Fairways scarified

An example of how fairways were improved despite the 2018 drought.

Everybody knows that the Luffness New fescue-dominant greens are some of the finest in GB&I for performance and if you walk off their eighteenth without a good putting stroke then you might as well give up golf!

This high level performance of firmness, and smooth run-out,  comes from true Conservation Greenkeeping with low inputs of water, only 25kg of nitrogen fertiliser per annum and no need for any fungicides, while greens cut high at 5mm run between 9 and 10.5 foot depending on natural moisture, the ideal speed for recreational golf and quick pace of play.

Luffness New fairway June 2019. Click to enlarge

Nevertheless, when I visited in 2012, although the condition of their fairways was satisfactory they still left much to be desired. So I am pleased to report there has been a transformation when I played them again recently. What amazed me was the consistent grow-in of newly invigorated fescue grass in tight lines one inch apart with hardly any bare patches.

Many course fairways struggled during the drought of 2018 which not only beneficially killed off the shallow rooting annual meadow grass (Poa annua) but also unfortunately some fescues that lacked deep roots on courses where they are regularly over-watered.

Intrigued, I asked David Coull, the head greenkeeper, to explain to FineGolf readers exactly what he had done to bring about this flush of fescues.

He told me firstly, that he is proud of what his team have accomplished by carrying out a lot of work to remedy the fairways during his time as Head Greenkeeper at Luffness (he was part of the team in the early 1990s and moved away to gain managerial experience and came back as head fourteen years ago).

David’s work has involved scarifying every three years, raising height of cut from 10mm to 12mm, and micro-coring biannually for the first six years of his tenure.

One of the biggest contributors to uniformity and dry-patch control has been switching from cheap fairway-specific wetting agents to the same better quality water management products used on greens and green-aprons.

For twelve years the Luffness fairways were heavily sand top-dressed annually but in his opinion, the treatment of adding this dry medium was promoting dry patch. (READ as additional information John Quinn’s FineGolf article on ‘peak sand’ and healthy soil biology).

Did they over-seed to achieve this remarkable recovery of new fescue grass that was evident across the whole course, I wondered?

Indeed not! So it had to be something to do, I guessed, with helping the bank of natural indigenous fine seed they have in the fairways to come through.

Sisis Veemo

He confirmed that they scarified the fairways back in Feb/March using a Sisis Veemo machine set at a 8mm depth. It was set at this depth because core-samples had shown a thatch layer 5-7mm under the surface.

Scarifying to this depth is very labour intensive and involved the removal of on average fifteen tractor trailers of material per average fairway. They have a Sisis PTO-powered brush and they borrowed blowers to help clean up afterwards. It was timed well as the weather was dry and windy during the whole process (three weeks).

David told me that the Gullane/Aberlady area had endured one of its driest ever years in his experience but the rains came a few weeks before my visit in early June and this had encouraged the fescues to come bursting through the surface along the lines of the Sisis scarifier.

This should be seen within his overall aeration practices which he described as: ” When I started, I got rid of the fairway slitter as I believe you should never aerate via ‘slitting’  on a links course. This includes all areas. During long periods of drought, these slits will open up allowing the drought to penetrate deep into the rootzone causing further trouble. I believe all aeration techniques used on the Links should be round holes only.

We Verti-drain the fairways annually varying the depth between 8-11 inches (this prevents layering) and use 12mm or 19mm tines.”

As always, greenkeepers need a bit of luck with the ever-changing GB&I weather patterns and FineGolf  is pleased to be able to report on a successful and remarkable recovery, one from which others can perhaps learn.


Some golf clubs use the catch-all excuse of ‘climate change’ not being of help to them. The greenkeepers who know their site and work with the ever changing weather, like David Coull, are likely to come out on top after using consistent hard work and Conservation Greenkeeping that produces the results golfers will love and it certainly gives a FineGolf  five-star Joy-to-be-alive feeling.

FineGolf’s full review of Luffness New  has now been published. It is a great story.

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