Course Manager Alan Strachan and his greenkeeping staff at Royal County Down Golf Club have every right to be proud of their work. The club’s Championship course was recently ranked No. 1 in the 2007 ‘100 Best Golf Courses outside the United States’ list produced by American golf title Golf Digest.
Royal County Down lies some 30 miles south of Belfast, within sight of the Mountains of Mourne and is steeped in history and tradition. The Walker Cup match between Great Britain & Ireland and the USA will be played on its Championship course in September when the club will become only the second in Ireland to host the biennial contest.
Alan has always used a bespoke bent/fescue mix on his greens, but in June 2005 it was adapted to include 20% AberRoyal.
“At Royal County Down our greens are built upon nature’s sand. I referred to the STRI seed listings and selected AberRoyal for its sward density and performance under close mowing.”
Browntop bents have been somewhat scorned in the ongoing sustainable golf debate, something that Strachan finds difficult to understand.
“How can people say that browntop bents aren’t sustainable? Our greens require minimal inputs and in my opinion they’re as low input as a fescue green. We rarely use the irrigation and no fungicide has been applied in the last 12 years. As far as I’m concerned, that’s sustainable. Yes, we have Poa like everyone else and yes, in an ideal world I’d like pure fescue greens, but golf is our business and we have constant demand here for fast, firm greens. During the season, they’re cut at 4mm and we receive many compliments about their condition. They’re dry all year round, consistent, firm and fast. The seed mixture I’m using provides the ideal balance between sustainability and meeting the demands of the club.”
When leading seed company British Seed Houses launched AberRoyal in the Spring of 2004, it was the first ever bent grass to be produced by its amenity turfgrass breeding programme at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER) at Aberystwyth.
It was derived from plant material collections in the foothills of the Welsh mountains. These collections were screened to identify those strains that were best suited to greens management. The resulting cultivar had a high shoot density, a very fine leaf and superb all year round colour, but of particular interest was its disease resistance and its ability to perform well even under lower input management regimes. Since its launch, it has remained BSH’s flagship cultivar and is used successfully at golf clubs large and small across the UK.
British Seed Houses’ parent company, the Germinal Group, is based in Northern Ireland and AberRoyal is the choice of Course Managers at two of the four courses in Ireland to have the ‘Royal’ prefix to their name, the other being The Royal Belfast Golf Club. It’s supplied by BSH’s Irish distributor, James Coburn & Son Ltd.
A further Browntop bent is under development at IGER and will eventually team up with AberRoyal to become the first bent blend to contain all UK bred bent grasses suited to UK conditions.
Simon Taylor, BSH’s amenity development director commented, “From our observations throughout the breeding of AberRoyal, we knew we had a winner, but the work doesn’t stop there. The development goes on and there will be other cultivars to follow from this breeding line. Browntop bents are low input and they produce a top quality putting surface. Any greenkeeper looking for a very manageable, cost-effective green without compromising on quality will not go far wrong using them.”