The Royal Liverpool links at Hoylake is a big course for many of us. Big in the history of the game from 1869 and big because of the contribution of the club to amateur and professional golf. The home of two of the greatest British amateurs, Harold Hilton and John Ball, Hoylake has also been the site of Open victories by some of the most legendary professional golfers, such as Tiger Woods, Peter Thomson, Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and JH Taylor.
The first tee is a very big tee indeed, at 740 sq m. With out of bounds both left and right, Hoylake's first hole is one of the most intimidating tee shots in golf. The relative flatness of the course and the wind makes it difficult to judge distance, adding to the challenge.
To reach the winter tee, golfers had to cross the fairway in front of the medal and championship tee, causing wear and creating a track. So the club decided to resurface the main tee to enable year round play, and to create a smart red shale path to take players from the clubhouse to the tee.
Links manager Craig Gilholm identified the main issues: size, time and timing, grass type and cost. With his 16 years of experience at Muirfield, Craig concluded the best solution was to grow his own indigenous turf, and to bring in the modern technology of laser grading.
Before lasers, levelling a tee of this size would need an average eight inch rootzone for manual levelling with stakes, ropes and spirit levels, about 14 days and more that £6,000, even without the time spend by greenstaff – even without matching the quality and accuracy of laser technology.
The club bought a former school playing field to expand hospitality facilities for the Open Championship.
After Tiger Woods took the Claret Jug in 2006, Gilholm set up a 6,000 sq m turf farm on the site. He then brought in my company, Senior Golf Construction, which is a UK market leader in laser grading. October 2008 was set as the date for the work.
Introduced to golf in the 1990s, laser grading and levelling has dramatically reduced the cost of tee renovations.
Traditional use of topdressing to maintain smoothness can lead to crowning, which reduces the flat area available. USGA Green Section guidelines say that 'for every 1,000 rounds of golf the tee receives each year, 100 sq ft of usable teeing area should be provided.' But the key word is usable.
At Royal Liverpool the objective was for the entire area to be usable all year round, for the work to be completed with no interruption to play on the course and costs to be acceptable. So Craig and his team of ten set about lifting the turf to a depth of about half an inch to an inch for quick re-establishment.
Our experienced operators followed up, cultivating the topsoil. We use a bunker rake and a pull-grader with a rocking rear axle that uses four wheels instead of two, allowing for faster finishing. Existing falls are calculated and the laser base emitter unit is set up adjacent to the tee, programmed for the amount of slope associated with the lay of the land. The laser emitter rotates and sends a signal to the receiver on the arm of the box blade.
The receiver relays this signal to the control box on the blade itself. The box connects to the hydraulic lift, which commands the rise and fall of the blade.
Levels are brought down 5mm at a time so the grader keeps moving smoothly, redistributing the soil with the blade.
The efficiency of the laser is remarkable: within a short time the levelling effect is clearly visible. What may have seemed flat can be far from level. Royal Liverpool's first tee was also widened by six metres. Bringing up the extension of the tee to meet the prevailing level took less than an hour after the rootzone was delivered. A final layer of two inches of rootzone was then levelled across the entire tee in readiness for the turf.
Most tees on golf courses created before 1920, like Hoylake, were rectangular in shape. It was AW Tillinghast in the 1920s who pioneered the concept of larger teeing areas and shapes that were not rectangular. In the 1950s Robert Trent Jones demonstrated that long and large tee areas were essential if turf was to be maintained year round. Multiple tees on a hole have been around a long time but were made popular in the 1970s especially in the US by Pete and Alice Dye.
Nevertheless rectangular tees are classic and remain popular now and for the foreseeable future. Even smaller pod type tees can be laser graded. With experienced and careful rake handling, tees as small as 100 sq m can be renovated to a maximum usable teeing area.
At Royal Liverpool, the first tee was harvested, cultivated, laser levelled and the turf reinstalled in three days – with no interruption to play and at low cost. Big results indeed.
Peter Wroe is marketing director with Senior Golf Construction.
This article first appeared in issue 15 of Golf Course Architecture, published in January 2009.