“WE ARE KEEN TO INNOVATE”
That Finca Cortesín Golf Club’s maintenance is exceptional is something no-one doubts. Since opening for play in 2006, the owners have been committed to ensuring this is one of the key reasons why the renowned golf resort – three times host of the Volvo World Match Play Championship – is an industry pacesetter.
To manage this task – both essential and delicate at the same time – Finca Cortesín has Ignacio Soto, a highly experienced greenkeeper who previously worked at two other top Costa del Sol courses: Atalaya and Royal Sotogrande Golf Club. Once construction is completed, a course needs a great deal of attention and constant care to ensure it remains in optimum condition. For Soto, one of the key tasks at Finca Cortesín is related to drainage. “Here we place great emphasis on the fact the course is well-drained, because that means during winter our clients can play at their pleasure, with rain not affecting them too much.”
On the Costa del Sol most courses are built on clay soil, so considerable work is necessary on the drainage; “and especially,” says Soto, “at a course like ours, which is quite undulating and where more than 90 per cent of players use a buggy. Our objective is to allow buggies to be used on the grass, because it’s not the same experience to always drive on the paths.”
Apart from drainage, an ongoing task year after year, another important maintenance job at Finca Cortesín is that which affects the tees. “Mostly,” explains the greenkeeper, “we work on the areas that are used most: we enlarge them and level them and, depending on their state, we also create new tees. This year, for example, we have just finished the new 10th tee, and we’ve worked on four or five par-3 holes, enlarging them a fair bit and levelling them.”
Another issue of ongoing concern for the greenkeeper and his team are the bunkers, “which have their own life, the same as the whole course. There is an appraisal by the American department of golf architects – which course owners would de well to read – which refers to the useful life of each part of a course. They believe bunkers should be renovated every six or seven years, for drainage, sand and playability reasons. Here we have been carrying out renovations since the Volvo Championship was announced. First we did all those near the greens, then we continued with the renovation work, and now we are working on those that come most into play, and we still have to renovate about 30 of the 116 bunkers on the course.
“This year we’ve completed the bunkers on the practice range with a new American drainage system called Better Billy Bunker, a revolutionary system in the United States that can also work very well here. We’ve installed it on the practice range as a test, although we know it works.”
The system is extremely simple and, after draining the ground well, consists of placing a layer of gravel on the whole bunker surface and on top of the gravel adding a very hard resin, “which leaves it almost like a slab of porous concrete, and on top of that is the sand. This greatly increases the drainage capacity.”
There are several new and interesting drainage systems, mostly emerging in the United States, “and at Finca Cortesín we are keen to innovate”.
- It seems as though that’s the country with the highest level of innovation when it comes to golf courses…
- That’s the case. Training is very important for us, and whenever we can we travel to the United States for training courses and to check out new materials. There are new maintenance techniques, new grass varieties that are more respectful of the environment, which we can bring back with us and see how they adapt to our area, grasses that require less maintenance, and that’s an absolute priority in the United States due to climate change… This year we’ve been in California and there’s a terrible drought there, and they are restructuring the whole golf situation. In fact, we’ve seen the latest US events being sent to more natural areas, which are more respectful of the environment, and they’re starting to forget about extreme maintenance based on water and other products, and that will arrive here – certainly. It’s coming already and we’re going to have to adapt to new maintenance systems, new grass varieties and, above all else, respect for the environment.
- So, one of the keys for a good greenkeeper is solid ongoing training…
- Yes, like for doctors. It’s also important to know the area well, especially this one, which is complicated due to its proximity to the Strait. We have everything here; we have wind, we have a good climate, but at the same time good weather brings all kinds of diseases with it. Everything lives here: bad insects and good insects. We have all kinds of weeds, all kinds of diseases, all kinds of insects… Maintenance here is tricky, and there are more and more controls on the use of pesticides.
- What is this course’s main maintenance challenge?
- Perhaps weeds. There’s a lot of research into fungicides and organic insecticides, but there aren’t any organic herbicides, so there’s no option other than eliminating these weeds by hand-shearing and carrying out maintenance work that favours the growth of your grass, and not others. It’s difficult.
- So the trend will be to change grass varieties at European golf courses…
Yes, in fact we are taking the first steps. We, close to home for example, are trying new varieties on the greens. We recently completed a short game area with a green using Bermuda, which is a grass that requires the use of fewer products and adapts perfectly to our climate. You also have to take into account the quality of our water, which is going to get worse.
Therefore, what was valid for golf 20 years ago is no longer valid, and you have to keep adapting. In the United States, most of the PGA Tour tournaments are played on greens using Bermuda, and 20 years ago it would have been unthinkable for us to do that, but I think it will come here. The first steps are being taken, with varieties that have been certified there brought back for use here, and the most recent renovations being carried out on the Costa del Sol are introducing new varieties that didn’t exist before. We’ve been trying them out and for 2017, when we have to renovate all the course’s greens, if everything goes well, we’ll definitely use one of these new varieties.