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Eric Bruening: Interning at Lahinch

Home again, looking back...

Posted in Random Good Stuff 23 September 2015 · 2,653 views

My summer at Lahinch Golf Club could not have been better, both personally and professionally. It showed me that the world is far bigger than what I can see out my back door. That concept would have scared me before this summer, but it now excites me. My experiences put into context how many different people and point of views there are in the world, and that my 'normal' is strange to the vast majority of people on planet Earth.

Professionally, I was able to see how a world class golf course was managed, while staying true to golf's roots. 'Firm and fast' is a way of life in Lahinch and you'll get nothing but a chuckle if you let it be known that you think 20 mph wind is unplayable. I was also exposed to a management style that is not common in the states, but is becoming more prevalent. Water was used sparingly, only to establish new turf and keep greens and tees out of dormancy in drought conditions. Nutrient inputs were low, and promoting healthy soil microbe activity was of highest importance.

Water was used sparingly, only to establish new turf and keep greens and tees out of dormancy in drought conditions...

Personally, there are many things I will miss about Ireland. The hospitality that was shown to me was unbelievable. I was truly treated like family there, from the grounds crew to the office managers. I have mixed feelings on the weather, as it was mostly cold, rainy and windy. A good day in Lahinch, however, is second to none and made the bad days worth it.

I am glad to be back home in a familiar place, and am eternally grateful to everyone who allowed me to intern and Lahinch, and those who enriched my experience as the summer went on. These people include everyone at TurfNet for giving me a platform to share my experiences with anyone who will listen, and helping me along the way. I would also like to thank Jacobsen for sponsoring my blog and encouraging young people to get out and experience what a profession in turf has to offer. Also a big thanks to Mike O'Keeffe for taking me through the necessary steps to make this summer real.

I would also like to thank Jacobsen for sponsoring my blog and encouraging young people to get out and experience what a profession in turf has to offer...

A big thank you to Thomas McInerny and his family for hosting me at their hotel for the summer. Finally I'd like to thank everyone at Lahinch GC: Paddy Keane, Anne Scales, Brian McDonagh and everyone on the crew and in management for giving me a once in a lifetime opportunity. And thank you for reading and following along!

After Lahinch: 2015 PGA Championship

Posted in Random Good Stuff 01 September 2015 · 1,922 views

After returning back home after my unforgettable summer in Lahinch, I was set to volunteer at the 97th PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. I had made the commitment to volunteering before I was lined up to go to Ireland, and Brian assured me the experience there would be just as valuable as an extra week in Lahinch. It was hard to leave, but knowing what was waiting back home eased the transition.

I was a part of the ProGreens staff for the tournament. My morning responsibilities included stimping the 12th and 14th greens, reporting the speeds to the decision makers and knocking dew off the 13th and 15th tees. Everyone met in the volunteer shed at 4:30 in the morning. Doughnuts and drinks were provided before we went out, and a full breakfast buffet with eggs, bacon and hashbrowns was waiting upon our return.

The volunteer shed during our pre-departure meeting in the morning.

Sunrise over the 12th green, where I spent my mornings all week long.

After our morning job was complete, we were free to do whatever we desired, which meant I was off to watch some golf. Personally, I enjoyed watching the players practice on the range and putting green the most. Being a golfer, I was in awe of the consistency in their ball striking, their intensive putting repetitions and their unique warm-up routines.

A sampling of the equipment on hand and ready to go in the maintenance area.

In the evenings, we were required to be back by 4:30 for dinner and our pre-departure meeting. My post-round responsibilities, along with three other volunteers, was to walk the front nine and fill divots and remove the displaced turf from the fairways and surrounds. It was a prime opportunity to see the course and set-up up close, and I enjoyed every second of it.

Everyone getting their jobs on the 12th green done early Thursday morning.

Looking back on the picturesque par 5 5th hole.

Overall, Whistling Straits and the PGA went out of their way to accommodate volunteers and make us comfortable. The opportunity to help set up for a major is appealing enough. When you add on the chance to watch the tournament for free and meet other people in the business, it truly was a can't-miss event. It also served as the perfect cap to my summer, and lead-in to my final semester of school.

Dooks Golf Club: Best Kept Secret

Posted in Excursions 31 August 2015 · 4,315 views

Before my internship at Lahinch was over, my family made the trip across the pond to see the sights and play some golf... but mainly to play some golf. As I have previously mentioned we are a golfing family, so a trip to the homeland of golf couldn't be more fitting.

