Drainage at Loch Lomond
Donald Steel, a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel and Britain’s most prolific living golf architect and respected golf author, in his role as Chairman of the ‘Greenkeepers Training Committee’ recently observed in Greenkeeper International magazine that “over the years the condition of courses will be good if the non-stop battle against thatch and compaction can be won.”
He feels “They (ie thatch and compaction) represent the common enemy whatever the soil, the grass or climate. This makes regular aeration the exercise most believe to be the common denominator in terms of universal policy.”
These are clear, strong, visionary words, often repeated by the followers of Jim Arthur, the world’s greatest ever golf agronomist and one of the founding influences in the creation of FineGolf.
It is interesting that David Cole, Loch Lomond’s Course Superintendent, an amiable, brilliant greenkeeper, lists as his three agronomic priorities – “Drainage, Drainage and Drainage”. This is not perhaps surprising as the UK’s “Augusta” (in its exclusivity and that it is only open from April to October) endures a very high rainfall that dominates all that his team does.
I was privileged to be invited by David to inspect their work and play the course with him, on our way up to the Highlands this August.
To highlight the scale of the job they had building the course in this location, it’s remarkable that while digging out the boggy ground, one enormous dozer slid so deeply into the terrain that they decided to leave it there and it is still buried under the thirteenth hole to this day.
The club, now owned by its 500 odd ‘International’ members, is lucky to have initially had the billionaire Lyle Anderson as its visonary founder and the beautiful mansion of the Colquhoun family as its clubhouse, containing a baronial, fine dining-room and a full collection of wonderful ancestral family portraits. Both ladies’ and gentlemen’s locker rooms are something to behold and enjoy. It is not open to the public but having hosted The Scottish Open for ten years on television, the club possesses nevertheless a public face.
The course, designed by the American Pro Tom Weiskopf, is of an ‘International’ type and for a parkland course, the holes each have a different and mostly interesting and strategically challenging character.
The greens were originally seeded with an American ‘creeping bent’ grass with its requirement for high maintenance and inputs of fertiliser but soon the Poa annua (Annual meadow grass) invaded.
Less than ten years later, in 2000, the greens were re-built to a USGA spec and turfed again with non-indigenous creeping bent. (This is not something a normal club can afford, and only clubs as wealthy as Queenwood and Wentworth can re-turf all its greens in this manner, as they both did recently).
Again, stopping the Poa annua from invading proved problematic so a decision was taken in 2005 to let the poa invade and transition into a fine dwarf variety, while indigenous browntop bent grass, which requires less fertiliser and pesticides, was over-seeded. Five years of over-seeding with this browntop has achieved about 50/50 bent/poa and the greens run well.
The poor growing climate at Loch Lomond of wet, damp, shady, humid conditions favours Poa annua and the greens are very receptive to golf balls with divots being made. This in combination with the ‘through the air’ design to most of its green approaches, Loch Lomond gives high quality target-style golf.
David Cole adds: ”The overall goal is to achieve firm and fast conditions when the weather is favourable and by an installation of intensive drainage network combined with careful organic matter (thatch) management this can now be achieved within 48 hour window vs. a long period of conducive weather”.
reviewed byLorne Smith 2011