Sam Reid: A turf maestro shaping The Grove’s legacy

Kerry Haywoodin Golf

Sam Reid, the Head Greenkeeper at The Grove is more than a steward of the meticulously manicured greens; he is the maestro orchestrating the symphony of turf management.


The Grove

His journey, born from a brief stint as a summer casual in 2012, has evolved into an 11-year career. As The Grove celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2023, Sam Reid stands at the forefront, shaping not just the present, but also the future, of this championship-quality facility.

What does a typical day in the life of the Head Greenkeeper at The Grove look like?

We have a skilled and dedicated team of seventeen full-time greenkeepers who we can rely on to complete the daily maintenance of the course. This is fronted by our three Senior Greenkeepers who I lead and mentor to maximise team efficiency and quality. My role primarily focuses on leading the team and planning for weekly, monthly and annual agronomy/cultural plans to maximise both short and long-term quality. Delegation and empowering my senior team to make day-to-day decisions is the biggest tool available to me. This frees me up to effectively develop our apprentices, analyse plant health and presentation quality, and ensure the admin tasks are completed.

Whilst deep down I always want to be a hands-on operator, it’s important not to tie myself up on a job that means I’m not available to my team or to assess the course. It’s more valuable to be able to stand back and observe the operation and jump in for a short time, or simply explain an operation while in motion.

How has the industry changed over the years?

Data collection and preventative action over curative approaches have become higher on the agenda now, as we move to a more organic and biological approach to turf management. We are proud advocates of GPS spraying systems to reduce wasted products alongside our water-saving Rainbird systems. I firmly believe that the next phase will be more in line with agriculture in using real-time kinematic stations to selectively weed kill or evenly apply nutrients to surfaces and avoid over-application.

Can you share insights into the specific strategies implemented during these challenging winter periods to uphold the high standards of the course?

There isn’t a miracle tonic for growing turf in winter, so we need to rely on the quality of the product going into these colder months. The density and plant health we have in autumn must see us through until spring. The quality of our surfaces comes from knowing when to back off the plant growth regulators, aggressive cultural practices and, most crucially, when to push growth and when to preserve plant health. Whilst the milder autumns provide the chance to push growth later into the season, we are mindful that this soft growth can bring with it disease pressure. Being careful with our nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium inputs and using plant-strengthening nutrients prevent turf weakness.

A measured and balanced approach of aeration, mowing, rolling, and precise nutritional input during winter helps to maintain conditions but it’s the operations we do in the growing season to reduce organic matter and increase infiltration rates that make the biggest difference.

How important is it to host events like the Rose Ladies Series that look to propel the women’s game?

It was great that we could host an event such as the Rose Ladies Series. Three of our female professionals played in the event, which was a really important factor for us in hosting. Following on from this, we have employed our first female greenkeeper. This diversity in the team has been a positive influence and has brought a different perspective to how some tasks can be completed. I would certainly be an advocate for more women in the turf industry because of this.

Whilst the yardages for the ladies’ event are different from the men’s tournaments, our approach to mowing lines, specific pin locations and green speeds didn’t change how we would have set up for previous events. The quality of the women’s game is very high, and we needed to match their skill with a challenging course setup; this resulted in a three-way tie at four under for the final score.

As a Head Greenkeeper, what are some key lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?

The biggest learning experiences will always come from trial and error. When I moved into a management role, it was difficult to find the right work/home life balance. It was very easy to feel like the pressure was on you to perform for both your team and for your stakeholders, and falling below a target was a failure. Maturing into the role, you learn to utilise tactical delegation and know where to focus your efforts and what tasks aren’t worth the time input. Whilst I love doing the skilled jobs on the course, I learned to give my key staff more freedom and, in turn, they have developed greatly over the past eighteen months.

From an agronomic perspective, it is about not being rigid in your plans and thinking more strategically. It can be very easy to buy complex products that promise everything but don’t deliver. Thinking back to basics and what your plant needs versus what you want from it often means that there’s a simpler and maybe cheaper alternative.

The Grove celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023. What makes this milestone special for you and the team?

It’s great for us to be a part of building The Grove’s history. Each year, we are adding to the story so it’s very rewarding when you have been a part of it for the past eleven years. What stands out for me is the success of our model towards a non-membership championship quality facility and flexibility to different golf demographics. Little things that really bucked the trend twenty years ago, like having no dress code, are more widely accepted now. Our latest statement on the industry is we are the first UK venue to fit Bluetooth speakers on our buggy fleet. It’s these things that really make the venue special to me and celebrating twenty years that much more important.

How has the golf course evolved since its inception?

We aim to be amongst the industry leaders in turf management. With how quickly it evolves, we have to move with the times, and we are very fortunate to have owners who understand and support this. 

We underwent a complete bunker turfing project in 2020 along with flashing the bunker faces to be more visible from tee shots. Alongside this, we also extended our putting green by 300m2 and constructed the first hydroponic-powered tees in Europe on our fifth hole. Further to this, being early advocates for innovative renovation processes, such as DryJect, has kept our quality high.

One of our most successful management approaches was the biological control of chafer grubs. In winter 2016, we lost most of our tee surfaces to animal damage because of chafer grubs. By working closely with Bionema since 2017, we were able to substantially reduce the Welsh, Cock, and summer chafers through a biological nematode programme. Whilst we still see occasional damage, our primary high-profile areas such as greens, tees, and fairways are protected.

How do you see the future of The Grove’s golf course evolving in the next twenty years?

Our main priority will be to ensure we deliver elite playing surfaces to guests all year round. This approach will mean we need to review how the game has evolved since construction and whether our layout suits the new style of play. In the back of our minds, we want to always be ready for a tournament as well as doing our best to appeal to the next generation of golfers.

Looking at our turf management approach, our biggest focus will be on how sustainably we can manage ageing USGA Poa annua greens. Whilst we have great success with our current approach, the susceptibility of the plant to drought, disease stress and spring seed heads is a constant battle. Alongside that, we will need to look at water collection, storage and usage; this will tie into a course-wide irrigation update in the next few years. 

Sam’s grove journey

I started as a summer casual in 2012 and 11 years later I’m still here! The role got me hooked on golf course management and after completing my level 3 in it, a Higher National Certificate and most recently a Higher National Diploma with Elmwood College, I’ve proudly progressed to be Head Greenkeeper here.

Working under Phill Chiverton for ten years who, like me had a family farming background, gave me a chance to learn a great deal. He allowed me to have many unique internal project opportunities to use my plant and agricultural machinery skills and learn from expert operators,such as Peter Scott and Ian Stevens who worked with MJ Abbotts at the time. Through my junior management journey, Phill would always share knowledge, and allow autonomy and participation in discussions with representatives and our Troon agronomists.

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