Annus Horribilis at Queensbury
By David Markham
The Queen famously had a term to describe her bad year - Annus Horribilis, she said.
Jonathan Leach, head greenkeeper at Queensbury Golf Club, has every reason to repeat that description when he looks back on 2004. A wet summer, which reached its climax in August when heavy rain ruined a week of ladies' competitions, came a month after thieves stole most of his machinery.
On top of all that, Jonathan and his assistant Christian Martindale have had to cope with extra work following the club's decision to acquire 15 acres of land to extend the 9 hole course, which is almost 1,000 feet above sea level halfway between Bradford and Halifax.
Jonathan said: "It rained very badly for a week in August - the ladies open week - and at one time you couldn't see a blade of grass for the water. The competitions dragged on for four weeks. We would play half a tournament and then the rain would come again. One of the competitions was re-arranged four times. We were working all hours - from dawn until dusk - in August.
"We have had a horrendous summer. Because the course slopes, the rain flows down heavily and at one stage the rain was so bad that 20 tons of gravel came down a slope washing the paths and bunkers away. We struggled to cope and quite a few members offered their services to help. On top of that the grass was growing rapidly but it wasn't fit to cut although you had to cut it and that left a mess.
"We were glad to see the back of the summer, but the weather since then has not picked up and we are going into the winter with the grass wet. Last year, at this time, we were watering the grass because it was so dry.
"People want to play even when the ground isn't dried out and that causes more problems. It is club policy to play golf 365 days a year. I can see why the club want the course open every day because it brings more people into the clubhouse, but it puts pressure on the green keeping staff.
"We have two holes - numbers 6 and 9 - with greens composed to USGA specification, which means they are 80 per cent sand based. There is no grass growth between October and May so even though it is fit to play the greens are wearing away. These two greens probably cost more than the other seven to look after.
"We manage to keep grass on these greens by moving the pin position around. Ultimately we have to go to temporary greens because these two greens need time to recuperate.
"There are only two of us and we have another 15 acres of land to look after. Hopefully it is going to be developed by next year.
"At the moment we have 5,200 yardage and we hope to get it above 6,000. We will extend seven of the holes but we will not be extending the course by making new holes. We could make a larger course, but the club have decided that they would rather have a first class nine-hole course rather than extend it.
"This winter we will be doing repair work. After the problems of the summer, we are re-shaping the bunkers to help the water to get away."
The club are doing extra drainage work across the fairways using Aquadyne. Jonathan said: "Aquadyne comes in blocks, which are laid in channels. The blocks are made of re-cycled material comprising bottle tops. The bottle tops are melted down and compressed to make a light breize block. They are like Aero bars with lots and lots of holes which allows the water to seep through. It is cheaper to do it that way. You dig a drain and drop in the blocks - it is superb. We have done about 120 metres so far and will probably do another 20 metres."
The robbery occurred in July. Jonathan said: "The thieves stole all my equipment, including a full petrol can. We had good security measures in place, but when thieves are determined to force their way through a triple wall it is difficult to stop them. We had a brick wall, dry stone wall and another brick wall, but they made a six feet square hole using hammer and chisel.
"The thieves parked on a nearby road and came through the field to break in to the store place. They wore balaclavas and stole our coats and hung them over all but one of the CCTV cameras. Fortunately, we were insured and we spent just under £30,000 to replace the stolen equipment and then there were repairs on top of that. We were in the middle of the growing season and we had no machines to use. Luckily, a local supplier lent us some machinery until we could arrange replacements.
"We bought a new John Deere fairways mower last year and fortunately it was in a different shed so it was not affected by the break-in. After the break-in we bought a new John Deere 48hp tractor, a Ransomes greens mower and two John Deere pedestrian greens mowers and a new Kubota tractor. We also replaced chain saws, flymos and a quad motor bike with a sprayer on the back.
"Also, in a separate incident, some youngsters caused £1,000 worth of damage to our JCB by breaking the windows."