The first course we played was Dooks Golf Club. Dooks was founded in 1889 and for 100 years it remained a 9 hole course, as membership fought modernization. Eventually, in 1970, it was lengthened to 18 holes, with later improvements carried out by Martin Hawtree

The course has made a few headlines lately as it lies on the opposite side of Dingle Bay from Inch Peninsula, where Mike Keiser (of Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links fame) is seeking to add to his catalogue of impressive golf courses.

Dooks is one of Ireland's best kept secrets. It is not a part of the Ballybunion/Trump at Doonbeg/Old Head/Lahinch club, which is part of it's charm. The course is not situated on dunes as dramatic as Lahinch, but the scenery is second to none, as it is situated among the mountains of County Kerry.

The course is wonderfully kept with an intriguing layout that provides both challenge and intrigue. It looks more similar to Royal County Down than it's Southwestern Ireland counterparts, with its gorse and dramatic mountain views.

The club logo (above) featuresthe Natterjack toad, commonly found in the area. Its use on the logo signifies the courses commitment to enhance the natural environment, rather than overtake and pollute it.

Sign on the walk to the first tee. It proved to be all too true.

I didn't take many pictures as I was enthralled by the views and golf. I wish I would have taken more as the golf course is just as beautiful as the views that surround it. That being said I would recommend Dooks Golf Club to anyone seeking to get off the beaten path a bit, without sacrificing quality.

Me teeing off on the par 3 4th

My oldest brother Chris on the par 4 1st.

Dromoland Castle Golf Club

Posted in Excursions 26 August 2015 · 2,447 views

Back in July I was lined up to play golf at one of Ireland's most outstanding parkland courses; Dromoland Castle Golf Club. The golf course is only one aspect of the high class resort. The main attraction is the Dromoland Castle, which was the ancestral home of the O'Briens, the kings of Thomond, and dates back to the late 15th, early 16th century.

Arriving on site feels like you've stepped into a time machine. As I drove up a horse drawn carriage passed me on the road, with the massive castle in the background. The area is heavily forested, with lakes and streams dotting and crossing the property.

The 5 star hotel (the castle) offers activities such as archery and falconry that add to the mythical aura around the property.

The golf course was reminiscent of what I am used to back home in Eastern Nebraska. The layout curves around lakes and has a few dramatic elevation changes that put the property into perspective. The course itself is a good mix of challenge, with sound strategy being key to a successful round. The par 3s and short par 4s are the highlight, mainly the 179 yard par 3 7th, with its huge drop off, the short (323 yd) par 4 9th with it's multiple routes, and the even shorter (273 yd) par 4 with its steep drop and endless trouble.

Overall the experience was memorable. Combining such an ancient building with a modern golf course provides a perfect mix, and a taste of home, for parkland golf in Ireland.

114th South of Ireland Amateur

Posted in Random Good Stuff 17 August 2015 · 1,629 views

The South of Ireland Amateur Championship has been held at Lahinch Golf Club since 1895 and is one of the proudest traditions in Irish amateur sport. The tournament has been won by legendary golfers including Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, with Padraig Harrington finishing as the runner-up twice.

A 36 hole qualifier takes place on the first two days, narrowing the field of 100 to 64, where match play will start until a winner is crowned on Sunday afternoon.

Preparation for the tournament includes ensuring everything is in top form, from bunkers to pathways and tees to greens. Tournament hours are from 5 to 8 am hand-cutting tees and greens, rolling greens, mowing fairways, triplexing surrounds, cutting cups and raking bunkers. Some of the crew then returns in the evening to clean up litter and do whatever odd jobs need to be done.

Mowing the 18th green at sunrise to be done and out of the way before play

During the season leading up to the event, the tees that will be used for "the South" are intentionally unused to ensure healthy stands for the tournament, especially on par 3's. The silver lining of the tournament is that it allows members' and women's tees, which have endured heavy traffic all year, a week of rest and relaxation.

South crowds following the final group in on Sunday morning

Spectators gathered around a match with local interest on the 10th green. One of the players is the son of the Lady Captain at Lahinch

Large crowds of spectators create a unique stress for the course. Onlookers tend to take short cuts and routes not taken by golfers, resulting in trails and matted-down areas in the native marram grass. Luckily however, the natural resiliency of these grasses prevails, and no human intervention is needed for their recuperation... only time.

