Warren Bevan, Member of BIGGA and supporting Paul Smith Thursday's blog
Posted on Friday, 20th July 2012 10:16am
A method to the rough madness at Royal Lytham –Thursday 19th July
After the heavy rain Wednesday morning, Royal Lytham and St. Annes coped superbly, and by mid-morning, it was like it had never rained. The public walk areas did take some wear, and pinch points around grandstands turned boggy. Bark chippings have addressed this for the next four days.
The last practice time Wednesday was 2:30 p.m. to allow the greens staff to prepare the course. As the fairways and semi-rough were not cut that morning, we went out at 4:30 p.m. to mow all these areas from tee to green. Green surrounds and semi-rough wer also cut. All the greens got one single cut. The divot team cleared divots from the fairways and filled each one with divot mix. Evening meal followed, then early bed.
For us, the first morning of The Open Championship began at 4 a.m. Everything the resident staff of Royal Lytham had worked so hard for came down to this moment. After the last few days of practice rounds and a final briefing from head greenkeeper Paul Smith, it was now for real. Due to the storm clouds coming off the sea, it took half an hour to be light enough to see. Every one carried out there jobs magnificently, and by 7 a.m., we all back at the sheds ready for breakfast.
The Championship Committee and the STRI visited each green to take tests that I mentioned in my earlier blog (See “High-tech greens prep at Open Championship”) and measured out the day’s cup location with expert precision. Tape measures, a 90-degree T piece to make sure the distance from the green edge was on the correct angle to the centre line and spirit levels to confirm there was no change in slope around the cup. The greens were not rolled this morning as the required speed of 10.5 was reached with a double cut of the walk mowers. Sections of greens or full greens could be rolled if required as one staff operator took one around the course should it be needed.
The rough has been a talking point this week, and has even been described as unplayable in some areas. It is tough, and the further from the fairway you go, the thicker it gets. Smith and his team have a management plan, and when I called into the club earlier in the year to see how things were progressing, they were busy scarifying the semi-rough and intermediate rough with a tractor mounted spring rake that was simply dragged by a tractor. This thinned out the sward, which is cut each year and collected so nutrients don’t go back into the soil. This creates a finer, wispy, more-playable area down the side of each fairway. The deeper rough is dense. The variation in conditions allows for both wild flowers and ground nesting birds to flourish. The deep rough provides home for rodents, which sustain species such as the Kestrel.
Lancashire County Council lists the wilder areas as Biological Heritage Sites. This is to acknowledge the importance of nature conservation in this area. Smith tells me these areas support needed habitats, geological features and species of plants and animals, such as fixed dune and associated species-rich grasslands. The biological sites of this county cover 25,000 hectacres (61,776 acres); that’s 8 percent of the county.
Royal Lytham is a superb example of a fixed dune grassland ecosystem supporting a range of semi-natural acid to calcareous unimproved grassland types. One area is the dune heath, represented by acid loving grasses and ling or heather. This is a very rare area that was once much more common, but has been largely lost due to building development in the county. The acid grassland support sheep’s fescue and mat grass with harebell commonly seen in late summer.
Further offline, it is far less managed as it is extremely important for taller plants such as mugwort, common thistle, large flowered evening primrose and campion. These encourage seed-eating birds and pollinator insects including butterflies such as gatekeeper and small copper. Skylarks and meadow pipit provide a natural soundtrack to a golfing experience at Lytham and brings an enjoyment on any course that is difficult to quantify.
Natural succession of trees developing is inevitable, but with good husbandry by the team in association with local ecological bodies and forestry commission, this has been managed to retain the grassland dunes.
I hope that gives a small insight into Lytham’s rough management. As I write this, Adam Scott has just missed out on making history with a bogey at eighteen that left him with a 6-under-par 64 in the first round. I have a few more greens to roll for this afternoon’s Pro-Am event here at Lancaster Golf Club, and its back to Royal for the evening shift.