Fulford Heath Golf Club is a parkland course situated a short distance from Solihull and Birmingham. Designed by James Braid - five times Open winner and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame - and opened in 1933, this eighteen hole, par 70 course is just over 6,000 yards in length and presents a challenge to golfers of all standards.
The River Cole, three lakes and mature trees feature throughout the course. Particular favourites are the 12th hole where the gentle River Cole presents a constant challenge appearing alongside the fairway as a lateral hazard, whilst the elevated green of the par 3, 16th hole is reached by playing over a stunning lake.
It is one of several Midlands courses I have fond memories of; as a teenager back in the 1970s I grew up not far from Fulford Heath, and it provided a wonderful habitat for hide and seek whilst, at the same time, giving us the opportunity to find golf balls, which were sold on for pocket money!
The course is renowned for setting a golfing challenge; not only does the layout of the course, with forty-two strategically placed bunkers and maturing tree-lined fairways, test the golfers' accuracy, the many grassy meadows and conservation areas also attract a lot of wayward balls.
However, the golfers do not mind, as these areas not only provide a burst of colour between June and September, but are also a key wildlife corridor and feeding area for birds and insects.
The development of the wildlife corridors is down to the present Course Manager, Kim Blake, who joined the club in 1988, having had previous experience at Broadway Golf Club and contracting work. It has been a labour of love for Kim, who continues to make steady progress and embrace the ecological requirements of the course.
Like most golf clubs, the last few years have been testing times on many fronts; the weather has tested the resolve of both members and greenkeeping staff, and the current economic climate has also influenced the resources available and, subsequently, the amount of work that can be achieved.
As Kim points out, like many other course managers, he has been asked to make savings, whilst still delivering a quality golfing experience. Since 2006, he has managed to reduce his annual budgets by £30,000.
Kim, along with the Greens Committee, managed to convince the club not to go down the 'easy route' of redundancy, pointing out that the greenkeeping staff are the main asset of any golf club. He has, instead, focused on making all the areas he is responsible for more efficient. For example, he and his team now take on all of the winter programme of works, by investing in specialist machinery. They have a Komatsu 360 excavator and a large AEBI TP 68 transporter, which enables them to undertake reconstruction works to ditches, ponds and tees which, in turn, has taught his staff new skills.
Kim has also managed to reduce overtime costs by explaining to the staff the benefits of annualised hours, agreeing to being salaried on a forty hour week, receiving a better annual income, but having to work weekends as part of the deal. Any additional overtime worked is paid in lieu.
Kim has also changed the way he maintains the course to help make savings. For example, he has chosen to go back to pedestrian mowing, investing in four new Baroness mowers instead of buying a new greens triple. The club has also allowed Kim to contract out the greenkeepers' services, utilising their specialised machinery - Graden, Vertidrain, sprayers and seeders - to undertake work at other local sports clubs.
Kim's first assistant is Graeme Stevenson, who came to the club eighteen months ago, having previously worked at Handsworth Golf Club. Tony Liverstone has been part of the staff for four years. Tom Jones also recently joined the team from Abbey Park Golf Club in Redditch. Another newcomer is Paul Arnold who has been at the club just three months. Additionally, Kim's daughter, Rebecca Blake, came on board as an apprentice eighteen months ago.
Rebecca is currently studying at Morton Morrell College, doing a NVQ level 2 course along with PA1 and PA2 spraying courses.
Over the years Kim has built up a reputation for being innovative and making good use of opportunities as they present themselves. He has developed good communication strategies with the Fulford members, other course managers and head greenkeepers and organisations, whilst also being an active member of BIGGA for many years
The parkland course lies on heavy clay soils with all the greens being push up clay with no drainage. They drain very well due to the extensive ongoing work Kim and his staff undertake every year, being regularly spiked with all manner of techniques, and regularly topdressed with hundreds of tonnes of DA30 sand. They perform very well, and provide a smooth fast putting surface, currently stimping at over nine feet - any faster and they would become unplayable.
The holes are changed every other day; two holes are cut each week on different parts of the green and swapped over through the course of the week to reduce wear.
Greens are maintained at a height of 4mm in the summer and 5mm in the winter. They are now being cut every other day using the Saxon pedestrian mowers, with turf ironing done on the alternate days.
As for renovations, greens are targeted twice a year, undertaking autumn and spring renovations.
