Getting one of the world’s greatest golf courses in pristine shape for one of the world’s greatest golfing tournaments requires a combination of hard graft and nerves of steel.
It’s all down to Head Greenkeeper Paul Larsen – who has been tasked with making the bone-dry Royal St George’s Golf Club TV-ready for the 2020 Open Championships.
As one of the first-ever golf courses to use high-tech grass seed Yellow Jacket Water Manager which locks moisture inside a groundbreaking coating, he’s seen a dramatic increase in establishment rates at the historic Kent links course.
“Considering we have one of the driest golf courses in the UK, we’ve been able to keep moisture levels consistent, while probably using the least amount of water of any course thanks to this new seed,” says Paul, who has been at Royal St George’s since 2011. “In the past, we would have to increase irrigation levels following overseeding to prevent seedlings from drying out. We don’t have to do this anymore. And I can see the new seed making a massive difference to the way we manage our irrigation, after we seeded”.
Open and shut
With such a large programme of improvements to make in the run up to the 149th Open – including the building of 80 bunkers and an entirely new irrigation system – the last thing a greenkeeper needs is a poorly performing grass seed.
Paul says the new Yellow Jacket Water Manager seed, which contains a patented wetting agent that improves germination and seedling survival rates in areas of low-water availability, is “like something out of sci-fi”.
Paul and his team sowed the seed as a trial run at the prestigious course at the beginning of September and have seen incredible results. “I’m trying to retain a 20 per cent moisture level across the board and in the past I’ve had to increase this to encourage good establishment, but with this seed I haven’t had to.
“The seed came through in one week,” says Paul, who has been a Greenkeeper for 17 years. “And by week two it was up and running. I wanted minimal irrigation on the greens, and now I’ve got it.”
From the rough to the smooth
Having hosted Opens, PGA, Amateur Championships, and Walker and Curtis Cups, the 138-year-old course has been witness to more golfing history than any other in England, but like all links courses its humps and swales and fast-running fairways and deep bunkers can suffer from the intrusion of weed seeds– and this can be a perpetual headache for the Greenkeeper.
“Free draining, dry soils are perfect for our desired fescue grasses. We need to keep our irrigation levels low in order to favor the fescues and discourage unwanted grasses such as Poa and ryegrass”, says Paul.
“Over the last few years we have used selective graminicide to kill off the unwanted coarse grasses. This has left us with areas of reduced grass cover which have required regular overseeding to restore full grass cover as soon as possible”.
But since using Yellow Jacket Water Manager, Paul and his team have seen hugely improved results.
“The seed has germinated and established so well, even in difficult areas. The difference in performance with Yellow Jacket Water Manager is clear to see. “I can’t afford to waste money putting in grass seed that might not grow; and I know with this seed that this won’t happen.”
Hosting the Open for the 15th time in the Club’s history, the pressure is most definitely on Paul to get the course right. But for him, Yellow Jacket has proved to be a valuable tool in his armory.
“I really rate this product; it’s amazing” he says. “And I would happily champion it to anyone. There’s still a lot of work to be done to prepare for 2020, but I can’t wait to get my hands on more of this seed next year to help us get to the right place in time for the Open.”