Getting to grips with technology at Leek Golf Club

Lee Williamsin Golf

Leek Golf Club is one of the oldest in the country and, along with twenty-seven others, is a member of the 1892 Club - an organisation that allows members from each club to play at each other's course. Nicknamed the Queen of the Moors the course was once covered with heather, but thirty-five years ago, the club planted many trees transforming it into a parkland course. Lee Williams met with the club's Head Greenkeeper Daniel Scanlon who has had a big impact since joining the club nine months ago.

Despite starting a new job in the midst of a global pandemic and dealing with atrocious weather this winter, Daniel has made the most of his short time at the club. "It's been a weird year, but I have enjoyed it so far. None of us have really been furloughed through it all; we just had six weeks on reduced hours through January and February, which wasn't too bad because of snow and cold weather. We have still managed to get plenty of work done though with the help of the Greens Chairman, Club Pro and the members."

"In the last few months, we have undertaken a lot of tree work which included chopping a number of them down and clearing areas, to improve airflow and to help the prominent trees thrive. We have even managed to reinstate and open up an old medal tee on one of the par threes, which members didn't like using because the trees were encroaching the view of the green. Also, on the back of the seventeenth tee, we have a dry-stone wall in desperate need of repair and members are doing a great job of the reconstruction. I feel we have been as productive as we could be and used our time wisely whilst the members have not been around."

Next to where I parked was a large bank that leads down to the eighth green, which I could see had recently been cleared. I was shocked when Daniel said that a member in his seventies had tackled the entire area single-handedly. "The area was vastly overgrown, and it took a lot of time to clear. Our members have been a great help and I appreciate the support I have had from them and the club officials to date. It took a big push to get everything tidied up and ready for the reopening at the end of March, but we were more than ready to welcome members back."

Whist at school, Daniel carried out his two weeks work experience at The Tytherington Club in Macclesfield alongside the greens staff. Working in an office did not appeal, and he preferred to pursue a career working outside, so greenkeeping was a perfect choice. "Luckily for me, Tytherington's gardener was retiring the year I left school and they offered me the position of trainee greenkeeper. Soon after I started, the head greenkeeper (who took me on) moved to Stockport Golf Club and the deputy became head. Eighteen months later, at the age of eighteen, I received a phone call from Stockport Golf Club asking me if I would like to join them as an assistant greenkeeper (which I happily accepted). In the ten years at Stockport, I was very lucky to be able to take part in many construction tasks including the reconstruction of greens, tees and installing drainage. It was the first time I had got stuck into construction and I really enjoyed it."

"Ten years on, the head greenkeeper left and I moved back to The Tytherington Club as the first assistant, before a promotion to deputy head after just a few months (due to the head and deputy simultaneously leaving to pursue other opportunities). Chris, who had been appointed the new head greenkeeper, offered me the deputy head position."

"Four years on, I was browsing Facebook when I saw the position of head greenkeeper at Leek Golf Club advertised and I was offered the position after a Zoom meeting with the board."

Daniel feels fortunate that he was able to appoint a new team member who he knew would support him in his new role and offer the right advice. That responsibility fell upon Steven Millar (47), Senior Greenkeeper with thirty years' experience. His qualifications include NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in Sports Turf Management, PA2 and PA6 and also 201 and 202 chainsaw licences. He is also grateful to have Assistant Greenkeeper Connor Daly (24). Connor has five years' experience and has worked at the club for eighteen months. His qualifications include NVQ Level 2 in Horticulture, PA2 and PA6, 201, 202 and 203 chainsaw licences, cylinder/bottom grinder certificates. Plus, Assistant Greenkeeper Seth Stanton (20) who has four years' experience at the club. He has recently passed his NVQ Level 2 in Sports Turf Management with a Merit.

Situated in the heart of the Staffordshire Moorlands, the River Churnet runs down the side of the course (close to the fifth and ninth holes) and causes flooding on those fairways after heavy rainfall. Daniel tells me that it is not a real problem. "We will get the golfers to play around it or close the holes but, within a day, the water has receded and they are back in play. The course itself drains well and is quite sandy in places - I believe it used to be an old sand quarry, so it rarely gets too wet that we have to stop play. A testament to how well it drains is the fact we allow buggies all year round and I'm yet to see any real damage."

Walking the course with Daniel, I was impressed with how firm the one-hundred-year-old push-up greens were, considering the amount of rain we had just days before my visit. "I have been given an excellent foundation to work with" Daniel commented. "John Turner, who was here for eighteen years, was intense with his topdressing and aeration programmes. From what I have experienced so far, drainage is good, with the exception of a few greens at the bottom end of the course, but they are pretty dry within a couple of hours. In comparison to The Tytherington Club, it is mad how much firmer the course is after it has rained for a day."