In mid-August, Kim will carry out a thorough renovation of the greens using his Graden scarifier. He is a keen advocate of this machine, especially because of its ability to inject sand into the green at the same time. Kim has been using the Graden for a couple of years, since he had the opportunity to work closely with Keith Kensett, who introduced it to the UK. Kim regularly works with Keith to help develop better ways of using the machine, often carrying out trials at his course. This has also enabled him to try out many of the other innovative machines Keith has brought to the fine turf market. These include the turf irons, shrouded sprayers and deep compressed air probe aerators.
The greens are gradened to a depth of 28mm, using 2mm diameter tines at 30mm centres, debris is cleaned off using power brushes, blowers and mowers, and topdressed with around thirty tonnes of DA30 Rufford sand. Altogether, it takes around two days to complete all eighteen greens. In October, the greens will be verti-drained with 200mm deep, 13mm diameter tines. Additional aeration work through the winter months is carried out using Sisis Multi slit tines.
In February, Kim will use a Ground Probe compressed air aerator to deep decompact the greens to a depth of 600mm at 2x2 metre spacings. Then, in March, they will be gradened again, but only using 1mm diameter blades, to a depth of 8-10mm at 25mm centres, applying around fifteen tonnes of DA30 sand.
Tees are cut at a height of 11mm in the summer and 14mm in winter. They are mown twice a week in the summer and once during the winter months, and also get aerated using a range of machines throughout the year.
The club make their own topdressing and divot mix for the tees and fairways, using a bi-product of green waste which they produce themselves using a Zago Ecogreen Recycling machine. It has been a significant investment, costing £20k, but has more than paid for itself in what it produces.
They have perfected a mix that works well for them; three parts tree brash/leaves, two parts cardboard and one part grass clippings.
It takes forty five minutes to pass through the machine and be tipped out into a bay, the material is allowed to break down and then, after several weeks, turned into another bay. By the time it has gone through five bays it is ready for screening into the desired end product.
Compost that is sieved through a 6mm sieve is used for tees and fairway dressings, whereas compost that is put through a larger 19mm sieve is used for construction projects. They can make in excess of 200 tonnes a year.
Fairways are mown at between 12-14mm, generally twice a week depending on the condition of the sward, the weather and time of the year. Many of the fairways are bordered by large areas of semi rough - which is cut at 60mm every ten days - that leads into permanent rough and wild flower areas. Every year, Kim sows new areas with Limagrain wildflower and bird seed mixes to provide flowers and seeds for the wildlife to thrive on.
To ensure the birds get access to the flowering seed heads, his cut and collect regime is carried out in February instead of the usual late summer period.
This year, Kim is trying out a couple of Beepol aviaries. These are small bumblebee hives that are left out in the woods to allow a bumblebee queen to rear around half a dozen young, which, if things go to plan, then hatch out and colonise the local habitat.
If successful, he will look to introduce more, and also plans to put out honey bee hives, with the eventual aim of selling the honey to the members to cover costs. Kim has also built raised vegetable beds so that home grown produce can be served to the members in the clubhouse.
Feeding programmes (on the course, not in the clubhouse) are tailored to meet the needs of the grass. A combination of granular and liquid feeds is applied to the greens, along with some organic products - Headland Greentech 6:5:18 NPK acts as a base feed, along with some Farmura Porthcawl and ALS Green Yara products.
Kim is also using Aston Horticulture Garlic products, as part of the maintenance programme on the greens, along with some soluble iron, to suppress worms on greens, approaches and tees. It seems to be working very well, with Kim recording a 70% reduction in worm activity. The application rate is around five doses a year, mixing it in with other feeds.
Garlic feeds are becoming popular as both a suppressant to insects and animals, as well has being a growth supplement.
The total amount of nitrogen and potash applied each year to the greens is less than 70kg per hectare. A little and often approach is Kim's motto.
Kim also advocates a PrimoMaxx programme on greens, tees and fairways. However, he reduces the amount he puts on and applies on a more frequent basis. Greens get 0.2 litre per HA, whilst tees and fairways get 0.5-0.8 litres per HA. The results are excellent - thicker sward and a reduction in the amount of clippings produced.
As for machinery, Kim ensures that all his equipment is well looked after and serviced regularly. He still uses a fourteen year old John Deere Triple mower and, rather than buying a new one, persuaded the club to buy the four pedestrian cylinder Baroness mowers. Whilst I was there, he was having a brand new John Deere Aercore aerator delivered by Andy Perkins and Will Davies from Parks and Grounds Machinery Ltd., a machine that will be well used both out on the course and for contracting services.
