Richard Windows, STRI turfgrass agronomist for Southern Scotland, writes:
Many would agree that the Championship Course at Carnoustie is the most challenging golf links in the world. This makes the return of the Open Championship to Carnoustie in July a truly mouth watering prospect. The aim of course preparations for The Open is to provide firm and dry surfaces that facilitates the art of Real Golf. If the weather conditions are favourable we are sure to see some exciting play.
Architectural changes for 2007
Since the last Open in 1999, some changes have been made to the Championship Course for the 2007 Championship. Martin Hawtree was commissioned by The R&A and the Carnoustie Links Management Committee to make these changes, the most notable being the remodelling of the 3rd and the introduction of additional bunkering on the 6th to tempt golfers down the traditional but risky Hogan’s Alley route.
The already challenging final stretch of four holes has been made even more difficult with the remodelling of the rough to provide additional dips and swales to the right of the 17th and left of the 18th. Here, naturalised bent and fescue rough (taken from elsewhere on the links) has been introduced. This improves the aesthetics of the hole but crucially makes the hole much tighter off the tee.
Course preparations for The Open
As with all Open Championships, the aim of course maintenance for the 2007 Open is to provide firm, dry and fiery links conditions. Consider these Real Golf conditions if you like. It is these conditions that make The Open so special and different to the other Majors. As we saw last year at Hoylake, the Open Champion will be the player who controls the ball the best and plays with the greatest creativity.
Fine turf heaven
To provide these conditions, John Philp and his team have been working hard since the last Open to optimise the performance of the turf for July 2007. For greens, an intensive programme of sand top dressing combined with solid tine aeration has been implemented over the past three to four years. During the final run in to The Open, irrigation inputs will be minimal to keep the surfaces optimally firm and dry.
The botanical composition of the turf at Carnoustie has always been good but great strides have been made over the past couple of years with increasing populations of the fine fescue. For The Open, the greens will be dominated by bent and fescue with the latter species making up 30-40% of the turf.
The botanical improvement of the greens has been achieved without compromising playing quality. We have concentrated on setting the right environment by relaxing disturbance pressure from routine surface preparations and regular (timely) overseeding. In a nutshell, cutting heights have been increased slightly, verticutting intensities have been relaxed and rolling using the Turf Iron has been increased. This approach has retained playing quality at the same time as helping to enhance botanical quality.
During the final run in to The Open, it is hoped brushing will be sufficient to refine the texture of the turf without the need for verticutting. What is more, mowing heights will be retained at approximately 4.0 mm and all mowing will be achieved by hand. Regular use of the Turf Iron will be achieved to provide the final polish to the greens and consistent green pace of approximately 10.5-11 inch on the Stimpmeter.
Firm and fast
For the fairways, an intensive conditioning programme has been achieved to provide tight lies and firm running surfaces. To achieve this, sand top dressing has played a crucial part in this process.
As perennial ryegrass is a significant contaminant to the fairways, a programme of light verticutting and differential mowing is implemented to provide tight lies. Such lies are all important to provide optimum control of the ball. Ryegrass control is being achieved with a combination of tight mowing using a triplex (at 6 mm) and verticutting to the low-lying sections. The areas not supporting ryegrass populations will be mown at a higher mowing height of 8 mm. It is this sort of attention to detail that makes Carnoustie one of the best-conditioned courses in the land.
In order to optimise the playing quality and presentation of the fairways in the final lead up to The Open, irrigation application will be relaxed from late May/early June. To achieve consistency between the tops of mounds/slopes and the lower lying sections, wetting agent and Hydrojecting is concentrated to these areas to achieve uniform moisture penetration.
A different story
While the conditioning of the in-play areas at Carnoustie is always impressive, it is the changes that have been to the rough that are probably the most dramatic since the last Open. Many of the inappropriately planted conifer plantations have been removed which has restored the links character of the course.
However, most importantly, the quality, texture and botanical composition of the rough has been enhanced by grassland management operations and large scale returfing with bent and fescue grasses. The initial work was achieved using imported fescue-dominated turf, whereas the latter, including that to the right of the 17th and 18th, has been achieved using indigenous turf from elsewhere on the Links. This will provide better quality naturalised rough around the course.
STRI at The Open
In their role as official agronomists to The R&A Championship Committee, STRI monitored the changes made to Carnoustie and the preparations for the forthcoming Open as well as for the four local final qualifying courses at Panmure, Monifieth, Montrose and Downfield.
The STRI ecology team has also played an integral role in the management of the out of play areas in the lead up to The Open and have just finished an Environmental Management Plan for the entire links encompassing the Championship, Burnside and Buddon courses.
The rich history of Open Championships at Carnoustie combined with the changes to the course and the exceptional conditioning of the playing surfaces make the return of The Open to Carnoustie a mouth watering prospect for any golf enthusiast.