Cooking up a sand dune at Perranporth Golf Club

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Perranporth Golf Club is situated on the beautiful North
Coast of Cornwall, overlooking the glorious Perran Sands beach. It
sits on top of a disused tin mine, among the dunes of blown sand
and old mine workings and the views from every hole are dramatic
and a delight. Lee Williams met with Course Manager Rob Cook, who
is tasked with the general upkeep and maintenance of this unique
links course.

Rob has taken on the enviable task of this James Braid course
designed in 1929, after industry legend Bill Mitchell retired in
2018, having served the club for a remarkable fifty-eight
years.

Rob first took an interest in golf when he started caddying for
his dad, when he was just fourteen. He then started to play himself
(at his local golf course of Bowood) and would spend any free time
working on his handicap. After completing his A-levels and a BTEC
in business and finance, he was still unsure what career path he
wanted to take – until his mum stepped in. “She told me I needed to
further my education rather than just playing golf all the time. I
didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do, but obviously I loved golf
and, whilst at school, I had worked with the greenkeepers at Bowood
in the summer holidays, so I decided to complete a HND in golf
course management at Reaseheath College. Part of the course
involved going out on work experience for seven months, and I was
lucky enough to be placed at the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire. I
loved it and, when I finished the HND, they offered me a full-time
position.”

“I would regularly go home to Cornwall to see my parents and
friends and, every time I visited, I would chat with the guy who
leased Bowood Golf Course, who was spending quite a bit of money on
the course. Whilst working at the Forest of Arden, the phone rang
one day and Ray Hunt (Course Manager there at the time) informed me
there was some chap on the phone for me. In front of Ray, I
answered the phone and was then scared to inform him that Bowood
had just asked me to be their Head Greenkeeper. Ray was supportive
but recommended i only take the job if suitable budgets were in
place, however I was twenty-one at the time and a bit naïve, so I
accepted the job.”

“It turned out to be a nightmare at first; there were older
greenkeepers who did not like being told what to do and the guy who
was acting head (who had been demoted) was stubborn. Eventually,
with there only being a few of us, things calmed down. Then, the
owners went bust, someone else came in with a lot of money and we
had some excellent years … until they did a moonlight flit and the
farmer (who originally built the course) took it back on!”

Whilst at Bowood, with not having a lot of money to spend on
maintaining the USGA specification greens, Rob made the decision to
go down the fine grass route and he started to get quite a lot of
fescue on the greens. He would pick the brains of the greenkeepers
at the local links clubs, as this was the turf management style he
was most interested in. “I have always had a passion for links
golf, so when a job came up at Trevose Golf Club up the road, I
applied, but I just missed out. Then, when the position came up
here due to Billy retiring, I felt it was the ideal opportunity. It
is such a natural site and it ticked all the boxes for me; fescue
dominated greens and low inputs.”

When Rob first moved to the club, his first job was to find a
trusty and knowledgeable Deputy Head, as the current deputy decided
to leave when he was not automatically promoted to Head. “There
were some strong contenders already at the club, but they had not
been there very long and I felt I needed more knowledge and
experience. I managed to appoint Anthony James (Jacko), who is well
known in Devon and Cornwall and had been at Killiow Golf Club in
Truro as Course Manager for ten years (three years service now with
us). We have a great team in place with Shaun Trudgeon (twelve
years’ service) – NVQ Level 3 Greenkeeping, Tony Blyth (five years)
– NVQ Level 2 Greenkeeping and apprentice Tom Tiffin (nine
months).”

Left to right: Shaun Trudgeon, Tony Blyth, Rob Cook, Anthony
James (Jacko) and Tom Tiffin

Perranporth is a par 72 natural links course and measures a
modest 6,252 yards from the back tees. Often described as a links
course on steroids it has multiple blind holes and, except for a
little lengthening here and there, its layout has remained
virtually unchanged, due to lack of funds.