The irrigation system was installed in 1991 and is fully automated. Laughing, Daniel admits he is yet to get to grips with how it all works. "It's a Bailoy control system with an iPad where, for example, you can set automatic programmes and check how much water has been applied on each green and tee. It is all new to me; I am used to a control box on the wall. There is a mix of Hunter and Toro heads, but I do not have to get too involved with replacements and repairs as we have Simon Roe from Congleton, with whom we have a maintenance contract. He originally worked for the company who installed the irrigation system before going independent, so he knows it like the back of his hand, plus I worked with him for ten years at Stockport Golf Club, so I know him well."

Members are doing a great job reconstructing the dry-stone wall

With only nine months under his belt (and lockdowns to deal with) Daniel hasn't had much time to implement his desired maintenance regime on the greens. "John did an excellent job of getting air in and introducing bentgrass seeds into the greens, so we have a strong bent content. At the minute (March), we are currently cutting at a height of 6mm with Toro GreensMaster 1000 hand mowers. The plan will be to lower the height of the cut gradually down to no lower than 3.5mm and then, once the growing season kicks in, hand-cut three times a week and use the Tru-Turf greens iron to give them a roll." I was interested to know if he had a certain speed he was looking to achieve. "The golfers seemed quite happy with the stimp around ten last year. We will try and get a bit more out of them by double rolling for tournament days, but I think the majority of the golfers do not like them too fast."

"Depending on weather and the amount of golf being played, I aim to do as many verti-cuts as possible throughout the year; maybe once every six weeks, to reduce the thatch layer that has built up. To stop Poa from spreading through the greens, we will use the poa buster heads to remove the seeds and then overseed using the Vredo disc seeder. We use a brown top bent grass seed once a year supplied through our captain, who conveniently owns a garden centre and can source it for us a lot cheaper, which is excellent."

"Every six weeks, Will Kidd comes in to verti-drain the greens using his Wiedenmann Terra Spike GXI 10 with half-inch tines at a depth of eight inches. Our verti-drain is only suitable for use on the fairways. I love the finish from the GXI and, once we have been back over with the mowers or the roller, the golfers can get back on straight away. We used Will a few times last year, and the members were delighted. Alongside verti-draining, we will hire in the Toro ProCore from Cheshire Turf Machinery to vary the depths and not get a pan. It is important for us to reduce the number of fungicides we use, so doing all we can to increase airflow around the plant can only be a benefit."

"Finally, I would like to topdress every six weeks with around three-quarters of a tonne of sand per green. In September, my aim is to hollowcore using half millimetre tines and get them down as far as possible, before applying sixty-tonne of sand - weather permitting of course."

Daniel has taken advantage of Agrovista Amenity's soil sampling service through Amenity Specialist Chris Knowles. "I have worked with Chris in the past and I trust him, which is essential to me. After the soil samples' results came back, I asked Chris to put a fertiliser programme together for the greens to include granular and liquid feeds."

"We started our programme in February, when the greens were starting to look pale and hungry, so we applied twenty bags of Absolute Green and the results were incredible; the results are still apparent a month later. In the next few weeks, we will apply the Compo Expert Ferro Top 6:0:12 (+6MgO+8Fe). Both Chris and another greenkeeper have recommended it to me and I have read up on the Agrovista Amenity website about it. As temperatures begin to rise in April, we will start to go into a more liquid-based feeding programme using InTrench Potassium, GoGreen Energy, E2 Pro Elicitor and Attraxor to regulate growth and help reduce the Poa heads. The programme also includes SeaVolution, Excel wetting agent and GoGreen Plus."

I noticed quite a lot of badger damage around the course near the paths and on some of the bunker bankings. They are becoming a real problem for Daniel and his team. "All we can do is repair the damage they cause, but this takes us away from carrying out other jobs we would like to get on with. Like many courses around the country, wormcasts are a real problem, especially on our fairways, tees and approaches. As you can imagine, trying to cut fairways when it is wet, just means you end up with an inch of mud on your rollers and you constantly have to get off the machine to clean them off, which is a pain. We verti-cut the tees recently to try and get rid of some of the wormcasts that had built up over winter, with them not being cut, and it worked really well. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do about them at the minute and members just have to be made aware we are doing our best."

What's in the shed

Jacobsen GP400 greens reel mowers x 3
Jacobsen HR500 rotary mower
Jacobsen TriKing cylinder mowers x 3
Jacobsen LF570 reel mower
John Deere Gator
Toro Workman utility vehicle
New Holland TN55 tractor
New Holland T4040 tractor
Toro GreensMaster 1000 x 3
Charterhouse Verti-Drain 7521

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