One of the prime considerations for a golfer playing golf is the condition of the course, and any drop in its standard can have far reaching consequences, eventually driving away customers and damaging the income stream.
So, whilst course managers have had to tighten their belts, redirecting resources and managing budgets more efficiently, they understand the need to maintain standards and continue with improvements. So, many are now encouraging their staff to take on projects themselves when, in the past, course improvement work and specialist irrigation projects were often outsourced. Rob Rowson, Course Manager at the Forest of Arden Country Club in Warwickshire, is one such person.
Rob came to the club twelve years ago, taking on the role of course manager in 2005 when Kenny Mackay moved to The Belfry.
The Forest of Arden is a Marriott Hotel and Country Club, and one of the UK's most impressive golf destinations, featuring two top-class courses - The Arden and The Aylesford. The club is located in 10,000 acres of rural Warwickshire, surrounded by ancient woodlands and natural lakes. It has played host to some of golf's most prominent tournaments, including the British Masters and English Open.
One of latest projects to be undertaken by the greenkeeping staff has been the refurbishment of the irrigation water storage system, which was originally installed in the late 1970s.
The brief was to replace the old corrugated water storage tanks and replace them with larger capacity ones, plus a new pumping station, which will be fed from a bespoke water recycling plant that is due to be commissioned in September 2010.
With the hotel undergoing a £5 million refurbishment, it was seen as the perfect opportunity to install a sustainable water recycling plant to collect rainwater off roofs and hard standing areas for use out on the course.
Of course, one could say that, with £5 million being spent on the hotel, it seems a tad churlish to expect the greenkeeping staff to make cutbacks, but Rob saw this as a positive rather than a negative!
Rob has always been keen on sustainable watering, and the new system has the ability to collect around 200 cubic metres of water each day, storing it in one of two new 300 cubic metre tanks.
If Rob had to water greens, tees and fairways in one hit, it would take about 800 cubic metres to complete the task. Whilst this is rarely required, the new system will certainly reduce the strain on the mains water supply and reduce costs considerably.
The staff undertook the complete rebuild of the water storage facility, with Head Mechanic, Bob Hill (more of him later), using his welding skills, dismantling the old tanks and helping to erect the new ones, including the fitting and placement of four brand new Grundfos pumps which are controlled by a Rainbird control system. The eventual saving to the club by doing the work in-house was in excess of £20,000.
The new system can be operated from a mobile phone and is linked into a computer that allows Rob to alter the amounts of water being applied at any time, anywhere on the course.
There is also a weather station that keeps records of evaportranspiration rates, which helps him decide on the amount of water required.
Rob has a team of twenty greenkeepers and gardeners, plus mechanic Bob.
Greensmowers are usually bench set at 3.5mm in the summer which, in reality, means the actual height of cut will be between 2 and 2.5mm. Winter bench HOC is 5mm.
Bench settings for other areas are: tees 7mm, collars 7mm, fairways 12mm, semi rough 25mm and rough 75mm.
It is an early start for the staff, beginning at 5.30am every morning to ensure the course is set up for the day's play. Greens are mown with pedestrian G1000 Toro mowers, bunkers raked and holes changed, if necessary. Tees, approaches and fairways are mown every other day, with any other cutting completed when required.
Staff work until 2.00pm, but some are put on standby for any unforeseen works. Weekends see a team of eleven staff come in to set up the courses.
As with most golf courses, the workload is endless. Keeping the playing surfaces in tip top condition is down to a robust maintenance regime that combines a cocktail of activities and ingredients.
The feeding regime is a complex mix of feeds applied in both liquid and granular forms. Rob's target is to deliver around 180kg of nitrogen to the USGA greens and around 100-120kg to the fen soil greens every year. He begins with a liquid iron and 6:5:10 NPK application in February, then following it with a variety of feeds until October, when he finishes with a mutli green 12:0:44.
