It’s the first week in November and temperatures are starting to drop. Octobers average temp was 10.4 degrees Celsius, nearly double last years. With this in mind our main efforts have been in maintaining grass growth and keeping playing surfaces as good as possible for as long as possible. Not forgetting the leaves that are steadily falling around the course.

The drop in temps has slowed growth down and allowed us to make a start on bunker renovations, however the main focus of this blog post is going to be on the Air2G2.


You may have seen me out using this strange machine during the week and wondering what it is and does. The Air2G2 is a machine used for aeration a lot like the Verti-drain but the main difference is that it leaves very little disturbance in its wake. The machine has 3 probes that are inserted into the greens subsurface. The 2 outside probes work at a depth of 11 inches and the middle probe at 6 inches. Once in the subsurface compressed air is blasted out vertically and horizontally through 10 small holes at the tip of each probe. The middle probe works at a lower depth to create a wave effect of air that shoots throughout the subsurface shattering any compaction build up. It’s basically keyhole surgery for grass, minimal disturbance on the surface but very invasive beneath.


The machine I used was on demonstration from the local dealership Greenlay. We were very fortunate to have it at Ponteland for the week as it is a machine in high demand. This is due to how well it targets the subsoil with little disturbance. It is absolutely essential to carry out autumn aeration to relieve compaction from the seasons play and also to head into winter with free draining surfaces. With the Air2g2 we have done this and kept the surfaces playing well, if you only play at weekends you would be hard pushed to see any evidence of aeration. When Verti-draining, the surfaces are full of holes and can take weeks to recover.

Here is a short video I made whilst using the Air2g2.

After using the Air2g2 this week I can say it’s a fantastic machine and it does exactly what it claims. I would recommend anybody to try it……. BUT do we need to rush out and buy one?!? I’m confident that we have a very good aeration program throughout the year and we keep ontop of any compaction that occurs. The biggest benefit of having this machine is for the members, if they don’t want to see disturbance to the surfaces then this is the machine to use. If they are happy with the current program/disturbance then I think hiring it in the future would be best.

The only down side to the Air2g2 is that because it doesn’t create a high number of holes in the surface we cannot apply sand after use whereas with the Verti-drainer we have the option to follow up with a heavy sand application.


Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

View from a stand at the Open

So I’m walking down the 4th at Hoy lake on the final day of The Open championship. The group I have is Brian Harman and Jordan Speith. Harman has just dropped 5 shots and is walking along complaining to Speith about the lack of proper mustard sauce in the U.K. Speith replies with how sneaky we are disguising horse radish as mustard. I’m thinking to myself these guys are just ordinary people. Harman birdied that hole and the next and continued to pull 6 shots back to finish -4 in T26 and bag himself £42,000. If he hadn’t have dropped the 5 shots he would have finished T12 for £92,500. I had to remind myself that while he maybe an ordinary person what he was achieving was far from ordinary.

This was a recurring theme I noticed whilst at the open.

I traveled down to the open with 2 other people from the North East. David Thompson the deputy head green keeper at Hexham GC who has an R&A scholarship and is currently doing his foundation degree in sports turf. He has worked hard to earn this extraordinary position and will continue to do so and become, I have no doubt, an exceptional green keeping mind. The 2nd is Stuart Imeson head green keeper at Dunstanburgh Castle links. He is 23 and has been head green keeper since he was 18. When I was 18 I could just about get myself home safely after a night on the town never mind run a golf course and everything it entails. The Greenkeepers international magazine have written an article on him that you can check out here

Since being appointed headman Stuart along with managing the course has installed new revetted bunkering, an irrigation system to the tee boxes and built a putting green. Wow some people wouldn’t get to do all that in a life time in this industry.

Me and Stuart Imerson

My down time at the open was spent speaking to numerous people that love what they do and because of that they excel at it. I have made many new friends through this experience and I believe the people I have met will help shape our industry in the years to come.

To sum up my Open experience I would have to say it was simply ‘The Best’

The best golf
The best course
The best people

It was a fantastic experience and I urge everyone who can to do it.

I’d like to finish by saying thank you, firstly to John Keenaghan for attempting to drive the bus😂 but more importantly for setting the tone for the week, secondly to all the lads (OiOi) and everyone that made the week so enjoyable and finally and most importantly the BIGGA girls Sandra, Rachel and the 2 Tracey’s and everyone associated with BIGGA. For being on duty from 5am till 11pm, dealing with any issues,organising, looking after 50+ green keepers daily and everything else you have done behind the scenes. Without you goodness knows how the week would turn out.

Checking the greens over


Spring renovation.

I think it’s fair to say, coming out of winter and into spring, the greens were in great condition. The greens responded well to a new nutritional plan we have implemented, before we started our renovation we were regularly hitting our summer target speed on the greens.

