Castletown Golf Links
We believe that pound for pound our greens are in excellent condition this summer. Some members have commented that they believe our greens to be true but slower than they might expect on a links. It’s important to understand some of the background here and also note the realities of economics.
Over the past 3.5 years we’ve been working with agronomist Neil Baldwin to provide the greens with necessary treatments to combat the lack of investment they received in the preceding years before we became involved with the course. In 2014 Neil confirmed, following the analysis of several soil samples, that our greens suffered from an excessive thatch layer (too much dead organic matter on the surface of the greens), nutrient deficiencies, and a grass sward composition of overwhelmingly poa annua grasses. None of which are conducive to consistent, fast, true greens.
Following this analysis investment was made in better equipment and in suitable products whilst Mark, Joe, and the team have been fine-tuning application techniques and timing of treatments. The ‘repair’ process has meant consistent regular aeration by deep tining (pencil sized holes going down to a depth of around 12 inches) with our new verti-drain machine, treatments to breakdown thatch and re-balance nutrient levels, and generally maintaining cutting heights slightly higher to help give the over-seeded fescues and bent grasses, which are the source of great greens, a chance to thrive.
From the latter part of 2017 through into now summer 2018 we are starting to see the fruits of this labour with much more consistent, true putting surfaces. Neil Baldwin visited us in spring and confirmed he was extremely happy with what he saw in terms of a major reduction in thatch, much fresher root zone (de-compacted, nutrient balanced), and clearly healthier grass sward as a result.
Our greens are consistently rolling at around ‘9’ on the stimpmeter. How does this relate to other courses? A speed of 9 is considered as a medium-fast pace for golf greens, see this interesting piece from Wikipedia for more info on what a stimpmeter reading is. What speed would greens run at on the most highly regarded links courses? The answer to this is that it varies between 8.5 – 10.5. Often in preparation for big tournaments greenkeepers will double cut their greens at a lower height than normal and use a greens iron to produce speeds of between ‘10 – 11’. However it’s important to understand that these types of speeds are not sustainable for more than very short periods. Cutting greens below 4mm in height over-stresses the most desirable fescue and bent grasses and is counter-productive in anything other than the very short-term.
So in summary the first important thing to note is that nature takes time. It’s approximately 3.5 years since we began this program. We are by no means where we would like to be in the long-term, however progress is clear. With significantly reduced thatch levels we are in a miles stronger position. The goal must be to keep our greens disease free and continue the gradual overhaul of the grass sward - reducing the proportion of poa annua grasses and increasing the proportion of fescues and bents.
The second important thing to note is that we are continuously investing above and beyond our annual income stream to improve the facilities at Castletown with the aim of driving future growth in membership and numbers of visitors. Other highly respected links courses are overseeding and lightly top dressing up to 6 times per season as well as hand mowing daily which helps ensure the very best cut and least compaction of the root zone. All of these elements will give them significant advantage but come at a much higher cost - one which is just not viable at Castletown presently.
These well-regarded links courses are able to benefit from significantly higher income streams from either being located in higher populous areas driving greater membership, or where there are either on-site accommodation and wellness facilities or a few internationally recognised courses within relatively close reach of each other. In such instances green fee incomes are more than 5 times those achievable presently at Castletown despite our course being of at least equal stature. Conwy for example cited 8,000 visitor rounds per annum with green fees very similar to Castletown at £52 on weekdays and £60 on weekends. Hopefully our neighbours who have done nothing in over 6 years with the ruinous old hotel which is creating massive negative impact on Langness will read this and understand the possible scope for them and the local economy on the island if Castletown were to have the combined facilities to receive another 5,000 visitors per annum.