Paul Worster began his greenkeeping career in 1974 at Cirencester Golf Club before moving to nearby Lilleybrook Golf Club in Cheltenham, and then on to Minchinhampton in 1992.
Minchinhampton Golf Club Ltd. manage three 18-hole courses, The Old Course built in 1889, The Avening course, designed by Fred Hawtree and completed in 1975, and the Cherrington course, designed by Martin Hawtree, Fred's son, in 1995. The Old Course is run by a separate sub committee, and membership to old and new is available separately or jointly. Current total membership is 1800.
Paul has a staff of eleven to cover all the work required on the three courses. Two staff members are permanently employed at the Old Course with the remaining staff working on the newer Minchinhampton courses.
His eldest son, Matt, is on the staff as greenkeeper/ecology coordinator, whilst his youngest son, Rob, is currently studying his Foundation degree in sportsturf management at Cannington; greenkeeping must be in the blood!
The Old Course
The Old Course was one of the earliest club's to be formed in the West of England. It is set on Minchinhampton Common, an area of outstanding natural beauty close to the picturesque village of Amberley and the small market town of Minchinhampton, and three miles from Stroud.
Its natural contours and the absence of bunkers give it a special character which is seldom seen elsewhere. The initial impression may be that the course is wide-open but, after a few holes, it is evident that the "St Andrews" factor applies and that positional play is very important. The numerous humps and hollows around the greens test the golfer's ability to play a variety of shots, often in difficult conditions.
The course is a designated SSSI and is governed by both the National Trust and Natural England who restrict the use of chemicals and mowing practices on the site.
Due to common rights the public are allowed access at all times and are free to roam wherever they want. During the summer months the common is particularly popular with ramblers and picnickers, therefore, no play is allowed on Sundays after 11.00am.
Golfers also face other interesting challenges. From May to October over three hundred cattle are free to roam the course, including the greens, offering some interesting 'obstacles', and bringing a whole new meaning to 'playing the ball as it lies' - white Chinos are not necessarily the favoured golfing garb during this period either!
There is no water on the course so greens tend to dry out during the summer months promoting faster, more challenging putting surfaces. Only the greens, tees and fairways are mown; the remaining areas of the course are left for the cattle to graze. The benefits of the grazing are seen from the diversity of flora and fauna on the course.
The club have developed a Management Plan in conjunction with Natural England, the National Trust, and the Minchinhampton Committee of Commoners which is designed to maintain the golf course to more modern standards, whilst protecting the diversity and fabric of the common. This may eventually lead to permission being granted to spray the fairways which, in recent years, have been infested with composite weeds such as daisies, dandelions and plantains. They have become so infested that the only viable solution will be to apply a selective herbicide.
Weeds in the greens and tees are kept under control by hand weeding, but this is impracticable across the whole course.
With so much public access, plus main roads alongside, the course has undergone recent modifications in concert with the National Trust, the primary aim being to make the course safer for the general public. This has resulted in some greens, originally close to the roads, being relocated.
With its open access the Old Course does, however, suffer from occasional vandalism - from both humans and animals! Flags tend to go missing on a regular basis whilst greens suffer surface damage from the roaming cattle. There has also been the odd, abandoned car on the course.
With little or no water available Paul and greenkeepers, Nigel Crewe and Ian Shaw, are careful with the timing of renovation work, with much of it done in the spring when there is plenty of moisture in the greens, but being mindful not to be too severe with aeration and scarification works.
Feeding regimes are kept to a minimum with a dose of spring and summer fertiliser (12:0:12) applied in April, followed by applications of compost-tea throughout the growing season. A decision, based upon general condition of the greens, is then taken as to whether to feed again in the autumn.
Greens are kept at a height of 5mm during the summer and 6mm in the winter. Tees are kept at 12mm all year round and fairways at 20mm.
Golf has been enjoyed on the common for 120 years and, despite two World Wars, has not suffered too much disruption - although during the D-Day build-up there were one thousand allied servicemen temporarily housed on-site!
