Who we are and what we do
Over 1000 installations worldwide
Over the last 15 years, our innovations have transformed the way the golf industry constructs bunkers, greens and tees. It was but natural for us to progress into adjacent fields.
We understand the challenges of constructing, maintaining and regulating moisture levels of sport or leisure surfaces topped with grass or sand. Everything we develop is tested in real-life situations – over and over again. We work with some of the most advanced laboratories in the world to develop the best and most effective solutions for our customers.
n 2009, CapillaryFlow founder Martin Sternberg invented the Capillary Material – a patented polymer-based concrete that is the only building material that moves water both up and down, regulating the moisture content of any adjacent material, such as sand or soil.
Over the next decade, this invention has laid the foundation for the development of Capillary Bunkers, Capillary Hydroponics, Capillary Wash-Box, Capillary Edge and Capillary Geothermal, all of which leverage Capillary Material’s innate moisture control properties to offer customized solutions for different scenarios in golf courses, sporting arenas and cityscapes.
Sternberg, a self-confessed golf course nerd, comes from a family of golf geeks. He started playing golf at the age of 7, is a Class A PGA Professional, and a certified Golf Course Superintendent.
One might wonder how did a golf geek go on to become an inventor?
This is the story of how Sternberg’s love for golf and golf courses (and an encounter with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore) inspired him to create Capillary Material and Capillary Hydroponics.
Golf course superintendents around the world face several challenges. One of the biggest is water. Tees, greens and bunkers need just the right amount of water at all times. Not too much, not too little. Maintaining moisture levels especially in bunkers can be very challenging. Too little moisture and balls get plugged on impact; too much, and the bunkers will become unplayable with water standing in the centre. Preventing both these scenarios is an expensive and time consuming exercise that all golf courses do not have the resources for.
Moreover, the solutions that existed weren’t foolproof, as Sternberg found out the hard way.
Because was passionate about golf and golf courses, Sternberg had set up a company to build and manage golf courses after his professional golf career ended. In 2008, a bunker liner product he had installed in some of his courses, particularly in a very high-profile course in Norway, was failing, coming apart in big chunks. He had to scramble to make multiple repairs and sand replacements. The problem was costing his business a lot of money, and he had to come up with a solution quickly.
Sternberg’s search for a solution led him to experiment with different aggregates and polymers and revisit what he was taught while studying to be a Greenkeeper at the Swedish University in Ultuna. Around that time he also happened to read an article about capillary moisture in concrete, an undesirable event as it weakens the structure. But that got Sternberg thinking about how a product with capillary action was exactly what was needed. And that led to the invention of Capillary Material.
Sternberg continued to experiment, combining Capillary Material with a drip irrigation solution he had invented, to create Capillary Bunkers – bunkers that worked perfectly in any weather condition.
The first Capillary Bunker was installed in a golf course in Sweden in 2009. Today, thousands of bunkers have been built or renovated with Capillary Bunkers across the world – from Australia and Japan to Africa, the USA and Europe – and Capillary Bunkers is present in every major golf market through local distributors.
The story of the invention of Capillary Hydroponics is one where experience, knowledge, persistence, happenstance and luck collide!
It started in 2005, before the invention of Capillary Material.
Most people will remember the 2005 Open Championship at St Andrews, Scotland, for Tiger Woods’ second win. But at that course, Sternberg observed something that he couldn’t stop thinking about for many years after.
A few days before the tournament, Sternberg saw a crew member digging a trench near the 6th hole and asked him what he was doing. The crew member told him that he was fixing an irrigation issue but would come back later because groundwater was rising in the trench. “And why was that”, asked Sternberg? That was because the course lies on Scotland’s eastern coastline and tidal changes affect the groundwater table.