The course was constructed on what was no more than a
sand-strewn wasteland of tin mining remains, lashed by wind and
rain over the centuries. “It is a headland with sand blown on top
and I believe the dunes are amongst some of the highest sand dunes
in Europe. What’s unusual here is that all the mounding at the side
of the fairways is sand, but a lot of the fairways themselves are
quite silty with mine waste. So, everybody thinks the course is on
pure sand, but when we verti-drain we can only go down to four
inches – it is not all that it seems!”

Rob believes if you have been entrusted with the maintenance of
a links course, one of your duties should be to promote finer
grasses such as fescue. “On a site like this, putting on loads of
fertiliser and lots of water is sacrilege.”

The fescue dominated greens were constructed naturally and the
profile is described as sandy soil.

“Since the 1980s, Billy had religiously been topdressing with
Rufford 1742 (a 70/30 mix), which has built up and provided a
beautiful free draining profile, able to hold on to nutrients.”

The fully automatic irrigation system was installed in 1990,
which Rob describes as ‘on its knees’. It’s something the club have
been looking to upgrade for the last few years, but money is the
stumbling block. “We make the best of what we have and we do a lot
of hosing, as we struggle with pressure.

We only really water the greens to preserve the current system.
There are sprinklers on the tees, but we only water the par threes;
the more we use the system, the more it fails. Just over three
years ago, the club upgraded the pumphouse and tank which was
great, however we have had to reduce the pressure because if we
used it to its full capacity, the pipes and joints would burst.
When we fire the system back up in early spring, we usually have
around five or six leaks, in fact, most of lockdown was spent
fixing leaks – it can be soul destroying.”

The course is extremely free draining, which enables play all
year round. “Last June, it rained pretty much all the way through
which meant we had a couple of pockets of standing water on the
course, but they were not really in play. If anything, the course
performs better in winter when it is green and lush. In summer, it
is very dry and tends to burn off pretty quickly … if there is
anywhere that could do with irrigation, it is here, as it dries out
rapidly.”

Rob gives me the breakdown of his maintenance regime for the
greens throughout the year. “During summer, we cut no lower than
4mm, then gradually rise that to 5mm before going to 6mm in
winter.

We have four Baroness LM56 hand mowers and a Toro GreensMaster
TriFlex 3420. With staff being furloughed, it has been difficult
this year but, typically, we will try and hand mow two to three
times a week with the groomers and try and do a double pass, then
use the Toro over the weekend.” I asked Rob why he swaps between
the two methods of cutting? “I just love the finish the hand mowers
give us and we only have groomers on those mowers. All the guys
here are passionate about hand mowing and it saves wear and tear on
the surrounds; because it’s an old-fashioned course, it can be
difficult to turn the triple. Over the years, I have carried out a
lot of hand mowing myself and I would adopt this to all tees and
greens if I had the resources.”

Throughout the season, Rob doesn’t undertake scarifying on the
greens and has carried on from where Billy left off with the use of
graminicides. “When I first started, I applied four applications in
spring and autumn (before Rescue was taken off the market), to
ensure I had eradicated all the ryegrass and Yorkshire Fog.
Controversially, the next step was Laser, which kills everything
apart from fescue and poa including the highland bentgrass; this is
horrible and leggy (similar to creeping-bent) and you would see
platelets of it, which would catch your eye and look awful. Before
applying Laser, I had undertaken a lot of overseeding with chewings
and creeping fescue then, in August last year, I bit the bullet and
went for it. It did exactly what it says on the tin and killed all
the bentgrass, however some of the bare patches filled back in with
poa over the winter. So, we sprayed again at the end of spring to
pick up anything we had missed or any regrowth and the results have
been tremendous; we are pretty much fescue dominated now. The
fescue does not respond well to scarification and verti-cutting, so
we only groom.”

Aeration on the greens tends to be carried out more in winter
using the Toro ProCore 648 as well as the Verti-Drain, when they
have a little bit more moisture. “Every couple of months, they will
get a solid tine at varying depths, so as not to create a pan using
the 648. It’s a fantastic piece of kit; probably my favourite
machine in the shed.”

