Founded in 1888, Royal Ashdown Forest is a traditional members’ golf club set in the heart of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Renowned for fescue-rich fine turf greens, the course offers an authentic heathland golfing experience, with no bunkers but plenty of natural protection through its contouring design.
STRI was appointed as course agronomists in 2015 with a brief to modernise the delivery of greenkeeping and improve the performance of the course in a sustainable manner.
- The greens, whilst maintaining a fine grass species sward, struggled to provide a consistent surface required for the modern game. The native soil construction profiles offer poor drainage and spring conditions are notoriously challenging in this exposed environment.
- The club had previously installed Lytag band drainage to several greens but questioned whether these systems were meeting requirements.
- Greenkeeping practices were very traditional. Whilst the greens’ grass species benefitted from minimalistic inputs, performance and presentation were often impaired.
- The 7th green offers a very steep contour which over time has become too challenging, with restricted pin positions whilst also struggling to drain.
- The heathland is mosaic and rich in biodiversity but lacking a structured approach to management. This was leading to issues with playability and loss of structural diversity.
- STRI benchmarked the performance of the greens. The objective data measured the extent of vulnerability, with the profiles having accumulated excess organic matter leaving them prone to softening down at times of wet conditions. The review identified inadequacies with the previously installed Lytag band drainage system. Green speed and surface smoothness were inconsistent and did not meet the aspirations of the membership.
- Installation of drainage. A grid layout pipe drainage system was advised and installed with careful selection and testing of materials to ensure long term performance. The club worked with the contractor to establish the drains and return the greens to play.
- Revised greenkeeping maintenance. Recommendations were made to invest in a new greens aeration unit and increase the volume of sand dressing to reduce organic matter content. Investment in other equipment and informed testing of maintenance practices instructed the process of strategic maintenance and greens sward refinements. Overseeding of brown top bentgrass was introduced to complement fescue seeding and strengthen the botanical blend of the sward composition for improved year-round performance.
- 7th hole redesign and reconstruction. The club resurrected plans to redesign the 7th hole and extend the hole by building a new green. Specifications, material testing and project monitoring works are planned.
- Restoration and management of heather. A plan was agreed to increase the areas of heather through the course and improve the management of existing heather by devolving a staggered mowing strategy. The agreed and limited use of graminicide was advised to reduce unfavourable species within the heathland, but at all times working within legislative site restrictions.
The changes to agronomic management has resulted in a 30% reduction in organic matter within a two-year period.
Installation of drainage is allowing the maintenance practices to succeed whilst increased sand dressing and overseeding strategies are continuing to improve the greens’ swards and performance. Members’ feedback has never been more positive.
The improvement in course condition has given the club confidence to move forward with new projects such as the redevelopment of the 7th hole.
The club has a structured plan for sustainable ecological management. The condition of the SSSI will improve along with the playability of the course. This project is working in tandem with an ongoing tree management programme.