Northamptonshire County Golf Club boasts a reputation as one of the finest inland golf courses in the UK and plays regular host to top amateur and professional events, including Regional Qualifying for The Open. The course was originally laid out by Harry Colt in 1909 and was modified by James Braid some 38 years later and its classic design has been enjoyed by golfers ever since.
STRI was commissioned to provide agronomic support to the club. Objective measurements were introduced to greens and green approaches through the STRI Programme to provide an accurate and objective benchmark of current performance and allow for progress to be monitored moving forward.
- The undulating greens and open-fronted green complexes at Northamptonshire County symbolise the importance of producing appropriately firm playing surfaces to compliment to original design of the course.
- An accumulation of organic matter beneath the greens was highlighted as a key issue in 2015 and confirmed by laboratory analysis. This was causing the putting surfaces to soften down excessively under wetter conditions, therefore placing less emphasis on accurate ball striking when playing into greens. This environment also proved ideal for turfgrass diseases (like anthracnose and Microdochium) and annual meadow-grass ingress.
- Tree and scrub succession over several decades was also an issue and led to the course losing some of its heathland character, with indigenous species like heather being smothered out. Trees also had a negative impact on some of the playing surfaces, with reduced airflow and sunlight impacting on surface quality and heightening disease pressures.
- Rough grassland management was also another key challenge, with many areas of rough either being lost through wider semi rough mowing or existing areas being too dense and penal to play from.
- STRI was commissioned to provide agronomic support to the club from 2015. Objective measurements were introduced to greens and green approaches through the STRI Programme to provide an accurate and objective benchmark of current performance and allow for progress to be monitored moving forward.
- An intensified programme of renovation was introduced to reduce organic matter content beneath the greens and this involved a combination of hollow coring and Graden sand injection treatments, increased routine aeration and a dedicated sand topdressing programme supplying circa 200-250 tonnes per annum.
- Water and nutrient inputs were carefully considered to manage turf health, growth and organic matter accumulation.
- The club also enlisted the services of the STRI ecology department to provide a strategy for managing tree and scrub populations, along with a longer-term plan to re-introduce heather. Areas where trees were impacting the playing surfaces were highlighted as a priority.
- A programme of scarification, cutting and clipping collection was also introduced to rough grasslands in a bid to produce wispier, more playable roughs. The success of this goes hand in hand with the tree and scrub management.
After two years, organic matter content has reduced by 40% in the top 20mm of the profile beneath the greens.
Year-round surface firmness has improved as a result and become more consistent between greens.
The texture of the upper profile has improved notably and is supporting stronger and deeper rooting.
Existing bentgrass populations are thriving and increasing in an improved growing environment. With organic matter levels being more favourable, a programme of overseeding can now to be introduced to further increase fine grass populations.
Tree removal has improved turf quality around shaded greens and reduced disease pressures.
Considered ecological management is helping to restore heathland character of the course, with tree and scrub management improving both course aesthetics and playing strategy.
Golfing roughs are becoming less productive and more playable in response to intensive autumn maintenance and tree removal.