Overhauling golf course roughs for an all-round better experience

When it comes to rough management, Dave Lowe, Head Greenkeeper at Bawtry Golf Club, Austerfield, Doncaster has his work cut out. Bawtry Golf Club is a superb, 18 hole parkland course covering around 150 acres and measuring nearly 7,000 yards off the championship tees. The club is undergoing a huge development plan, building a large, 64 bedroom hotel on site as well as a driving range, spa, fitness suite and new 6 hole pitch and putt course.

The Profihopper PH1250 out on the Bawtry fairways (4K)
The Profihopper PH1250 out on the Bawtry fairways.

Soil types vary massively across the course from light sand to heavy clay, with many greens falling into the latter. Dave goes on to explain ‘The heavier soils mean the ground is particularly good at holding onto nutrients and so fertiliser usage here is very lean as, with the clay, the greens don’t need much encouragement to stay green’. When coming to the rough, this can be a challenge as the rich clay soils can quickly accelerate growth. ‘By cutting and dropping, the mower can increase this effect as well as resulting in a grass mat, creating a thick sward where golf balls disappear instantly’ Dave goes on to add.

Over the last 6 years the rough has seen major changes with the adoption of a new rough thinning management strategy utilising both an AMAZONE Profihopper and a Groundkeeper. Dave comments “In the rough we used to have 6’ - 8' weeds, getting thicker and thicker year on year”, once a ball landed in the rough it was almost guaranteed to be lost. This was simply due to it being unmanaged and being too thick’.

Implemented 6 years ago, Dave and his team of 4 changed their approach to rough management, aiming to keep the rough thin and wispy, working to eliminate those thicker grasses. During the winter, the Groundkeeper will be working 6 weeks straight cutting all the rough back down to a very short length, almost scalping it off down to nothing, to try to promote thinner grasses and knocking back the thicker sward. ‘The members comment that they wish the course was like this all-year round, of course, but once it starts to grow back, it makes a really nice rough where the ball can be more easily found and yet there is still a penalty incurred’. During the summer months, however, the team let the rough grow, maintaining this structure of mainly thin grasses, meaning that even towards the end of the summer it’s still easy for members to find their balls. This has come with huge praise from members, saying it makes a massive difference - and Dave agrees “It’s a really important part of the course for us, so we want it to be very presentable as we’ve not got quite as many features as some courses have”.

Alex, the deputy head greenkeeper, is the primary Groundkeeper operator at the course, working long hours during those winter months to bring the rough back into check. He does several passes and loves the Groundkeeper saying, “If it was up to me, I’d have another one tomorrow!”. Even with its huge collection hopper capacity of 3,000 litres, Alex states that he can still easily manage to pick up over 25 loads a day.

Mowing in the frost (4K)
Groundkeeper clearing grass in the frost.

Another key task for the Groundkeeper GHS 1800 Jumbo is leaf collection, replacing the need for yet another machine on the fleet. The Groundkeeper being described as “fantastic” for leaf collection, really saving the team time due its large, 1.8 metre working width. The Profihopper PH1250 being used predominantly for undulating terrain as well as scarifying and core collecting.

The Profihopper has been used extensively for scarifying and a lot of the collected material will be recycled during the development of the new 6 hole pitch and putt course coming in the future.

They found with the wet weather experienced this year, they’re still able to get on the course, ‘Because of this full mix of soils on the course, some areas such as the greens are fairly wet, but with the Profihopper we can get on and collect in most weathers. Over last few years we’ve had a lot of success mowing in the frost, getting exceptional collection quality and yet keeping the ground in good shape. For scarifying and mowing we’ve found the blades to be extremely hard-wearing, even though the machines have been hammered. You have to say that the Groundkeeper is pretty much bulletproof,' concludes Alex.