These are supplemented with a number of other micronutrient feeds as and when required. The greens also receive a number of applications of wetting agents and fungicides to help keep them stress free.
Tees and fairways also get some timely feeds to keep them in good condition - usually about four feeds a year on fairways, whilst the tees receive about ten applications a year. It is important to keep the tees in good condition as they take quite a hammering, they are also divoted with a prepared mix, containing a rye grass seed, to aid recovery.
The intensive maintenance works centre around a sound programme of aeration and topdressing operations which, in the main, are done on a monthly basis. Several aeration techniques are used - sarrell rolling, hollow coring and vertidraining are carried out in conjunction with light and heavy sand topdressing as required.
The aim is to keep the greens free draining, smooth and to help break down any accumulating thatch.
Both courses were designed by Donald Steel and are located on the grand Packington Estate. Many varieties of wildlife can be found within the boundaries, and golfers have a very good chance of catching a glimpse of the friendly deer that live in the majestic countryside setting.
It was interesting to see the distinct changes in maintenance requirements on the two courses - the Aylesford is more parkland, whilst some parts of the Arden are distinctly links-like, with lots of bracken and wild grass areas providing a challenge for any golfer who cannot hit a straight ball!
Vast numbers of fairly tame Roe deer can be seen roaming the courses. Whilst the golfers have now come to accept their existence - they rarely cause a problem - they can create a few issues during the rutting season in October and November, when males fight for dominance on the greens, causing significant surface damage.
In recent years, Rob has been involved in extensive ecology work on both courses to improve and sustain the variety of wildlife. A number of large lakes have been cleaned out and managed to conserve habitats for many birds and mammals. This has culminated in the course recently receiving a prestigious accolade - the Audubon International Award.
The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Programme for Golf Courses is an award winning education and certification programme, that helps golf courses protect the environment and preserve the natural heritage of the game of golf. By helping people enhance the valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats that golf courses provide, improve efficiency, and minimise potentially harmful impacts of course operations, the programme serves as a vital resource for golf clubs.
The greenkeeping team had to comply with six key environmental components relevant to golf course management. These components form the basis of educational materials and are the focal points for achieving certification:
• Environmental Planning
• Wildlife and Habitat Management
• Chemical Use Reduction and Safety
• Water Conservation
• Water Quality Management
• Outreach and Education
The information required to fulfil the conditions of the programme became a useful exercise in finding out the current condition of the course, and what resources it takes to keep it maintained.
The club are delighted to have been awarded this certificate, and see it as a good measure of how they are performing and working with the environment.
Rob says that he and his staff can consider themselves privileged to work on two very different types of course, and enjoy the challenge of maintaining the championship standards for which the venue is renowned.
This winter, Rob and his staff take on more fresh challenges with the completion of the irrigation system, some bunker and tee refurbishments and tree works.
So, it would seem that the ongoing task of improvements and maintenance at the Forest of Arden is in good hands, and will no doubt keep Rob and his staff busy for many years to come.
What's in the shed?
3 x Toro 3250
2 x Toro Sidewinders
3 x Toro 5410
2 x Toro 4000 Batwing
7 x Toro 1000 Pedestrian Greens Mower
3 x Toro 1600
3 x Toro electric buggies
5 x John Deere 6x4 Gators
1 x John Deere 5080M & 583 loader
1 x Kubota 3540
1 x Kubota ST30
1 x JCB 805 (5 Tonne 360 excavator)
3 x chainsaws
1 x Stihl long reach hedgetrimmer
1 x Stihl hedgetrimmer
3 x Buffalo blowers
5 x Echo backpack blowers
3 x Hayter Harrier 48
1 x Honda 21" Rotary
3 x Allen 446 Hover Mowers
1 x Vicon Varispreader
1 x Moore drill
1 x Vertidrain
1 x Sarrel roller
1 x 5 tonne tipping trailer
39 x buggies and shuttle buggies
Anglemaster 2000 grinder
Atterton Ellis ED2000 grinder