My name is Martin Sternberg and I was born in Sweden, right into a family of golf geeks and entrepreneurs, since generations. My family (wife and three daughters) and I spend as much time in Sweden and the USA, and have been for 25 years.
I started playing golf as a child. When I was 15, I opened a golf workshop in our basement in Gothenburg, and two years later, with my father Jan, I opened, a golf shop and later also in Stockholm. But I wanted to play more golf than stand in the shop, which I did. And soon I became pro and a member of the PGA, aged 19 years old. I was one of only six players selected by the Swedish Golf Federation in 1987 for specialized training in the Swedish Military Golf Team.
I love the game of golf! I like the strategy of the game and how it is affected by the golf course and nature.
Right after high school I went to the USA to study at the Golf Course Operations
Management, at the San Diego Golf Academy, where I first came in
contact the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, which is
the world’s leading organization for golf course management and greenkeepers / superintendents.
I loved it from the first moment, it was amazing to work with a living thing like a golf course, and I really wanted to learn all there was to know about golf courses.
While studying in the USA, I also embarked on a large project in Sweden with my father to build a new golf facility from scratch. Traveling back and forth, we built the course on our own with help from friends and probably made every mistake there is during the three years we spent, finishing the golf course and driving range. In the end, the result was great and the course became very popular.
It was a tough time though, and I studied hard to learn all there was on greenkeeping and golf construction. I enrolled in the certification program of the GCSAA, and 1992 I became the first European certified superintendent, CGCS, after many years of studies and a very difficult tests (for a native Swede) in New Orleans. A certification I still hold to this day.
I had a vision in my head of what golf courses could be like. I had seen it in the USA in many places, but nowhere in Sweden. In 1998 I started to build more courses and renovate several others, to the highest level found in the USA. To this day, I have been involved in part or fully responsible in over 25 golf course construction or renovation projects across the world. There were some really big projects like Hills Golf Club, designed by Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest, Oslo Golf Club, which today is Scandinavia’s most technically advanced golf course. I always tried to improve the level of the golf courses and spent a lot of time checking out new products and technical innovations. I had the first Penn A4 greens in Scandinavia after having spent time with Dr Duich at Penn State University, for instance. We always tried to find new and better solutions to golf course problems.
One of the problems that really bothered me was bunkers. No matter which product we tried, there was no one that could resolve everything and act as the basis of perfect bunkers. Bunkers were always the constant headache at every project, and I spent much time trying to find new solutions. Maintenance was both expensive and time consuming.
One day, when I visited Augusta National, host of the world’s biggest competition, the Masters, I had seen that morning before the competition how the maintenance crew went out and watered sand bunkers by hand. They explained to me that this was done so the sand would be more compact and balls would not get plugged on impact. On Augusta national, they have enough crew to do this, but what normal golf course crew can do this? Not many. It gave me the inspiration to continue my search.
Inspiration led me to look up my old teacher at my Swedish University Ulltuna, where I had graduated from the Higher Greenkeeper Education, Associate Professor Lave Person. He had taught me all about how the greens were constructed according to USGA principles. That is, the moisture stored in profile when watering from the top to stay far down the root zone and become available to the roots. However, it does not solve the problem of drainage well enough and you also have to add water continuously for the right moisture balance. I then got the idea that I would try to do the opposite instead, I would try and moisturize the sand from below instead. By Associate Professor Laves theories, I realized that one could combine two different principles. Partly force of gravity, which drains excess water upon rain events through the material, and capillary action that allows the sand to soak up moisture from below.
By chance I came across an article about capillary moisture in concrete, which is a big problem. There are different ways to stop moisture from moving in concrete, but I realized that this is exactly what we needed.
In the world of golf, we had tested with different types of concrete to protect sand against contamination. But ordinary concrete is too dense, it won’t drain much at all and the sand will slide down the bunker face in heavy rains. According to the article I was apparently on to something. If we could instead increase the capillary movement of water in the concrete, we would have the perfect product.
I searched for answers everywhere and eventually I began to experiment with different aggregates and different polymers that I mixed to make the concrete, with the help of external experts and suppliers. After many attempts, I came up with a solution that did what I had in mind and additionally had very good strength. This, combined with a solution for drip irrigation that I had invented, made the bunkers work perfect in any weather condition. I realized that this would make a golf player’s experience significantly improved and the care and maintenance much simpler and cheaper.
And the result was brilliant!
It was easy to adapt and work with, it was so strong that I could basically build a completely vertical wall, and still kept the bunker sand in place. The solution I named Capillary Concrete® and I applied for patents all across the world.
I was helped here by Almi Innovationsbron, an organization that goes in and support and invests early in companies with innovative ideas so that we could continue to develop the product and go to market. Capillary Concrete™ is now used in bunkers around the world, such as USA, Europe, Japan, South Korea and Australia. Our references around the world can attest that it is very easy to install, offers superior moisture control and provide a significantly improved overall economy against the alternatives. In addition, we have achieved the goal of creating ideal conditions for the golfer, maintenance team and club owners. You can save up 5 times the cost of the investment if replacing the bunkers on the entire golf course.
Our solution is so strong and durable that we provide a 10-year limited warranty. This is one of our strongest arguments. The solution is the most durable on the market.
To get this great result in bunkers was very good. But I realized that the same principles could be used in more places on a golf course. On my own golf course Torrekulla GK, in Gothenburg, I started installing tests on the tee, greens and other places where you could build a basis for growing grass on. The result was also very good. We did not have to water it often, the grass was dry and solid surface and the roots were kept at moderate moisture at all times.
Many of the world’s golf courses are struggling with water supplies being less and less available and costs rising. Capillary Concrete™ can offer a real substantial advantage in water savings and the potential for this product is very exciting!