Getting together to brew some tee

Head greenkeeper Matt Thomson
Head greenkeeper Matt Thomson
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How do you restore a diseased golf course to its best condition in more than two decades?

The answer, for Falkirk golf club’s greenkeeper Matt Thomson, was in a cup of tea.

Three years ago he inherited the course management duties at the Carmuirs course on Stirling Road and he’s managed to up the green speeds, make every hole unique and improve the aesthetics of the course - and all by repairing the fairways with a spray of his special mixture.

It’s working, and repairing the course so well, his special brew is giving Matt more work.

“I actually had to cut the grass in January - unheard of in my 47 years in the job.

“In winter months grass doesn’t tend to grow, but since we’ve been brewing the mixture and treating the course the grass has shot up. It can only be a result of the brew.

“We make them in one of the sheds, basically in big teabags,” Matt explained to The Falkirk Herald when we visited his on-course micro-brewery.

Both tanks are empty when we visit, but still have two plastic stockings draped inside them and crusted with an orange debris.

“We put our mixtures into the socks and suspend them in the tank then that makes the brew, just like a big teabag.”

The tanks are 900 litres, and the ‘socks’ filled with the Carmuirs mixture of the course’s pine needles and soil and a few scoops of a peat-smelling powder which dissolve and mix in the liquid. The clever bit comes when Matt adds a litre of ‘bugs’ which activates the fusion and smells suspiciously like castor oil.

“After about 24 or 36 hours it brews and we think because it is organically sourced on the course it helps as well. In a sense the course is healing and repairing itself.

“It’s pretty simple, but it wouldn’t happen if there wasn’t some bio-chemistry in it.

“When I came here the course had problems. There was a chemical layer lying dormant deep in the soil, and stopping the fertilisiers and treatmenets from working. I had to find a way of activating that and letting the treatments do their work.”

Matt is a former lecturer in green-keeping and knew of a company who only dealt with a handful of clubs in Scotland. They advocated the ‘tea-bag’ methods.

“But the course also developed a fungal disease within the grass last year,” explained Matt who has been tending courses since 1965. “We were wondering how to tackle it and had started spraying our mixture in September and it was quickly curing itself - quite literally when you consider what the mixture’s raw ingredients are.”

But not only is Matt’s brew saving the course, it’s saving the club money too - and improving the membership.

Club pro Stewart Craig told The Falkirk Herald: “Since Matt came three years ago he’s managed to get the green speed right up - not an easy thing to do in this country with the weather.

“The course lay-out has improved as well, and this method he’s used to repair the course - it just proves his creative mind.

“There’s been a big improvement in our youth division at the course, and members have been commenting on how well the course is playing now and how good it looks - a lot of that has to go down to Matt and his method.”

The Falkirk Herald learns first hand too. A couple of passing members, two ladies who’ve played Carmuirs for more than 32 years confirm “it’s the best it has looked in 20 years. It’s terrific.”

“I had to find a way of wakening them up so to speak and activate the fertilisers again and continue treating the course - but the only way to do it was organically.

“I knew of a company who dealt with what we’ve called the ‘tea-bag method’ and it has worked really well. But we had to have something sustainable - it was not a one-off solution.”

The club has started running weekly medals for its youth section on its ‘wee’ course which runs parallel to the main 18-holes. Pro Stewart Craig added: “The numbers turning out, even in the cold winter Sundays are incredible.

“The youth section is very successful here - and we’re bucking the recession trend and adding youth numbers. It’s grown from 25 to 150.

“We have had district champions here like Louise McGregor and with that, and the course looking so good - it’s a positive outlook for the future, we hope.”

In a bid to lure young adult members Falkirk has also launched a membership for golfers too old for the Juniors, but just starting out on their employment pursuits, with discounts available for full members up to 30 years old.

They’ll play on a course which is evolving, curing itself and even the grass at the course has changed too.

“The method makes the grass grow differently, and the blades wider which encourages more photosynthesis. That in turn encourages growth and so I had to get the tractor out not long after Christmas.”

But the additional lawn-mower duties for Matt and his two assistants Gary Lothian and Craig Morrison isn’t the only extra work for the greenkeeping staff. The brewing has saved around 40 per cent of his budget.

“That means I have more money to spend on other things like course furniture, and making the golf course more challenging and improving it in other ways.

“I think I’ve found a way to improve the course without spending thousands of pounds and I’m not the only one. I think Manchester City and Spurs use this for their football pitches.”

If it’s good enough for the multi-million pound Premier League football stars, it’s good enough for the golfers of Falkirk. And there are bound to be many like the ladies we encountered who’ll raise a brew, to that.