We had planned to use the Graden sand injection as part of our renovation work but when we trialled it on the putting green little to no organic matter was being removed. We were effectively ripping sand out to then inject sand back in, it didn’t seem to make sense. We decided to send a soil sample from 6 different greens away to be tested for thatch/organic matter. The results can be seen below.


The target zone for organic matter content is 4-6%, the greens we had tested were all below that which is fantastic and just goes to show that all the hard work and disturbance has paid off.

So where does this leave us? We are all ready and fired up to get some work done on the greens but for now organic matter isn’t an issue.

We decided that instead of focussing on removing organic matter we would concentrate on creating vertical drainage channels away from the surface using 16mm solid tines to a depth of 75mm and then back fill with as much sand as possible. This firms the green up and also improves drainage.

We have done this operation before but never with this size tine. Because of this were we unsure about the amount of sand we could get into the greens. We agreed that 40tonnes would be great as it is double the amount we would have used with the Graden machine.

To start with we scarified the greens to a depth of 3mm to remove a small amount of organic matter but also to create small lateral channels for the sand to settle into to further boost the amount of sand we could apply. We then cut the greens straight after to clean up the surfaces. The 16mm tine is next using the John Deere aero core which allows us to finish all 18greens in a day. Using the Dakota top dresser we applied 20tonnes of sand in perfect drying conditions. At this point we realised that it was going to take a lot of sand to fill the channels we had created. After the first application of sand we used our zig-zag brush to sweep and work the sand down into the channels. We repeated this process until the channels were packed full with sand. The more sand we apply and the fuller the channels get the harder it is to work the sand away from the surface. We applied 60tonnes of sand before we were happy that the greens had reached their capacity. With such a high volume of sand the amount of stress we place on the greens through brushing in is very high and we had to be careful not to push them over the limit. We used different methods to work the sand down such as a steel drag matt attached to the back of the zig-zag brush and the cassette clean up brushes on the toro greens machine.

Once we were happy the holes were filled, we then used the aero core again and spike using a 6mm solid tine to a depth of 75mm. This helps work the sand away from the surface through vibration but more importantly closes the big 16mm tine blemishes and leaves a much small hole that will effect ball roll less. A final 5tonnes of sand were then applied to maximise our sand usage and to help smooth out the 6mm tine holes. Now that the work has been done we reinstate the surfaces as best we can with a double roll and finish up by running the irrigation to settle the sand down into the surface.

To help explain the process better please watch this video that demonstrates some of the operations we carried out.

In all, the spring renovations were a great success and in total we applied 65tonnes of sand. The weather was kind and all operations ran smoothly save from a few hiccups with the irrigation system resulting in some wet golfers. Since completing the work we have had some testing periods of heavy rain and the greens have stood up very well. It’s reassuring knowing that we now have good drainage channels working water away from the surfaces, just incase the jet stream isn’t kind to us this summer.

Oxygen is everything to anything that lives

Last week seen a break in the weather which has really helped dry the course up. We took full advantage of the dry spell and carried out 7 operations on the greens. We started with the slit tines for the 2nd time in as many weeks. This is great to help get air into the subsurface and to relieve compaction with minimal disturbance to the playing surface. We then verti drained the greens with an 18mm tine to a depth of 7inches instead of 10-12inches, we vary the depth to target different levels of the sub surface and to also reduce the risk of creating a pan effect. A pan effect is a consolidated layer within the subsoil caused by the tines repeatedly targeting the same area and this can hinder drainage. We then applied 7.5tonnes of sand, the 18mm tine may be more disruptive to the surface but it is great for allowing sand down into the subsurface. This aids drainage and also helps breakdown any thatch.

Now we have created disturbance to the putting surfaces we reinstate them as best we can firstly by double rolling the greens to settle the surface down and integrate any remaining sand down the tine holes. We then aerate with a 6mm micro tine to a depth of 3inches, as well as the normal benefits of aeration this also helps integrate the sand into the subsurface. When the 6mm tines goes into the green it closes the 18mm holes up to smooth the surface and because we have applied the sand down the 18mm tine holes the surface firms up. This is due to the extra 7.5tonnes of material now in the same area that previously wasn’t there. The surfaces are now firmer and smoother but to really polish them up we apply another 7.5tonnes of sand. This time the sand is applied partially to migrate down the 6mm tine holes but mainly to settle at the base of the leaf. Over the winter the greens are naturally softer and more susceptible to general disturbance such as pitch marks and foot printing. This application of sand helps to smooth out these imperfections on the surface creating a smoother faster putting surface. It is worth noting that when applying sand to the surface and not down the holes we would normally only apply 5tonnes but because there were partially closed 18mm tine holes and fresh 6mm tine holes we increased the amount to 7.5tonnes to further capitalise on any more integration. We finish the whole process up with a final roll to smooth the sand down into the plants base and surface imperfections. We now have a fantastic putting surface that we look forward to progressing to summer standards.

On Monday the sand had settled nicely into the plants base away from the upper leaf so we were able to hand cut the greens with the effective height of cut at 3mm to further increase the surface quality.

