Steve Oultram is Head Greenkeeper at Wilmslow Golf Club in Cheshire and also one of the Gingerbread Men, a group of like-minded individuals on the ladder to sustainable golf
Wilmslow Golf Club was founded in 1889 and is located outside the village of Wilmslow, just north of Macclesfield in the North West of England. The parkland par 72 course measures over 6,635 yards and is set in 130 acres of Cheshire countryside.
The course moved to its present site in 1903 and gradually evolved with inputs over the years from course architects James Braid, Tom Simpson, George Duncan, Hawtree and Taylor and, more recently, Dave Thomas.
All the greens, with the exception of the 13th and 18th, which are USGA specified greens, are traditional soil pushed up greens.
For the last seventeen years Steve Oultram has been Course Manager. He currently has a staff of six and retains a hands on approach, working alongside his staff across all aspects of the course upkeep.
And the results speak for themselves. On the day of my visit the greens, approaches and fairways were all being cut. The overall impact and presentation of the course was exceptional and a credit to Steve and his staff.
Steve showed me round the course to outline some of the work he had instigated in recent years. This included a fair amount of drainage work to fairways, bunker and tee redesigns along with woodland work that included a number of new water features to enhance the wildlife habitat on the course.
Steve has worked closely with the STRI's Bob Taylor and introduced a number of grassland maintenance polices to improve wildlife diversity.
The Club has also worked closely with local conservation groups to create new breeding habitats for butterflies, moths and barn owls.
Four-metre margins of insect-rich grassland run alongside the boundary hedgerows, one of which is known to be 400 years old, and Steve's woodland management recognises the importance of dead or decaying timber as hosts for the invertebrates that provide food for many birds and mammals.
The pay-off of these and other initiatives has been a marked increase in wildlife. The course has more birds, bees, butterflies, bats and badgers than ever before. It even has a crocodile … of sorts. The wooden silhouette of a croc's head floats ominously among the reeds on the pond by the 13th tee, introduced a few years ago by a member with a mischievous sense of humour.
Steve's maintenance regimes are as follows:
Greens: This is tailored around increasing the population of finer grasses (bents and fescue) in the greens. This is achieved with careful control of feeding, watering and cultural practices on a little and often approach, along with a dedicated oversowing programme that begins in April and ends in September.
Feeding is kept to a bare minimum. Aeration is carried out every fortnight using a combination of micro tines and slit tines. The greens receive regular applications of topdressing, usually around 0.5 tonnes per green. Steve has been reducing the amount of dressings being applied. In 2006 he applied 120 tonnes, 110 tonnes in 2007 and, this year, is hoping to get below 100 tonnes.
Watering is kept to a minimum with Steve preferring to hand water. However, he does rely on wetting agents to help improve water infiltration rates.
The greens are hand mown daily cutting to a height of 5mm (4.5mm for tournaments) using Toro Greensmaster 1000s. Holes are changed twice a week and each day during tournaments.
Surrounds are maintained between 8-10mm using a Toro 3250.
Tees: As with the greens all the tees are maintained to establish and maintain the finer grass species, bents and fescues. Tees are cut three times a week using pedestrian Toro Greenmaster 1000s or Toro 3250 triple mowers maintaining a height of cut of 10mm.
Tees are topdressed throughout the year and repaired with a divot mix.
Tee remodelling is ongoing during the winter months to improve their alignment and design.
Fairways: Fairways are, again, oversown with the more desirable bents and fescues to help improve their playability and to reduce the amount of feeding and watering required to maintain grass cover. They are cut with a pair of Toro 5400s (grass clippings are boxed off) to 13mm in the summer and between 15-17mm in the winter.
Semi rough: Is mown at 40mm and provides an 8-10metre wide swathe of grass. These areas are mown two or three times a week depending on growth.
Fringing rough: (infrequently managed rough). Intermediate rough is cut at 100mm up to 8 metres wide on a fortnightly basis. A scarification treatment, included within the cutting regime either in spring or in late summer, has a significant beneficial effect in thinning the sward and promoting a much more desirable grassland structure.
This management programme is applied to the course, well off the playing line, and helps to reduce scrub and tree invasion whilst optimising conditions for smaller rodents and invertebrates. The gaps created through scarification encourage a greater number of wildflowers.
Bunkers: Are regularly raked with sand infill maintained to a depth of 75mm. Bunker banks are mown twice a week.
Ponds: A fair bit of work has been undertaken in the construction of new pond features to increase the biodiversity of the course and, at the same time, improve the aesthetics and challenges for golfers.
Tree and woodlands: Extensive tree work carried out during the winter months with a programme of crown thinning, crown lifting and dead wooding, keeping a good airflow around greens and tees. Removal of some sapling trees between the 1st, 2nd and 8th greens.
Pathways: Ongoing maintenance , restoring levels and keeping them clean and operational.
Machinery: All equipment is purchased outright. Steve chooses to use mainly Toro equipment for cutting regimes. He likes its reliability, cutting quality and the service back-up.
Steve also invests a lot of time in looking after his equipment, making sure the staff wash down and keep the equipment serviced on a daily basis. It was quite refreshing to see such a well-cleaned and organised machinery shed and messroom facility. There was not a spanner or cup out of place.
The sharpening of mowers is done regularly using the Bernhard's Dual 3000 grinders, sharpening the hand mowers every fortnight and the fairway, collar and approach mowers on a monthly basis.
Steve regularly sends his staff on relevant training courses and seminars to improve their knowledge and experience. He believes that the sharing of this knowledge and information is the key to improvement, along with good communications. Therefore, he sees his involvement with the Gingerbread Men as a fantastic opportunity to share information and witness what is going on at other golfing environments.
He believes it is important to be able to talk to like-minded professionals who, perhaps, will have a different take on the ways they manage their golf course.
From what I saw at Wilmslow it is evidently clear just what can be achieved on a golf course when all pull in the same direction. The course was visually stunning and the playing conditions were amongst the best I have seen.
Even now, Steve believes there is more he can do to keep the course moving forward and further enhance the enjoyment for the members and visitors.
What's in the shed?
Scotts Pro Pedestrian Fertiliser Spreader
Toro 223D Groundsman Rota-deck
Toro 3100 Sidewinder Triplex x 2
Toro Realmaster 5400D 2 Wheel drive
Toro Realmaster 5400D 4 Wheel drive
Toro Realmaster 6700
Toro 1000 Pedestrian Greens Mowers x 2
Toro GM 3000D Triplex
Toro GM 3200 Triplex
Toro Pro-core Fine Turf Aerator
AFT 145 Trencher
Charterhouse 300L Sprayer
Bernhards Express Dual Cylinder Grinder
Bernhards Bottom Blade Grinder
Robin HT231Hedge Trimmer
Kawasaki Hedge Trimmer
Honda 536 Pedestrian Rotary mower
Honda 553 Pedestrian Rotary mower
John Deere 4600 Tractor
Kawasaki Mule x 2
Kubota KX61 Excavator
Kubota Compact Tractor
KWH Wirlwind Leaf Blower
Makita Backpack Leaf Blower
Massey Ferguson 362 Tractor
Rapide Monroe Pedestrian Rough Cutter
Robin Dagger CB412 Aerator
Ryan Textron JR Mechanical Turf Cutter
Bolens Pedestrian Rotovator
Sisis V Mow
Turfmech TM5 Vaccum Sweeper
Vicon 303 Topspreader/dresser
Charterhouse 1.5 Verti-drain
Charterhouse 2.0 Verti-drain
Various Chainsaws and Strimmers