Sean Sullivan, Superintendent at The Briarwood Golf Course in Montana has introduced black bunkers as an environmentally-sound solution to replace sand. Built in 1982 the 18-hole privately owned golf course covers 350 acres, of which 300 acres are maintained.
Trouble-shooting was Sean Sullivan’s first task when he arrived in Billings, Montana from Georgia in 2002, as the course had gone from ‘number one’ status in the mid-1990s to its lowest rating.
Sullivan explains, “I was brought in to try to stop the bleeding and put the country club back on track. In this part of Montana there may not be many golf courses but there is still considerable competition on getting the membership.”
Following the re-design of some of the greens complexes bunker renovation was next on the agenda. And this is where Sullivan had a radical plan. He says, “All other golf courses in our area had undergone renovation and they had used white sand. I was looking for a hook to draw in new membership and I had seen a couple of courses in North Dakota using coal slag. They were near a tower plant where the slag is a by-product of burning lignite coal. It is almost jet black and looks like glossy glass.”
The product had proved very suitable as a sand replacement for bunkers as it is dense, does not blow around in the wind and weeds cannot grow through it. The price was similar to white sand and nearly all 300 members of the club voted in favour of the material, with only one or two gripes. So the club went ahead and started the process last year and work was completed early in the spring.
Sullivan says, “It was a fantastic project, as it brought us a lot of media attention from TV and newspapers because of the novelty of black bunkers. The comparison between the glossy black and the green grass in spring and summer is absolutely wonderful, unbelievable.”
Wanting to further improve course presentation, Sullivan is looking into a sharpening system to increase standards. He already owns a 1960 vintage bedknife grinder from the Bernhard stable. Fairway units are John Deere, with Toro for all other mowers for the rough, greens and tees. Greens are aerated twice a year and the rest of the golf course one to three times, depending on weather conditions.
Sullivan is one of ten superintendents from the US who attended last month’s BTME in Harrogate sponsored by grinding specialist Bernhard and Company. He is eager to start studying for Master Greenkeeper status.
Bernhard & Company www.bernhard.co.uk