Sternberg’s knowledge and experience as a greenskeeper kicked in. He realised that the grasses grown on golf courses developed in sandy soils near coastlines, and are best suited to grow with sub-surface irrigation with a changing water table. The grass grew thick and strong in these areas because the ebb and flow of the tide moved the water table up and down. And this was not only feeding the grass water from below but was also creating conditions for optimum gas-exchange in the rootzone, which is excellent for strong root growth.
He started wondering how to replicate those conditions in golf courses, getting excited about how he could use a subsurface irrigation system to potentially solve some problems he was facing with the USGA greens in his golf courses. The big question was: How?
The years passed. Sternberg invented the Capillary Material and Capillary Bunkers. At the same time, he was struggling to manage the greens and tees on his golf courses in Sweden, where keeping grass alive and playable through the harsh winters was always a struggle. Seeing the success of Capillary Bunkers, he wondered whether the Capillary Material could be used to replace the gravel layer of the USGA method in tees and greens too.
He conducted some experiments and tried to see if he could water the grass from below and still keep oxygen levels high in the rootzone. The experimental tees were great in saving water, using about 85% less than the USGA method surfaces Sternberg’s courses also had. But he still faced a problem regarding root depth and disease. There was something missing.
The Eureka moment happened to Sternberg on 11 June 2018, in Singapore, during a stressful incident that involved Kim Jong-un.
Sternberg was on a business visit to install the first Capillary Bunker at one of Asia’s top golf clubs – the Singapore Island CC or SICC. His trip coincided with a meeting of US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in the city state.
As it happened, Sternberg was booked in a hotel right next to the one the North Korean leader was staying in. The entire street was closed to traffic because of the high-profile visit, and this saw Sternberg walking past Kim Jong-un’s hotel to his own the day before the critical bunker installation.
For some reason, Sternberg says he still doesn’t know why, he tagged along as a group of American diplomats walked through the very stringent security checkpoint at the North Korean leader’s hotel. He soon found himself in the hotel lobby, mingling with American and North Korean diplomats.
Ten minutes later Kim Jong-un arrived with his bodyguards to widespread applause, which is when Sternberg pulled out his phone and took a selfie with the North Korean leader.
Bad idea! Cameras weren’t allowed!
Soon after Kim Jong-un left, the Singapore Police detained Sternberg and confiscated his phone. He was made to sit in the corner of the lobby while the police questioned him and attempted to verify his credentials with the embassy.
As an anxious Sternberg waited, he noticed something. Bang in front of him was a restaurant that had a hydroponic installation to grow salad greens. It was a ferris wheel-like contraption on which dangled several flat trays with lettuce growing on them. As the wheel moved, one tray after another would touch the bottom where there was a receptacle that contained water and other nutrients.
Each tray sat over the water for a few minutes. When the wheel moved, so would the tray, exposing the roots to the air for the better part of an hour before being submerged again. Sternberg realized that he was staring at the solution he was seeking. It would lead to the invention of Capillary Hydroponics.
The Singapore Police finally released Sternberg and returned his phone after erasing all the photos he had taken of Kim Jong-un. But the one thing Sternberg took away from this experience was the idea of a hydroponic turfgrass system that was now rooted in his brain. The first Capillary Hydroponics turfgrass installation took place later that year, 13 years after Sternberg’s curiosity was piqued by a crew member digging a trench at St Andrews!
Martin Sternberg, CGCS, invents Capillary Concrete
The first installations are made and patents are filed
First US office location established. Capillary is selected for the 2018 Ryder Cup and 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris
Total international distributors now 10 and installations in 25 countries
A hydroponic system to grow natural grass without soil is invented and patented
First installation of Capillary Hydroponics with water savings of 85% documented.
Acquires Equestrian Footings company in Wellington, Florida. First equestrian installation with Capillary Hydroponics
Capillary Wash Box is invented and patents are filed
First installation of Capillary Baseball
Capillary Edge & Capillary Geothermal is invented and patents are filed. Large scale R&D project at Michigan State University is launched for Capillary Hydroponics where initial results show 90% water savings