process and we look forward to a great season ahead.


Greens Health & Performance

This year we have taken a slightly different approach to producing the greens surfaces. There is no escaping the fact that we have had a horrible spring but let’s face it…. When do we ever not? With temperatures not allowing for any progression in terms of quality and heat/wind stress doing its best to kill off what we have, it has been a time for patience. Sanding when growth allows and applying minimal amounts of Nitrogen in accordance with Growth Potential. It has been a fine line between relieving drought stress and applying maintenance stress to keep the surfaces performing to their usual standards. A challenge the team has relished with good results.


With prolonged frosts restricting winter nutrition and a troublesome spring, by June our annual Nitrogen inputs were down 30% on last years. As long as the greens are still performing well this would normally be a good sign but with a small amount of Anthracnose(stress related turf disease) present on the 11th green and temperatures now allowing for larger N inputs we decided to apply a granular fertiliser.

Over the last 2-3years we’ve avoided applying a granular as it means applying a large amount of N, resulting in uncontrolled growth and inconsistent greens speeds. Instead we have opted for applying small amounts of N by spraying liquid feeds which gives more control over growth and greens speeds. There is no right or wrong way to apply N it’s more down to the preference of the team. The weeks following the application of the granular feed we have been applying a growth regulator at an increased rate to achieve more control of growth. As a result from the granular fertiliser the greens health is brilliant, so much so that we have reduced our current height of cut from 2.5mm to 2mm and reduced rolling frequency to maintain a greens speed between 10-11ft. Speeds have only exceeded this when the level of play dictates so, such as for league matches.


A possible downside of granular feeding is that late night greens speeds could have suffered from increase growth during the day. We have not had any feedback to suggest this but it should have been more noticeable than with liquid feeds. We are now back to applying liquid feeds and with growth back under control and still seeing the benefits of the granular. We have changed the N source to a slightly slower acting Nitrogen that is more heat tolerant. We can’t predict the weather but after a difficult spring it has completely fitted into our plan making it a success. As we stand we are currently 10% down on last years N inputs but managing a healthier sward. While the current weather is helping us catch up, every months average temperature so far this year has been less than last years. As we move forward we will continue to maintain the greens health with little and often N inputs. With the shift from increased rolling to a tighter height of cut to maintain greens speed this obviously leaves the option to fully open the sails up and reintroduce a increased rolling program at the lower height of cut, however we will monitor the need for this in accordance with members feedback.


I think it’s worth mentioning that at Ponteland we are currently enjoying a relatively easy period that has come to fruit from the commitment of trust the committee installed in the greenkeeping team. Not only that but producing the necessary funding and allowing us to grab the bull by the horns and carry out many aggressive techniques to rectify our thatch and drainage problems. It is very rare that a club has the funding, the trust and the ability to carry out necessary work from a committee and even more so in a village golf club like Ponteland. The memberships patience has also been key, putting up with 2 hollow cores and 2 passes with the Graden machine during the season. Then installing full drainage systems on 3 greens during the winter 2 and a half years running is extreme to say the least but, it has put us in a position where we no longer need to carry out major renovation works during Autumn/Spring so that come the Spring new growth contributes towards producing quality surfaces instead of aiding recovery. As long as the committee continue this support we will continue to enjoy success at Ponteland.

I hope I didn’t get too technical and you now have a fuller understanding of where we stand with the greens. If you have any questions then please leave a comment below.

Summer Time

Spring is finally behind us! It has been a long one, so much so that last week we had the longest day of daylight for the year and also a frost. The average temperatures are improving now and the course is really starting to take shape with that. Regardless of the difficult spring the greens have been performing well and are in great health. The tee boxes, fairways and approaches are now on a monthly fertility program which I feel has greatly improved the presentation of the course and has resulted in a reduced height of cut on both the tee boxes and approaches. On the approaches this has improved the definition between the greens, approaches, semi and fairways. On the tee boxes both the reduced height of cut and the use of a growth regulator has resulted in the tees looking better for longer. We are continually striving to implement small changes that will all add up to presenting the best course possible. One area that we are currently struggling is the clover in the semi rough. The clover presence has built up over the past few years and we are currently undergoing the process of treating this. This will take time though as the machinery we have is not well suited to the task, meaning it is a very time consuming job. 
  From left. Stevie, Jack, Craig, Paddy, Neil and Sammy. 