The new courses
The two 'new' courses are the Avening and the Cherington, both named after nearby villages. The Avening was opened in 1975, with the Cherington following twenty years later. The two courses sit side-by-side some three miles from the Old Course.
The Avening (a parkland style course) comprises fifteen holes of the original layout, plus three new holes which were created when the Cherrington course was developed. Holes 1,2 and 3 of the original Avening course were included into the Cherington course layout.
When designing the Cherington course Martin Hawtree was requested to work towards an inland "links" and the character of the course is signficantly different to the Avening. By 2002 the course had been selected to be the South West Regional Qualifying venue for the Open Championship. This suggests that he was successful in his aim.
The facilities also include a covered practice range, chipping green with bunkers and a well-stocked professional shop that is the base for the club professional, teaching professional and a thriving junior academy.
The two courses are rich in wildlife and, amongst other species, it is common to see hares, deer, skylarks, swifts, woodpeckers, many different songbirds and birds of prey. Numerous wildflower species, both common and rare, are also found on the courses.
Minchinhampton Golf Club won the National Golf Environmental Award 2004/5 in recognition of the works carried out on the courses, and the way in which they are managed.
Guided 'flora and fauna' tours are arranged for the members. This helps them to to view the golf courses in a slightly different way and understand the environmental work that Paul and his team undertake.
Paul is committed to running the courses in the most sustainable way possible. For the last ten years, a greenkeeper with special responsibility for environmental issues has been employed. He helps develop the number of projects which are underway with the aim of maintaining local features and allowing the courses to be run in an ecologically friendly way.
• Developing maintenance regimes which can maintain quality playing surfaces without the overuse of chemicals, fertiliser or water.
• Reducing the amount of waste produced and recycling as many materials as possible.
• Developing a machinery fleet which produces minimal emissions.
• Enhancing wildlife opportunities by producing and maintaining small areas of specific habitat which blend and merge with the courses.
• Developing and enhancing landscape features such as Cotswold stone walls, trees and water.
The new courses give the members a choice of playing conditions. There are plenty of testing holes to play with a combination of bunkers, dry stone walls and open water features.
Maintenance regimes are pretty much the same for both of the new courses. Greens are kept at 3mm in the summer and 4.5mm in the winter. They may be dropped a tad lower for tournaments. Aprons and tees are cut at 8mm with fairways at 13mm. A cut and collect policy is in place for rough and semi rough with the aim of increasing the biodiversity of flowers and grass varieties.
Greens and tees are cut with Toro 3250 triples, fairways are cut with a John Deere 1910 rotary and the rough is maintained with a Toro 5910D. Machinery is bought on a five year rolling lease programme. This allows Paul to update his machinery to more eco-friendly models on a regular basis.
Being a keen golfer himself (current handicap 5) Paul likes to produce fast putting surfaces, so work on the greens is programmed to do just that whilst, at the same time, maintaining the finer grasses.
The greens are predominantly sand based USGA style. They receive robust spring and autumn renovations which focus on deep scarification using the Graden, deep spiking with a Verti-drain set to a 275mm, hollow coring and topdressing with an 80/20 sand and soil mix, applying 2-4kg per square metre.
Neither of the courses have any real drainage issues on the fairways or tees due to the free draining characteristics of the soil, which overlies Cotswold stone brash.
The club has invested in irrigation and water storage facilities in recent years. Paul and his staff have built a new 11,000 cubic metre water storage lake, along with upgrading the automated irrigations systems.
Ecology and traditional skills
With the Cotswolds renowned for its mile upon mile of dry stone walls and ancient hedgerow, Paul has been keen for his staff to embrace these skills and utilise them on the course. An expert in hedge laying was brought in to train the staff in this traditional skill, whilst the club have an expert 'waller' on the staff in greenkeeper Charlie Beetge. It is hoped to plan a series of instructional days or weekends for club members in both skills, and South West BIGGA members may also look forward to these skills being offered in the fullness of time.