Kim showed me his seven year machinery plan, which will enable the club to renew a lot of their old equipment in the coming years; a lot of the larger machinery - tractors, fairway mowers and topdressers - are over fifteen years old and will soon need replacing.
As for irrigation, only the greens, tees and a few approaches have pop up water sprinklers. Water is drawn from the lakes; the club has a two million cubic metre extraction licence. The system has recently been overhauled and modified to give full reports on usage.
This year, not surprisingly, the water consumption has been quite high compared to last year; 70 cubic metres in March compared with zero in March 2010; 500 in April (148 in April 2010) and 389 in May (351 in May 2010).
The lakes not only provide the water for irrigation purposes, but are also a sanctuary for a lot of wildlife, particularly birds. The lakes are well stocked and attract a lot of local anglers, club members and "bloody herons" who enjoy catching a wide selection of fish.
Future work will be centred around the course's needs and requirements. Kim has already begun a feasibility study into the cost of installing drainage across the whole course, including greens; a mammoth project that could cost a fair amount of money, but would be done in phases.
Also, there is the ongoing tree works - there are still too many leylandii trees around the course that need removing, along with some other species that need thinning out from the large plantations.
The refurbishing of tees is ongoing, along with other course modifications to cope with the ever changing golf equipment; ball and club design will always continue to have an impact out on the course.
Kim is very happy with his lot and, even after twenty three years, is really only beginning to see the fruits of his labour. The course is a testament to his commitment to greenkeeping and, I'm sure, that he would like his daughter to take over the reins one day, just to ensure his legacy carries on at the course he loves and regards as home.
Picture caption:L-r Paul Arnold, Rebecca Blake, Kim Blake, Tom Jones and Graeme Stevenson
What's in the shed?
Iseki TA 545 tractor & front loader
Lewis 400s digger
Iseki TA 537 tractor
Ferri TD 37 flail arm mower
Jacobsen SV 2322 truck and topdresser
Aebi TT 70 tractor and front mounted gang mowers
Aebi TP 68 transporter and 2000 litre sprayer
Komatsu PC 45R digger
John Deere 2243 mower
Toro 3250D triple mowers x 2
Toro 3500D triple rotary mower
Toro 4100D rotary mower
Chainsaws x 3
Strimmers x 2
Hedgecutters x 2
Backpack blowers x 3
Sisis slitters x 2
Charterhouse 2m vertidrain
Rishard Long 2004 sweeper/scarifyer
Turfirons x 2
Hardi AMT 800 Litre sprayer
Tractor mounted leaf blower
Zago eco composter
New Holland TN 75 tractor + front loader
7 tonne plant trailer
Graden sand injection and seeder unit
Kubota RTV 900
Toro 6500 mower
Jacobsen sand trap rake
Baroness pedestrian greensmowers x 4
John Deere Aercore 800
Since ancient times growers have noticed that garlic plants (Allium sativum) are not attractive to certain insects, animals and fungi, and garlic sprays were used to stimulate the natural ability of plants to resist pests and diseases.
Today, garlic treatments are routinely used as a growth supplement in various crops, such as lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, ornamentals, wheat, brassicas and for healthier, insect, nematode and fungal-free turf. It is water-based, concentrated and biodegradable.
It contains high levels of allicin, which has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It has a systemic and prophylactic action, making it suitable for use on turf areas and general amenity areas, including parks, playing fields, grassland and conservation areas.
It is a natural product formulated from garlic extracts. It is water-based, concentrated and biodegradable.
Due to its sulphur and selenium content garlic has the following benefits:
- Stimulates growth, vigour and tillering
- Helps to resist the adverse effects of stresses due to drought and unbalanced nutrition
- Assists in optimising the effects of fertilisation
- Fungal, Insect and Nematode suppression
Regular use assists grass to resist or recover from most of the common fungal diseases such as Anthracnose, Brown Patch, Fusarium, Fairy Ring, Dollar Spot and Red Thread and aid turf's natural resistance to insects, such as crane fly, frit fly, and recover from damage caused by nematodes.
Research worldwide has shown garlic's fungistatic and fungicidal activity against Fusarium oxysporum, Phytophthora spp., Phythium spp., Rhizoctonia solani, Botrytis cinerea, Alternaria brassisicola, Sclerotinia and other pathogenic fungi.
Systemic and prophylactic
Food grade natural aqueous extract of garlic
No chemical setback
Odourless within minutes of application
Compatibility tests with other products are recommended
Safe and simple to use as well as being kind to the environment