This picture above shows our green keeping team that maintains the course on a daily basis. Over the last 4 years we have really pulled together and implemented a huge change in the way the course is managed with great results. This week sees a member of the team Neil leave us as he follows his heart and joins his family business. I would like to wish Neil the best of luck with everything he does in the future and to let him know he has been an integral part of what we have accomplished at Ponteland. It will not be easy replacing his position but it is vital that we do so to continue progression out on the course. Once again thank you Neil and we hope to see you at the Christmas drinks. 

Coming into Spring

We have just entered March and I would say the condition of the course is good, yes we have some wear on areas of heavy traffic but this is to be expected when the course has been open to play all winter save 2 days. The tee boxes and approaches have been aerated, cut and are awaiting a heavy application of sand at the next available opportunity. This will be followed up by an application of granular fertiliser when soil temperatures reach the required level. Fairways are well rested and have returned to normal play. They will shortly be receiving a clean up from the tractor mounted sweep collector followed by a their first cut of the season. Again once temperatures allow the fairways will receive a fertilise. The greens have faired very well over the winter considering. You wouldn’t think it but this winter has been quite hard on the greens. Last winter was perfect, it was dry and offered plenty of opportunities to spray with nutrients and little amounts of fertiliser, meaning that we could maintain them as we seen fit. This year whilst being dry we have also received prolonged frosts and high winds. Together these act as a double-edged sword by both placing stress on the greens and stopping us from applying nutrients/fertiliser to maintain plant health and relieve added stress. So a great winter for golfing but plenty to think about for us green keepers.

A big part of green keeping is thinking ahead, while we have been hard at work with winter projects we have also being looking into and planning the season ahead. As a team we believe that we must have a destination in our sights and a plan in place to reach it. Three years ago the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) was brought in to consult and help us set out a plan of reducing the Organic Matter content (OM). We created a 2 year plan to reduce OM to current recommended levels, the Graden sand injection machine was bought and the rest is history. If only it were that simple, yes the Graden reduced OM levels but that is not the secret behind the success of the greens at Ponteland. Reduced OM content has many benefits and the biggest has been that it has prolonged the window of opportunity that we can work on the greens allowing us to increase the workload intensity. Over the 2-year period of reducing the OM content the team were constantly researching and trying new methods of management on the transforming putting surfaces. The greens from 5 years ago are different to the greens we have now because through installing drainage, hollow coring and Graden we have reinforced the foundations that they are built upon and evolved our maintenance regime.

This brings us up to last year, last year with the OM content under control the aim was to push the greens. See what they were capable of, take them out of the safe zone and see how they react. Now that we had this new foundation we had to know where the limits were in terms of both performance and management. It was a successful year and I do feel we pushed both of these limits, in doing so we however created the obvious question. Where inside those limits should we maintain the greens for daily play and various standards of competitions? This is judged mainly on feedback from the members and for the most part I think we have a good balance… for now as opinions are ever changing.

Back on point and to forward thinking whilst carrying out winter projects.

Where do we go from here? We need a destination/goal so that we don’t loose focus and get lost along the way. Rory Mcllroy has a saying that “better never stops”, I love this and he is absolutely right, it doesn’t and neither do we.

This year’s aim is to streamline our maintenance regime. Maintaining the greens inside their agronomic limits and to the standard the members hold upon them. Work smarter and cost effectively. By streamlining the greens maintenance program hopefully we can free up time and money to invest else where on the course like tee boxes, approaches and fairways. I am confident that we are running a tight ship and how much we can reinvest our time and money to improve other areas whilst maintaining the greens to the required standards remains to be seen, but there is always room for improvement because #betterneverstops!

The season hasn’t even started yet and we have failed! Or at least we would have failed. I mentioned the STRI earlier, they had been hearing about the greens performance we are maintaining and wanted to pop in for a visit to see how far we had come since their last visit. Adam Newton and Richard Windows came for a walk around the course and we had a great conversation about the challenge we have undertaken and where we wanted to go from here. Adam had visited himself the previous month to take a sample from one of the greens to measure the current OM content. He brought the results with him on the second visit where we discussed our plan for the year ahead. Originally we had planned to hollow core the greens this spring because it had been over a year since they last received either a hollow core or a pass with the Graden machine and since the Graden machine is now obsolete on our greens hollow coring was the sensible option. However now we had the results back from the OM test, the results of which can be seen below.


