‘Pioneering’ spirit at Looe Golf Club

Lee Williamsin Golf

Looe Golf Club sits beside the A387 on the main road into the south Cornish fishing port of Looe. It occupies a high point known as the Bindown and, as a result, offers up some truly spectacular views over the coastline and surrounding countryside. On one of the wettest days a dry spring had provided, Lee Williams met with Mat Edwards to discover more about the course and his diverse role.

Looe Golf Club, designed by the legendary six times Open champion Harry Vardon, was established in 1935. It is an 18-hole heath and parkland course measuring 5,940 yards. Set in an area of breathtaking beauty, the panoramic views from the course are stunning; to the east are the peaks of Dartmoor and the Tamar estuary, to the south, Looe Island and the English Channel, to the west and north, glorious countryside and Cornish moors.

Inside the clubhouse, I am given a very warm welcome by Mat Edwards, the Head Greenkeeper ... and much more, as I was about to discover.

Mat joined the club four years ago, after spending ten years running a pub in Looe. So, how did he make the transition from landlord to greenkeeper?

"My very good friend, who was manager and professional here at the time, told me he needed help on the course, so I sold the pub and joined him. It was as simple as that. After two and a half years, I had worked my way up to Head Greenkeeper."

And, had he had any previous greenkeeping experience? "Not really. I have always played golf up here and always had an ambition to work on the course, but it never happened until quite recently. I have gained a lot of my experience so far through sales reps like David Bevan from ALS, who has imparted a lot of information, although much of it is just common sense. I've not been on any courses, except for my spraying licences."

Left: Mat Edwards then left to right: Mat with team members; Dan Payas, Kieran Faulkner, Stephen Allman

Mat is more than just the head greenkeeper for the club though. "I oversee the clubhouse; I have to keep tabs on all the paperwork, manage the golf course and its budgets, and I'm responsible for all aspects of health and safety for the club ... and I now look after the stock in the pro shop. But I'd much rather be out on the course getting my hands dirty than working in the office or pulling pints in the bar."

Even his staff have varied roles. "My team includes Dan Payas, who is behind the bar now as we speak. He is my deputy head greenkeeper. Greenkeeper Steven Allman also helps out in the clubhouse. And then there's Kieran Faulkner, who doesn't do many shifts in the clubhouse, he is our general greenkeeper and currently plays golf for Cornwall. I would say we are in a unique position; our owner likes to call it pioneering; it's fine when it all works, but you only have to have one man off sick, and we are struggling to say the least."

Mat depends on the help and advice of reps David Bevan, ALS, and Richard Shapland from Headland. "They both take soil samples for me at the start of the season, and then we work out a plan between the three of us, because I will buy things from both. We decide what our weak points are on the greens and go from there. So far, the results and methods we use are pretty similar year-on-year."

"In the past, we have suffered with a heavy thatch layer in the greens, so it's just been a matter of getting as much out as possible and getting more air into them. They also used to be covered in moss at this time of the year, so we have put some high rates of iron on the greens, then scarified it all out. We have now got to a point where there is no moss in them and they are looking really healthy."

The greens are all old push-ups which cause Mat some problems. "They are okay at this time of the year but, in the winter when we get heavy rainfall, they are more or less unplayable; we have no drainage in them whatsoever, and we often find ourselves using a sump pump to clear the water from the greens. We could definitely do with some drainage on four or five of the worst greens, but there is literally nothing we can do at the minute except try and get some air into them. The soil profile of the course varies from areas of granite pushing up through fairways, peaty areas and, down the bottom, it's normal farmland soil."

The course has an old irrigation system which the club is looking to replace. "Our system is thirty-five years old and is now pretty much obsolete. For one reason or another, we have gone through three pumps in the last two years at £2,500 each. Last year, in the drought, it failed, and it took us five weeks to get it fixed, so we are currently looking at installing a whole new irrigation system."

"We had an appraisal from Irritech a month ago, and I have got Wesley Henshaw from Hunter Irrigation coming in to have a look in the next few weeks. Initial assessments have been that the sprinklers are under old clay, coverage is not even, a lot of them have failed, and all the manual points at the back of the greens have corroded. We also need to look at a water treatment facility as the water is coming straight out of the lake and, at present, does not have a treatment facility in place."

Mat talks me through the general maintenance of the greens. "We have just dropped the height of cut to 4.5mm. We hollow cored about a month ago, so they have just recovered from that. In winter, depending on ground conditions, I try and keep it between 5 and 6mm, which gives us decent ball role as long as it is dry enough. I would like to complement the cutting with a greens iron which I am currently looking at purchasing."

"Aeration on the greens comprises hollow coring twice a year - with 6mm cores in the spring and up to 13mm cores in the autumn. This is followed by a topdressing of straight sand; over the last two years, we have applied around 300 tonnes. We will also use the Toro ProCore throughout the season with solid tines going as deep as possible."