TDR 300 Moisture probe

The middle of summer 2013 we purchased a TDR 300 Moisture probe, this is a state of the art tool that assists in the management of the water content within the subsoil of our greens. Why is water content important? The most important reason is that it is crucial to the health of the turf. The grass species at Ponteland is poa annua and to manage this grass type to its highest standard it is important to maintain a steady and constant water content. Using the TDR we insert the 2 pins into the turf to take a reading of Variable Water Content (VWC). We take measurements in 9 different places evenly spread around the green as well as any areas that have a history of being dry. We maintain our VWC between 30-35%. It is impossible to look at a green and tell what the VWC is, on our greens heat stress will start showing at around 25%VWC and this is where greens performance starts to drop. A reading below 25%VWC is bad for our grass type because ‘wet/dry cycles’ cause stress and everything we do to maintain the greens stresses the plant i.e. Cutting, rolling, brushing. When the plant becomes stressed we then have to relieve that stress by taking an operation out of our maintenance plan.

Now we know the VWC we can set up the irrigation for the day. Whilst taking readings we note down if a green would benefit from the automated system which covers the whole green or hand watering is required to spot treat hot spots on the greens. If we have 3 readings across the back of a green 33%VWC, 27%VWC and 35%VWC using the automated system to raise the lowest reading 3% also raises the higher reading 3% in this case hand watering is best to bring the 1 area back into the zone. Over the weekend when our staff levels are minimal hand watering isn’t possible so by Sunday a whole greens VWC can drop and this is where the automated system is used the most.

Water content also has a big effect on greens speed, there are many ways to create speed on a putting surface but one thing that always remains consistent is the VWC. If the VWC is too high then excess moisture will slow the ball down, if it’s too low the leaf can curl up into survival mode creating an uneven surface. The speed will be fine but the quality of ball roll will be reduced. This is where the TDR is so important leading up to a competition, it is such a fine line we tread between getting the greens fast and smooth or over stressing them and producing unrewarding greens.

The TDR 300 has been a fantastic aid since it’s purchase and I would consider it an essential tool for modern day maintenance.

BIGGA turf management exhibition (BTME)

Every year BIGGA hold the biggest turf management exhibition in Europe. It takes place in Harrogate from Sunday-Thursday normally the 3rd week in January. Attendees can attend many courses, seminars and talks about all aspects of our industry. With 100’s of companies showcasing their products varying from flagpoles to greens machines to fertilisers and the turf professionals this event attracts it is a great opportunity to learn and improve. Myself and Craig attended from Monday to Wednesday to take full advantage of all the show has to offer.

We attended seminars about the following topics

• moisture management using TDR moisture probe

• social media and how to use it to communicate with members

• STRI latest research and results with regards to the sand injection Graden machine

• how to unlock your turfs true potential

• Ryder cup 2014 course set up

• applying pigments to your turf

These are all great for picking up tips and tricks on how to improve the way we mange our course, it also confirmed that we are right up to date with the latest methods and in many aspects actually ahead of the game.

If we weren’t in a seminar we were walking around the show meeting other green keepers and reps from various company’s we use and have yet to. This is where we learn the most talking about management techniques with people putting them into practice or about a new product that a company has been trailing.

It was a fantastic 3 days and we come away from it with new techniques to apply, a list of products to try on the course and an arranged demo of the new john deer pedestrian greens mower.

New year

This time last year we lost access to our greens firstly to snow cover and then to wet conditions. Since returning to work after the new year our main aim has been to keep the course open as often as possible and with the main greens in play. With only two days without rain so far this year this hasn’t been easy. On our first day back we sent the verti-drain out with 18mm solid tines to create channels 10inches deep to help drain the water away from the surface as well as aerating the subsoil. Normally we would follow this up with a roll, the weather had different ideas and we were hit with overnight rain which put pay to that. Since then the rain has continued to fall turning the whole course wet. With this in mind we decided to act and we sent both tractors out to aerate as much of the course as possible. Tee boxes, aprons, fairways and walkways are all being aerated with either a slit tine or solid tine and in some cases both.

After our fist day without rain we managed to hand cut the greens and I trialled a new toro machine which was much improved on our old machines. After our second day without rain and with no let up in forecasted rain we pulled a tractor off the course to micro tine the greens with a 6mm tine at a depth of 2.5inches. We do this to create even more holes to help drain the surface but it also leaves a smoother surface behind than the verti-drain. A small step towards happy golfers.

With all these holes in the greens we would normally be looking to integrate sand into the surface but with wet, warm conditions and the potential for snow fall meaning a risk of disease we decided to apply a sand dressing to the chipping green as a trail to see the outcome. The chipping green has shown early signs of the turf disease fusarium which tells us not to apply sand to the main greens at this time. We will continue to fight the elements and keep the course in the best shape possible, it is encouraging to see the greens drying up after a break from rain when in previous years it would have taken longer for them to bounce back.