Post-South, the intense daily mowing and rolling is backed off. The pathways are solid tined to alleviate any compaction resulting from the heavy traffic of the tournament. Trash is also picked up and is a unavoidable result of having so many people on the course.

Stuart Grehan of Tullamore was the eventual champion. There was a true appreciation by players and spectators of both the classic links set-up and of the top condition the course was in.

Revetting Bunkers

Posted in Maintenance, The golf course 12 August 2015 · 3,019 views

In the past few years Brian and his crew constructed a few revetted bunkers on the par-4 7th and par-3 8th holes here at Lahinch. The new bunkers replaced the sand-faced bunkers on holes that ran along the coast, which were continually stripped of sand by high winds. While I was not present for this work, Brian took awesome pictures documenting the process step by step. The pictures below are of the right greenside bunker on the par 3 8th.

The purpose of revetting bunkers is to create a steep turf wall that keeps sand in the bunker and provides a well defined line and intimidating look to the golfer. Sand on an inclined bunker face is prone to being blown away in wind, as the angle creates a runway prime for wind to blow out sand. This creates sand deposits on turf and poor quality bunkers.

The first step is to excavate the area of the new bunker, creating a base that is completely flat to ensure the stacked sod layers are level (after establishing proper drainage). After the base and drainage are established, the next step is to lay the sod.

The angle of sod is critical. Depending on preference and what resources you use, it is suggested that a greenside bunker be angled at approximately 55 degrees. This is accomplished by setting back each successive sod layer by 30 mm.

Original excavation of the old bunker.

A level base has been created, with the first circle of sod having been laid

Progression up the bank, giving a sense of what the revetting will look like in the end.

Sod stacking almost finished, showing a clean revetted face and level sod lines which are aesthetically pleasing

It is vital to ensure the bunkers revetting peaks to match the level of the surrounding area. Not doing so results in an odd looking bunker that seems out of place. It also beneficial to slit the back edges of the sod to make it easier to maneuver around the curved bunker edges.

After all the sod has been laid, a final layer can be placed on top, and the surrounding area can be cleaned and sand can be replaced into the bunker.

The finished product.

Revetting bunkers is highly work intensive, but for a short time. The effort it saves in the long run however, from return trips to reshape windswept bunkers, is well worth the initial time and energy.

The Perfect Storm, Lahinch style

Posted in Maintenance, The golf course 04 August 2015 · 1,620 views

Weather in Ireland rarely produces the extremes we experience in the States. No hurricanes or tornadoes, no earthquakes or blizzards. While this may be the case, winter weather in Ireland can leave much to be desired. A perfect example came just after New Years Day of 2014. High tide met high winds and a incoming ocean swell, resulting in Irelands version of a perfect storm.

The brunt of the storm hit overnight, but it did not sneak up on anyone. Weather services predicted a bad storm, but the level of severity was unknown. What resulted was waves reaching higher than light poles and wind that made standing stationary nearly impossible.

View of flooding from on top of the 3rd fairway. The course goes as far as the first fence line you see on the right. Then there is a parking lot for the boardwalk area and the small building at right is the lifeguard house. If you can make them out, the waves were reaching overtop of the light poles on the right side of the photo to give you a sense of the intensity of the storm.

The morning after revealed damaged concrete along the boardwalk, large rocks scattered and intensive flooding. The golf courses close proximity to the ocean resulted in damage to the course as well.

Damage done to the boardwalk area by the storm.

Flooding with salt water was the first issue facing the crew at Lahinch. By design, the sand dunes that the course was built on have quality draining, so removing salinity entailed flushing it out. Unfortunately, any water soluble nutrients are flushed out with the salt, so supplemental nutrients were added.

After the water receded it revealed trash littered everywhere. Over 500 trash bags were filled by member and community volunteers, to put in perspective how much trash was washed onto the course.

Above, trash left in the wake of theflooding. This picture is taken in a low native area short left of the 3rd green. Below, after cleanup.

The storm was described to me as a 'once in 100 years' storm, and I'm sure everyone in Lahinch would be content if that were the case.