The STRI have the largest database of golf greens in the world and within that database our results came back in the top 14% of Parkland courses in the country. Now that we have these results it shows that there is no need to hollow core all the greens this spring and to do so would cause a great deal of stress and disturbance for little benefit. Further more to do so would go against this year’s plan of producing the best surfaces smarter and cheaper. Not only do these results highlight a change in our planned spring renovation but they also highlight the need for further testing on the greens. We have managed to maintain the greens to a good standard using what tools we have available but to really get the best out of the greens, budget and man hours it is essential to collect data and using that data formulate a plan that will produce the best results from our efforts. Some of the data that we will be collecting are as follows.

  • OM Levels
  • Soil pH
  • Nutritional levels
  • Root development
  • Compaction levels
  • Infiltration levels
  • Moisture levels
  • Firmness
  • Smoothness/Trueness
  • Speed
  • Sward density

We are fortunate to already collect some of this data but aiming to collect all of this will provide a fuller understanding as shown by the reviewed spring maintenance plan. We are currently looking into ways of recording this data and as we near the completion of winter projects we are very much looking forward to the start of the season.

Release of the drone.

In 2013 following a successful year, not plagued by torrential rain, the chairman of greens and now current club chairman (Malcolm Sym) paid for the greens staff to go out for a meal to celebrate the season. That night the team were bursting with pride, discussing winter projects and the next years plan. We were reflecting on an intense period when we had tackled the organic matter levels in our greens. I had seen other courses that were blogging and producing videos of the work they had been doing out on their course and we all agreed it was a shame that we had not done the same during such a success story. That night full of fillet steak and beer I went home and ordered my go-pro camera and started a snowball effect that has brought me to my latest video. At first the videos lacked footage that would appeal to anyone but myself but overtime I feel that they are getting better and I hope that they continue to do so. I tend to be one of those people that if I do something I do it to the best of my ability. This basically meant that I was forever driving around the course thinking of new shots and buying new attachments to capture these shots. As well as wanting the best footage, I was also aware that the videos created an opportunity to communicate to the members as to what work and why we were doing out on the course. This lead to the start of the blog and a change in the intended audience of the videos, to the club members. In my search for continually improving the videos I discovered the DJI Phantom drone. I had to fight the urge to buy it though because with buying the drone would come a massive comitment in also buying upgrades and editing software. This year I took the plunge and dived in with both feet, hopefully the improved standard of footage will show in my videos from now on, and here is my first attempt showcasing the type of footage achievable with the drone.

Im still learning but I’m getting better and long may it continue.

Winter greens winter greens winter greens.

On Saturday morning I was frustrated to wake up to a frost having checked the forecast the previous night and expecting to have all the main greens in play. As I walked round and changed the greens over I was thinking of the members that would also be waking up to a surprise frost and the realisation that they would be playing on winter greens. If it frustrates me with the understanding of why we use the winter greens and the fact that I don’t play on them, then it’s definitely going to frustrate the members. I thought I would write this blog to help with the understanding of why we use winter greens at Ponteland.

Winter time is a period where protecting the mains greens is of the upmost importance, with low temperatures meaning growth and recovery is very slow, any damage we can prevent means come spring we are a step closer to target greens performance. Next time you’re out on the course look at the wear and damage on the winter greens and then imagine that damage on the main greens. It’s a case of short term pain for long term benefits. Some courses do however use main greens all winter and that’s great for them that that fits into their course plan for the year but unfortunately it doesn’t fit into ours. During the autumn we encourage root development as much as possible and then it is imperative to protect that new root development throughout the winter. By playing on frozen greens not only does it damage the grass leaf but it also causes a shearing effect on the roots. The root system of our greens grass type (Poa annua) has a hard time, during the spring the plant puts the majority of its energy into seed production, over the summer due to heat, maintenance and player stress the root system is reduced and for the majority of the winter the plant shuts down. That is why we do our best to protect the greens from wear during frozen conditions. I would like to thank the membership for their patience over the winter with regards to the use of winter greens but the benefit of using them certainly warrants it.