"Last year, we overseeded with an all bent mix of Johnsons Pro-Nitro - using a GreenTek Dyna-Seeder - as we had a lot of burnt off areas on the greens from that five weeks of hot weather. They came back really quickly and now the greens are packed with bents, whereas before it was pretty much all poa, so we are going to try and overseed at the end of this season as well."

Now the greens are going in the right direction, Mat has started to look at improving the tees. "We've been hollow coring the tees the best we can, followed by an application of ICL's Sportsmaster Cleanrun Pro to weed and feed. We are also going to run the Verti-drain and ProCore over the tees once we know they are clear of rocks underneath them."

Mat likes to use a liquid-based fertiliser programme on his greens and has seen little disease so far. "At the moment, I am just going with a liquid approach. I'm using SeaAction seaweed, Biomass sugars, HumiMaxx, Phosphites, PrimoMaxx and Chelated iron. I try to put on as little nitrogen as possible. The last hit they had was after we hollow cored in March at a rate of 35g/m2."

"We've not seen any real disease all winter, except for a little bit of fusarium on one of the greens a few weeks ago, but I think that was more to do with the stress of the hollow coring and it has grown through already. I do have a healthy stockpile of fungicides in the chemical store, and I have just ordered some BannerMaxx, Instrata and Dualitas from ALS this week, so they are on the shelf ready to go."

Mat has inherited a lot of old machinery, which they are gradually starting to replace thanks to the support he gets from the owner. "A lot of the machinery is starting to get old and decrepit, and we prefer to buy new outright, rather than lease or buy on finance."

"We have recently bought twelve new ClubCar petrol buggies. We did look at going electric, but the feed into the building is not big enough. A new Baroness LM315 ride on greensmower which is very good, a rough cutter and the Toro ProCore, so we have done alright in the last few years."

"The majority of our machines are purchased through Vincent Tractors as the owner and their area rep are both members here, and I used to play with the rep in the juniors. Next on our wish list is replacing the triples and investing in a turf iron. It would help the cause no end because, even with a growth regulator down, I am still cutting every day in the summer so, if we could cut one day and iron the next, it would help keep a lot of stress off the grass."

"Servicing of machines and any small breakdowns are taken care of by one of our members who wanted part-time work after moving back from abroad. He's a qualified mechanic and, as none of us are mechanically minded, it works well for us."

Mat likes to keep the members up to date with developments around the course. "I write a newsletter every month telling them what we are up to for the next few weeks and it keeps them in the loop if they are planning on playing any matches or competitions. Also, because I am in the clubhouse constantly, they see me anyway, and they are always asking me questions. I am always happy to give them an honest answer."

With the help and advice from David Bevan, Mat and his team are currently working on a project to develop a wildflower area. "We are working on a few areas at the top of the course which was just bits of scrubland that was not doing a lot. So, we have bought a little rotovator and turned it all over and prepped the surface. We are going to get some honeybee and cornfield annual wildflower seed mix down; it will help to brighten that whole area up. I'm keen to mention the owner also planted some three thousand trees over the last twenty years, which has greatly improved aesthetics of the course."

The course has suffered a lot of damage from leatherjackets this spring. "They have affected quite a few of the weaker fairways that were almost killed off in the drought last year. These areas have not been able to withstand their chewing away as well as everywhere else, and obviously, there is nothing you can really spray now, so we will just have to ride it out." I asked if he had ever considered using nematodes to control them? "We have thought about using them and spraying Acelepyrn. You have to be spot on with the treatment, and you are not guaranteed one hundred percent control. Plus, the cost is fierce which makes it almost too hard to justify."

Mat believes the job has become more of a challenge in the last few years, for many reasons. "We are all in a position now where we are getting the rug pulled out from underneath our feet because we are not allowed to use certain products, and other ones are coming off the market all the time. So, we have got to change the way we go about managing the course. Another issue I have is staff. I have a minimal workforce, and there doesn't seem to be any new recruits coming through the system - as far as I can tell, and I am not the only one in this area who has concerns. It's frustrating as this isn't through choice, nor lack of funding, but the new recruits just aren't there."

What's in the shed

Baroness LM315GC greensmower
John Deere 7700 fairway mower
Kubota L4250 tractor
Trimax Snake rough mower
Toro 2000D triple mowers x 2 (soon to be replaced)
Toro ProCore 648 with
Groundsmaster core collector attachment
Toro 3100 greensmower for verticutting
Toro 1000 pedestrian mowers x 2
Cushman Truckster - for the Widespin spreader and Gambetti 600 litre sprayer
Polaris Ranger 4x4 work vehicle
Wiedenmann Terraspike
Wiedenmann Cyclone PTO blower
Greenmech woodchipper
Sisis Rotorake
Various Stihl strimmers, saws and backpack blowers
Club Car President golf buggies x 12 (new)

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