“Our renovation weeks are relatively simple. We will overseed
using the Toro ProCore using blunt tines to pot seed six to seven
bags a time of a fescue mix, which works a treat. I apply a
granular seaweed from Ocean Knowledge and a 70/30 topdressing.”

Every June/July, STRI will visit to take soil samples from the
greens. Rob feels this may become unneccessary though since
adopting a nutrient programme of only applying seaweed alongside a
monthly top-dressing regime since last August. “I apply ten tonnes
a month of Rufford 1742 topdressing, giving me a total of 120
tonnes per year. For us, this is like a feed because the fescue
loves it. The seaweed adds a nice balance of NPK and trace
elements. Over the years, I have tried to determine the best
seaweed, but you just can’t! Some people say heat treated is best,
some say cold-pressed, but then you also have the freeze-thaw
action. Add to this the different types of seaweed and it’s a
minefield. I apply 20 l/ha of seaweed every few weeks, but I will
mix five litres of a cold-pressed, five litres of a heat-treated,
five litres of the freeze-thaw action and five litres of Kelp pack.
I do this because I do not know which is best and I don’t want to
put all my eggs in one basket; it seems a bit overkill, but it
works for us.”

Most of the machinery at the club is on hire purchase and all
the maintenance is carried out in-house, with only the regrinding
being farmed out. “My deputy, Jacko, is pretty hands-on and a good
mechanic, so he carries out all of the servicing, which greatly
helps reduce our costs. We look after our machines and, if I buy a
machine like the front-line mowers, I try and hold on to them for
ten years. I am a confessed Toro fan, but my view is for individual
jobs. I will pick whatever machine is best, irrespective of the
colour. The Baroness hand mowers are absolutely brilliant and leave
an excellent finish.”

Ecology is fundamental to a club like Perranporth with it being
such a natural golf course and this is their main selling point. “I
think this course is one, if not the most, natural and raw links in
Cornwall and this is something we should market. It may not be the
easiest of courses to play and you may not love it, but I urge
everyone to visit because it is pretty old school and natural.
Keeping scrub down is a big thing here, and we work with the
wildlife trust.”

Some of the dune system is part the Penhale Dunes; a complex of
sand dunes and a protected area for its wildlife on the north
Cornwall coast. It is the most extensive system of sand dunes in
Cornwall and is believed to be the landing site of Saint Piran.
Dating from the 6th century, St Piran’s Oratory is thought to be
one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain. The remains were
discovered in the late 18th century and, in 2014, the covering sand
was removed to reveal a building more than a thousand years old in
a good state of preservation. “We work closely with the dune ranger
and, two years ago, we started to undertake quite a bit of burning
to thin out the Marram and burn the rye grasses, with great
results. The following year we got a lot of wildflowers coming
through which attract bees and other wildlife. This year, we have
sprayed quite a lot of the scrub that has crept in such as pampas
grass and cotoneaster, which should not be on a links course. We
also attract a lot of wildlife including deer, foxes, badgers,
kestrels, peregrine falcons and one of the most exciting resurgence
we have is the Cornish chuff – which, at one time, was pretty
rare.”

What’s in the shed

Toro Greensmaster TriFlex 3420
Toro Greensmaster 3250-D x2
Toro Reelmaster 3100-D Sidewinder
Toro Reelmaster 5410-D
Toro ProCore 648
Toro Workman x 2
Baroness LM56GC x4
EZGO golf buggy
Aebi TT75 with front flail
Team 500 sparayer
Iseki TG5470 IQ tractor
Iseki TG5390 IQ tractor
Smithco greensroller
Dakota Top Dresser
Viking rotary mower x 2
Ryan Turf Cutter
Flymo x 2
STIHL chainsaw x 2
STIHL brushcutter x 2


Credit: Source link

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