Dunstanburgh Castle GC bunker renovation week.


When Stuart Imeson at Dunstanburgh Castle golf club said he was holding a bunker renovation week I jumped at the chance to join him and I’m so pleased I did. Stuart has recently joined the BIGGA North East committee to help with the Education Program, something we both share a passion for. The aim of the week was for Stuart to explain and show the process involved in installing new bunkers and renovating existing ones, for example the design, placement, communicating to members and committee and finally installation of the bunker. In return we provided free labour to assist his staff James Thorpe and Dan Wilkin.

Arriving on the first day I was greeted with a bacon sandwich and introduced to the rest of the crew. We headed out onto the course to have a look at some of the bunkers that had recently been renovated with revetted walls. We then visited the 9th (Stroke 1 Index) hole where Stuart explained how the stroke index didn’t match the way the hole played. Due to this a fairway bunker would be installed and the green side bunkers renovated to toughen the hole up. We discussed various architects styles, yardage from the tee boxes, size, shape, depth and shaping around the bunker. With the rest of the first day we tackled the first bunker at the 9th green that needed a revetted face installed. We also reduced the size of the bunker with the view of installing a second bunker to the right hand side of the green.


By the end of the first day we had lifted an area to create a new ladies winter tee box and used the turf to build our first revetted wall on our new smaller bunker. We altered some of the shaping around the green so that in the future the green could be extended out behind the bunker to allow trickier pin locations. One thing I noticed straight away was how open Stuart was to suggestions from his staff and even his new crew. During the day we discussed that maybe a second bunker added as a cluster of two and joined together with shaping would be better than the original idea of a standalone bunker and more to rear of the green. Stuart agreed to present that idea to the committee the following day.


On Day Two we started on the left side of the 9th green where we reshaped the mounding at the front of the bunker so that a ball would be more likely to end up in the trap. We also moved the bunker more into the fairway making the approach to the green tighter. With the hole playing a slight dog-leg to the left and uphill we decided that the bunker would look impressive if we made the left side of the bunker deeper and it wouldn’t actually make the shot out of the bunker towards the green harder. After lunch some committee members joined us out on the 9th and we presented our ideas for installing the 2 new bunkers to the hole, the ideas were well received and we went on to discuss the new ladies winter tee box and other potential work we may get through. By the end of the day we had constructed the new revetted wall on the left hand side bunker and created the new shaping on the right hand side bunker to tie in the new second bunker.



Day Three, we made a start on finishing the bunkers around the green on the 9th. We had an unexpected visit from The National Trust before the weather bomb hit and conditions were too severe to continue. The land at Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club was originally leased from the National Trust in 1972 and the current proprietor took over that lease in 1988. There are many conditions and restrictions that come with the lease to ensure that the land, on the whole, remains untouched and native species of animals, flowers and grass types thrive. The site has many SSI’s, hosts an area of grassland remaining from the ice age and is home to the second largest natural newt conservation in the country. These restrictions vary from not disturbing the rough, even to drive through, to not spraying chemicals for the control of weeds, pests and disease. To ensure the terms of the lease are met The National Trust are in frequent contact with Stuart and his staff. On this visit they were concerned about the movement of soil and the removal of Jarrow on a bunker face due for renewal. These restrictions, I feel, add to the magic of the course and increase its uniqueness.

Day Four, after a hotly contested FIFA and UFC competition the previous night back at our accommodation and the green side bunkers prepared for turf we were ready to start the final bunker on Thursday morning. To keep in line with the members, The National Trust and the stroke index, location selection would be vital. It had to fit in with the lay of the land, challenge the tee shot but not be too penal. Once we decided on the positioning we began digging out the bunker and because it was being established into a mound in the landscape very little shaping would be needed to keep the natural look. With the spoil created we were able to construct the new ladies winter tee box from where we had been lifting the turf to build the revetting. During this process we were able to get some good feedback from the members and it was mostly agreed that it improved the hole.


The final day was dedicated to finishing all bunkers and the tee box by laying turf that was ordered earlier in the week. We topped off a fantastic weeks work by playing the back 9 starting with the newly modified hole.



To see a short video of us building the fairway bunker please visit


Following a very successful year for the green staff at Dunstanburgh I couldn’t not link the video to this music 😃.