A greenkeeper at Tenby Golf Club for the past seventeen years, Scott Williams saw his fine-turf responsibilities considerably extended last summer following the untimely death of his colleague and friend, Chris Jenkins, Tenby's head greenkeeper since 1988. Mike Bird spoke with Scott as he took stock of his new duties
The morning of Friday, 20th September 2013 dawned dry, yet cloudy in south Pembrokeshire with a promise of sunny spells later.
Scott Williams, acting head greenkeeper at Tenby Golf Club since early August, noted the forecast as he drove to the machinery sheds that morning, ready to team up with his two fellow greenkeepers and prepare the classic 18-hole links course for the coming weekend's golfers.
On that particular Friday, Scott had an important additional reason for checking the local weather forecast. Later that day, he would drive to nearby Saundersfoot Bowling Club to start autumn renovation of the bowling green, a job that had been carried out successfully for many years by Tenby Golf Club's former head greenkeeper, Chris Jenkins.
Having taken on Chris's golf course duties when the latter passed away suddenly and unexpectedly last August, Scott subsequently agreed to provide professional greenkeeping input to Saundersfoot and Tenby Bowling Clubs, visiting both clubs in his spare-time with the full knowledge and blessing of his golf club employer.
In doing so, he was maintaining the close local link established by Chris between golf and bowls, much to the relief of the two bowling clubs.
"The main issue facing privately-run bowling clubs in this part of Wales is the shortage of qualified professionals capable of advising on and looking after quality fine-turf sports surfaces," explained Scott.
"Virtually all of the people equipped and able to do the job are employed full-time at golf clubs, and that is how Chris came to be working as part-time greenkeeper at both Saundersfoot and Tenby Bowling Clubs.
When he passed away, I agreed to carry on his good work and provide the required input needed to ensure that the two bowling greens remain properly maintained and presented through the season."
Reassuringly, Scott knew that he could call on his fellow golf course greenkeepers, and a retired former greenkeeper living locally, to help share the bowling green maintenance load, particularly when carrying out heavy manual tasks such as top dressing and fertilising.
Although being a man down since Chris Jenkins' passing, Tenby Golf Club's three remaining, long-serving greenkeepers share fifty years experience between them and know precisely what needs to be done where, when and how around the golf course and on other prestige fine-turf surfaces.
These abilities are due in no small measure to the instruction and guidance provided to them by Chris, whose greenkeeping experience extended to more than forty years, all achieved at Tenby.
Although he was appointed head greenkeeper in 1988, Chris's association with Tenby Golf Club began initially as a teenager in 1969 when, as a very good low handicap golfer, he worked as assistant club professional for a while, before he developed an interest in the science and practice of golf course maintenance, subsequently joining the club's greenkeeping staff.
Following a short period away from golf in the late 1970s, Chris returned to his former post and spent the next nine years honing his experience and understanding of how to best care for and prepare a traditional links-type course.
The knowledge and skills he accumulated led to the club offering him the vacant position of head greenkeeper in 1988, a post he held and relished until his untimely death last August.
Scott Williams joined Tenby Golf Club straight from school in the summer of 1996, having spent previous school holidays helping out on the course under Chris's watchful eye.
"I recall laying boards prior to re-turfing the surrounds of greens and also being introduced to the fine art of bunker revetting," recalled Scott. "In my final months at school, I decided that the only place I wanted to work was on a golf course and applied, successfully, for an upcoming vacancy on Tenby's greenkeeping staff."
"My very first job on the course was mowing tees and aprons, having received full instructions from Chris who stood close-by watching me at the wheel of the mower. I can honestly say that I have not had one moment of regret over the seventeen years since I chose greenkeeping as my career."
"Tutored in all aspects of turfcare and links course management by Chris, Scott completed a four year greenkeeping apprenticeship at Tenby, whilst gaining NVQ2 and NVQ3 qualifications in greenkeeping and sports turf management at Northop College, Mold, Flintshire.
Practical spraying courses followed, with Scott securing PA1, PA2 and PA6 NPTC Certification of Competence in Safe Use of Pesticides, encompassing ground crop sprayers and hand-held applicators. He is also trained and equipped to carry out Local Environment Risk Assessments for Pesticides (LERAPs).
"Although college instruction proved very useful in getting the basics right, I believe that the best way to learn any craft is doing the job at the place where one works," pointed out Scott. "I had a very good teacher in Chris and retain huge respect for his knowledge, skill and patience which helped me improve both my turf skills and position at the golf club, securing the post of assistant head greenkeeper in 2009."
Scott commented that he has particular fond memories of working on bunkers alongside Chris, the two men rebuilding, repairing or revetting around sixty sand traps between 2005 and 2012.
As Scott quickly discovered, Tenby golf course is constantly on the move, driven by the Atlantic winds that blow across and along the length of holes laid out predominantly on a south-west/north-east axis. The ever-shifting sands not only cause erosion to the sides and face of bunkers, but they also affect the levels of tees, with small humps and hollows appearing without warning, sometimes overnight.
As a result, a number of tees require relevelling every few years, a job that consumes a large amount of labour on a golf course that runs a tight ship on the greenkeeping front.
Despite the addition of a new member of staff last September, the four greenkeepers - including Scott - are never looking for a job to do on a 125-year-old links course that is recognised as one of the best of its type in Wales, being rated among the country's top five.
Apart from regular reparation work to bunkers and tees, other parts of the course that demand constant attention, normally out-of-season, are worn pathways and denser areas of rough between the fairways, where blackthorn and gorse just "keep on growing", according to Scott.
Although keen to maintain future development and improvement of the golf course, Scott is wary of following too closely in the footsteps of his predecessor.