Collection Areas

Posted in Maintenance, The golf course 30 July 2015 · 1,861 views

It is said that at the beginning of golf, bunkers came about by concentrated divots made where golf balls collected from the surrounding natural dunes. The turf present was completely stripped clean, leaving a bare spot in its wake, giving birth to what we now call bunkers.

The issue of concentrated divots from high traffic is not foreign to the people at Lahinch Golf Club. The classic links lay of the land, coupled with high traffic results in certain spots on fairways being fairly beaten up.

This is combatted by a couple crew members being almost completely committed to filling divots in the fairways in the height of the playing season. By the time the course has been divotted completely it is time to start again.

The actual divot mix is high quality and provides an ideal environment for germination. The mix is a combination of "Miracle-Gro" type bagged soil and a compost mix on site, with seed scattered throughout. The seed germinates quickly and uniformly, allowing the course to heal its wounds as new marks are made.

The photos showcase collection areas that suffer from the large numbers of golfers that come through Lahinch daily.

Signature Par 5 - The Klondyke

Posted in The golf course 22 July 2015 · 1,723 views

The Klondyke at Lahinch is another signature hole that will likely never be replicated. While it seems easy enough on paper, measuring 470 yards from the tips and playing with the prevailing wind, many a large number have been made on this classic golf hole.

An intimidating tee shot into a natural valley meets the player upon his arrival to the 4th hole. While the fairway is thin and meandering, it plays larger as a ball that favors the right hill will feed down into the fairway. There is, however, a fine line between a good drive that kicks back into play and one that gets stuck on the hill leaving an uneven stance. I've personally played a shot with the ball at equal height with my shoulders.

Assuming a quality drive, the second shot requires a great deal of trust in ones game and decision-making. You have nothing to guide you but a yardage marker and a white stone on top of a dune that stands 150 yards from the green.

Missing right on the second will finish in native Marram grass or a bunker, while missing left will leave a challenging approach over a hillock that lies on the front left corner of the green.

The green is beautifully laid in a valley, almost mimicking the fairway. The contours form a boomerang shaped green around the hillock short left, and can play like a redan-style green although it does not fit the true definition.

A stone wall that runs the length of the road bordering the course on the East protects the player from going OB. A grass mound was created to cover the wall because balls would often bounce off the stones, leaving the player in good position after a poor shot. The grass wall absorbs the impact and leaves the ball off the green, although often still in good shape.

The grass mound that protects the rock wall behind the Klondyke's green.

The forecaddies' shack on top of the dune.

Another quirk of the hole is that it crosses paths with the 18th. People on 18 tee off perpendicularly over the fairway between the dune and the green. Because of this a caddy stays on top of the dune with a red or green flag, signaling when the group in front has cleared the green and to ensure no one from the 18th is crossing.

Looking back toward the tee from the top of the dune shows how narrow the fairway truly is.

Facing the green from the top of the dune.

Standing on the green looking back at the dune.

Maintaining Grass Pathways at Lahinch

Posted in Maintenance 15 July 2015 · 1,998 views

Lahinch Golf Club is one of the few courses in the world that uses grass pathways from tee to green. This provides a unique aesthetic value, but comes at the price of extra labor.

A public course that is a popular destination of tourists and native Irish alike, Lahinch is open all year (weather permitting) and puts through between 42,000 and 45,000 rounds per year. A policy of no golf carts (or buggies, as they're called here) unless warranted by a medical condition helps reduce wear and tear, as maintenance equipment are the only heavy machines on the course.

A newly sodded pathway leading to the 13th tee

The paths have irrigation, and the sandy nature of the soil allows for ideal drainage and growing conditions.

Maintaining high quality turf on these high traffic areas does not come easy however. Human nature dictates people taking the shortest route between two points, regardless of the health of the turf below their feet.

To combat this, movable gates are used to direct traffic away from worn areas and allow the stressed turf time to recover.

Movable gates used to divert traffic on the pathways

Accumulated compaction also is an issue, but an active aeration regimen helps alleviate it. The paths are hollow-tined in October, and then Verti-Drained with " tines to a depth of 8 inches twice between December and March. The paths are also solid tined with " tines on a ProCore machine 4 to 5 times during the season.

Topdressing pathways by hand.

In addition, the paths are topdressed as often as possible. This is done by hand and shovel, something I have never seen done in the States. It is yet another practice that is tied to tradition and keeps golf history alive and well.

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