The Amateur Championship has been graced by some formidable golfers since it was founded in 1885. In 2016 the links of Royal Porthcawl and Pyle & Kenfig had designs on finding the next Sergio Garcia (1998), José María Olazábal (’84) or Masters co-founder Bobby Jones (’30) – all previous winners of the prestigious trophy. Will this year’s winner, Scott Gregory, turn out to be one of the greats?
STRI agronomists Paul Woodham and Richard Windows give us the lowdown on the work that went into making the courses ready for the Championship.
Royal Porthcawl Golf Club and Pyle & Kenfig Golf Club are no strangers to major professional and amateur golf championships. Between them their long roster of impressive tournaments include the Amateur Championships, Home Internationals, Walker Cup, Curtis Cup, The Senior Open and The Ladies British Open Amateur Championships.
As Official Agronomists to The R&A Championship Committee, STRI assist and support both courses making sure they achieve high quality, sustainable and authentic playing surfaces and vegetation types throughout. Standards of greenkeeping on both courses are very high and management practices adopted focus on sustainable methods to deliver firm, dry surfaces dominated by the fine fescue and browntop bentgrasses. At the same time as maintaining high quality playing surfaces, significant and enthusiastic management of the out of play areas has been achieved to deliver authentic vegetation and deliver optimum ecological value to each course.
With the busy tournament schedule at Royal Porthcawl, some architectural adjustments have been made to provide challenging but fair conditions for tournament play. Martin Ebert of McKenzie & Ebert was commissioned by the Club to review the course in 2010/2011. Some minor softening of green contours was recommended on strongly contoured greens to the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th and 10th, to provide sufficient hole locations during tournament conditions. Several new and enlarged Championship tees, a practice green and short game area were also constructed.
Agronomic input from STRI, as part of the project team alongside Martin Ebert, Marcus Terry from 1stGolf and Course Manager Ian Kinley, was provided to ensure the new greens and altered greens and sections of greens were consistent with those that remained. To avoid unnecessary importation of material and, ensure the project was mindful of sustainable practices at all times, it was decided to utilise all materials from the existing site. As part of this process, laboratory analysis of materials were required to ensure both optimum and consistent performance with other greens in the course. The rootzone selected for new greens was a 90:10 mix of indigenous dune sand mixed with sandy topsoil harvested from existing practice range. For the greens remaining in situ but, recountoured, the upper rootzone was stripped, sand base recountoured and rootzone carefully replaced to new contours.
To establish grass cover on the new practice green and chipping green a relatively new method was implemented, as there was no suitable source of indigenous turf. Establishment was achieved by hollow cores harvested from the greens on the course. These were laid on the new rootzone and augmented with fescue and browntop seed. As a result grass plants imported on the cores, including annual meadow-grass, quickly established and successfully provided a consistent blend of grass, within the greens, that were similar to those on the course. The time for establishment was also reduced, allowing the greens to be open for play quicker than when seeded.
The final part of the development programme at Royal Porthcawl involved the construction of new and enlarged Championship tees and removal of large areas of rank and degenerated gorse and scrub. Taking into account sustainable principles, an excellent new bare sand habitats across the course were created. In areas where gorse was removed, the brash was cleared and bare sand exposed. In some areas, the exposed sand was harvested and used as the sub base for the new tees negating the need to import any material for construction.
The management of rough grassland was the final piece of the maintenance strategy. Management practices were implemented to convert previously rank and coarse textured swards to finer and wispier stands, which are more authentic to the links landscape and make it easier to retrieve balls, without reducing the challenge of tournament play. All the work was completed to high standards by the greenstaff under the careful, attentive and enthusiastic guidance of the Course Manager, Ian Kinley.
If you want a full video tour of the course it’s worth visiting Royal Porthcawl’s excellent website.
At Pyle & Kenfig the Club have implemented some significant changes to the course and wider infrastructure. The Club has invested £150,000 in a new irrigation main line and controls, which were installed by Arden Lea during the winter of 2015/16 replacing the tired pipework. Although not having the capacity of fairway irrigation, the improvements will offer a more efficient flow and control with options for manual watering points to support fairway health during periods of drought.
Like Royal Porthcawl, the course and neighbouring environment is of ecological interest with large areas designated SSSI. To develop the out of play areas further, the Club have now secured an Ecological Management Plan, developed by STRI Ecologist Bob Taylor. Amongst the key objectives is to provide ongoing direction towards rough management. As part of the process, the Club have already made good progress with bracken clearance from most sensitive sand dunes, which will help improve playability and reinstate fringing rough grasslands.
In preparation for 2016, course improvement projects have included the reconstruction of five championship tees, two of which also serve for Club competitions and general play. With the Club fully committed to many other projects such as irrigation and fairway improvements, STRI was asked to select and commission an external contractor, with appropriate championship course experience, for the tee improvement programme. Following specification and tender management consultation, the project was awarded to Souters Sports Ltd with work commencing in October 2015.
The project involved stripping existing turf and upper profile rootzone back to the native dune sands before levelling the base and installation of fresh rootzone. The new material was blended on site and compromised 90% indigenous sand and 10% Fensoil. New irrigation was also installed to provide a uniform cover capable of 4mm/day replacing a sprinkler design which had previously failed to support turf health and perform requirements.
Whilst the native reclaimed dune sands are readily accessible for blending, the greatest challenge was hauling loads through the winding course routes. Dumpers with high floatation tyres took over 45 minutes to get from the Borrow Pit and blending site to the 12th tee. An expert shaper was also used to grade the excavated top soils discretely into the swards, therefore limiting the haulage removal time.
Selection of turf and its sward composition needed to take into account the volume of play Pyle & Kenfig encounters. Being a favoured location on the South Wales golf tourist map the turf had to meet the demands of an estimated 35,000 rounds of golf per year. Such high volumes of play and competition from native ryegrasses, establishing through roughs and surrounds, led to dwarf ryegrass/fescue blend being used. Despite enduring prevailing wet conditions throughout the project, the construction team from Souters Sports Ltd worked seamlessly with the Club. The Club’s greenkeeping team, led by the Head Greenkeeper Paul Johnson, completed the projects on schedule with this final turf laid in December.
As part of the STRI agronomic support programme to The R&A Championship Committee, STRI Programme measurements were taken twice daily during the lead up to the Championship across both courses. The data informed the final preparations and operations for the Championship to both venues and ensure tournament performance targets are met and maintained. With all the work carried out to both courses over the past few years, the two courses provided a stern test to the competitors of the 2016 The Amateur Championship.