The benefits of both skills are important as far as wildlife is concerned. A traditional laid hedge attracts all manner of animals, birds and insects whilst the dry stone walls offer sanctuary for permanent wall dwellers such as lizards and spiders. Nocturnal animals use the crannies in the walls as daytime resting places. Dry stone walls are especially valuable habitats for insects and spiders.
The club has a green waste policy. Waste from the course (grass clippings, wood, waste sand etc.) is collected, together with cardboard from the clubhouse, and broken down using a shredder.
Originally, the mixed material was stacked on a porous base through which air was blown, by means of a fan, to aerate the composting material and reduce the amount of turning needed. This was not ideal as the outside of the pile quickly grew weeds and grass. Nowadays, the material is brought to a hard-standing, and turned by tractor.
The more nitrogen in the grass clippings, the more wood and other materials are required in the mix to break it down.
Approximately 200 tonnes of material gets composted each year. The presence of cardboard and wood in the mix means much of the liquid from the decomposing grass clippings is absorbed, resulting in little or no problem with harmful leachate. Any leachate is absorbed by bales of barley straw placed around the perimeter of the area.
The compost has been used for tree planting and mulching on the course. In addition, it has been used for the rootzone mix in tee construction work at a ratio of 70% soil to 30% compost by volume. It has also been used on bare areas of turf around bunkers, where overseeding is needed, pure compost has been applied to enhance germination.
The rootzone blend works well and grass germination is rapid and appears to perform better in drought conditions. Bunker edges also perform better.
Nine pads are sited around each course where grass clippins are emptied. The original pads were made of wood but these are slowly being replaced with used driving range mats.
The approximate time for turning compost is four hours per month. There is a need to have more than one pile under preparation as materials are constantly being collected from the courses and are therefore at different stages of decomposition.
Paul is keen to point out that the success of the club, and its three courses, is down to good communication between all parties. He particularly praises the club's commitment to its greenkeeping staff. The club have invested heavily in a modern comfortable greenkeeper facility, and continue to do so despite the economic downturn.
Education and training will continue at every opportunity - every single member of the Minchinhampton team is qualified to at least NVQ 2 level, which gives staff the skills and confidence to undertake any task which, in turn, both improves the quality of the course and, importantly, the job. As Paul says "greenkeepers are not just grass cutters, they are so much more".
It is this theme Paul will take with him when he becomes Chairman of BIGGA next year. Practical training and education are essential ingredients for successful greenkeeping, as is Management Training and a host of different skills to equip the individual greenkeeper for the modern day. As Paul says; "it is important to me that my staff enjoy their work and feel fulfilled at the end of the day".
Long gone, happily, are the days of greenkeepers shivering in draughty Nissen huts, which is due, in no small part, to the efforts and determination of the past and present officials of BIGGA, and the other associations which have gone before. "We are indeed fortunate to reap the benefits of the drive and professionalism of our permanent BIGGA staff, whom I have come to know better over recent months. I would urge any greenkeeper to seriously consider participating fully in BIGGA and, particularly, to take advantage of the training opportunities that are on offer".
Education is key in the modern day, and is a major purpose of BIGGA. Paul looks forward to 2010, and to meeting as many BIGGA members as possible around the UK during the year.
5 x Toro 3250-D Greensmasters
1 x Toro 3100-D Reelmaster
1 x Toro 5610-D Reelmaster
1 x Toro 4500-D Reelmaster
1 x Toro 5910-D Groundsmaster
1 x John Deere 1910
2 x John Deere Pro-Gator
3 x Toro e-Twisters
1 x New Holland TS100 Tractor
1 x New Holland 4835 Tractor
1 x New Holland TN55 Tractor
1 x Wiedenmann XP210 Terra Spike
1 x Massey Ferguson 350 Tractor
1 x Amazone 210
1 x Seko Sam Shredder