"Due to his golfing abilities, Chris was always looking to make the course a little more demanding for longer hitters, through the addition of a carefully-placed bunker here or the extension or repositioning of a tee over there," commented Scott. "For the average club player, I believe that Tenby provides an enjoyable and competitive round of golf in conditions that can change during the course of a round from easy to testing, depending on the direction and strength of the wind."
One area that has seen major improvement during the past ten years lies at the south-western end of the course, where the greenkeepers constructed two completely new holes.
Of the two, Chris was particularly proud of the ninth with its tee, perched high above Tenby's South Beach, offering spectacular views over the course towards the town, flanked by the beach and historic Caldy Island to the right.
Known, when built, as 'Monks Way', the ninth hole is in the process of being renamed 'Jenkins View' in memory of a greenkeeper who is described by golf club secretary, David Hancock, as "an extraordinary servant of the club who will be remembered for many years to come."
In addition to a commemorative plaque, the tee will feature a bench made out of old railway sleepers, material that was stockpiled and used regularly by Chris around the course in his efforts to stem the constantly moving sands.
Whilst happy to take on Chris's former responsibilities and provide part-time advisory and practical greenkeeping assistance to both Tenby and Saundersfoot Bowling Clubs, Scott pointed out that his seasonal input will be a little less than that of Chris, who found time to mow Tenby's bowling green two or three times a week following a day's work at the golf club.
"As at Saundersfoot, members of Tenby Bowling Club will now be responsible for regular mowing of their green," he said. "My practical duties at both clubs extend to aeration, fertilising and spraying, as and when needed, plus full autumn renovations at the end of the playing season. I am also available to provide technical advice to the clubs and deal with disease, pest and weed issues, plus any other concerns that might arise during the year."
Early afternoon on Friday, 20th September 2013, Scott arrived at Saundersfoot Bowling Club to commence autumn renovations, his first-ever job on the green that had been tended previously by Chris.
Assisted by fellow Tenby Golf Club greenkeeper, Michael Edwards, and retired former greenkeeper, Gerald Williams, Scott commenced by scarifying the turf to a depth of around 8mm using the bowling club's GreenTek Thatch-Away, creating grooves for the seed whilst collecting the majority of removed material in the machine's grass box.
To ensure the cleanest possible surface ahead of overseeding, the club's Toro Greenmaster worked fifty metres behind the Thatch-Away picking up any stray scarified material.
With the surface prepared, a seed mix comprising 80% creeping red fescue and 20% browntop bent was broadcast over two passes by pedestrian spreader at a rate of 30gm/m2.
T he next morning, the team returned to finish off the renovation work, distributing evenly by hand shovel across the green around 2.5 tonnes of Mascot Pro-Spread sterilised topdressing, a 70/30 sand/soil mix blended specifically for fine turf applications. The topdressing was finally luted-in to complete the work.
Originally, Scott had planned to hollow core the green as the first operation, but the failure to start the ageing tined machine's engine saw the Thatch-Away being called into action, resulting in around 40% less topdressing being used than originally planned on a green measuring around 1,300m2.
"Fortunately, the topdressing was delivered in 25kg bags rather than as a bulk load, so it will not be wasted," commented Scott. "Although we scarified instead of hollow coring, I was confident that the action would provide a good base for seed establishment. Results met expectations, with excellent take across the green evident within a couple of weeks."
The following Saturday, Scott and his assistants repeated the renovation process on Tenby Bowling Club's green with equally successful results.
A 3:0:3+Fe turf hardener was applied to both greens in October, followed by solid tining in November, an aeration treatment that Scott plans to repeat in February, weather permitting.
In common with Tenby Golf Club's greens and aprons, Scott will be applying moss-combatting lawn sand to both bowling greens in March, followed by appropriate fertiliser applications from late April through the September.
"Until I get to know both greens well, it will be a case of regular inspections and treatments, the latter carried out as necessary, depending on the need of the turf and weather conditions," stressed Scott. "I have learned during my time at Tenby Golf Club that fertiliser and water applications should be made only when absolutely necessary on a traditional links course and, to my mind, the same will apply to seaside bowling greens."
"Indeed, we have found that a tank mix of seaweed and wetting agent, applied regularly during the main growing season, is by far the best way to keep the golf greens in good, healthy condition. I shall start off with a similar little-but-often policy on the two bowling greens and see how they respond over the year."
As to the future, Scott is confident that he can continue building the standard and condition of a golf course that owes a tremendous amount to his predecessor, whilst also helping two local sports clubs present fine-turf playing surfaces that do the clubs, and himself, proud.
"I have received all possible support from Tenby Golf Club during what has been a difficult period for all," he commented. "Working with a great team of fellow greenkeepers and, knowing the golf course as well as I do, I have absolutely no concerns about the future. Bring it on."
What's in the shed?
Toro Greensmaster 3400-D greens triple
Toro Greensmaster 3200-D greens triple
Toro Greensmaster 3250-D greens triple
GreenTek scarifying heads x 3
Toro Reelmaster 3100-D Sidewinder utility mower
Toro Reelmaster 5410 fairway mower
Toro 3500-D Groundsman rough-cut mower
Toro ProCore 648 aerator
Kubota 52hp L5040 tractor
Kubota 45hp L4200
John Deere 43hp 4610 tractor c/w Lewis front loader and backhoe
John Deere Gator XUV550 S4
Charterhouse Verti-Drain 7316
Concept Perugini AT180 flail mower
Sisis Variseeder 1300
Lewis 2 tonne tipping trailer
Marston 2 tonne tipping trailer
+ various powered and non-powered hand tools