Blooming heather at Bingley St Ives
By Dave Markham
Heather is blooming again on the spectacular Bingley St Ives golf course high above the Aire Valley. The heather, which is a feature of five holes on the moorland part of the course, could have died if Head Greenkeeper Joe Baxter and his staff had not decided to take action.
Joe, who has been Head Greenkeeper at St Ives for 30 years, said: "We are trying to rejuvenate the heather by thickening it up. It is something we don't want to lose. It is important to keep the heather because it is one of the key features of our varied course.
There has been increased 'traffic' over the heather and it was getting long and lanky. When that happens it gradually dies off. In the last four years we have been cutting it and encouraging a thickening up process. I am happy to say this treatment is working. We have sprayed patches of grass with weed killer to get rid of the grass. We also stir up the surface to allow the heather seed that was dormant to come through. The heather seeds in the ground last for ten years. If you get rid of the grass the heather seed can germinate."
Joe became Head Greenkeeper in 1974 when St Ives was still a municipal course, first under Bingley Urban District Council and then under Bradford Metropolitan District Council, before it became a private club in 1990. He remembers vividly the first Lawrence Batley tournament, held at St Ives for three years between 1981 and 1983. Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle, who were rising stars of the British game in those days, enjoyed successful tournaments at St Ives and Lawrence Batley, who ran a thriving cash and carry business, paid for top American golfers like Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer and Fuzzy Zoeller to play.
Joe said: "We are doing improvements to tees and also expanding them, making sure we put in improved drainage where needed. Some areas flood a bit when we get heavy rain, but most of the time the ground drains pretty well. Through the winter we have been doing general maintenance, re-turfing worn areas, spiking and scarifying. We have put up a new fence and we have done some drainage work.
We have also extended the pond at the side of the tenth green. We are trying to make it a natural feature of the course. We hope to put a wall round it. We used a mini digger to extend it. We doubled the size of the pond - it is oval shaped seven metres by nine metres.
The course is varied - it begins in parkland and moves into woodland and then into moorland. We have a scenic course. We can see Ferrybridge power station 35 miles away from the tenth tee and you can also see Ingleborough 40 miles in the other direction.
It has been a mixed winter for weather. It started mild and then became wet and frosty which delayed us with our re-turfing which we like to do before Christmas. If we can do the re-turfing work it has a much better chance to become established.
We are re-laying one of the ladies tees. We have also made two winter tees, which will come into use next winter. We try to play all the year round and use mats on some tees during the winter. We play off mats on four of our tees - all par threes - in winter because we haven't got room to make winter tees in grass, but we play off grass tees at every hole in summer."
St Ives are great fans of Toro machines. Joe said: "We have a Ransomes mower for the semi-rough, but most of the rest of our machinery are Toros. We find that Toro machines are very reliable - a bit more expensive than the others but as long as you look after them you don't need many spares. We have just got a new tees machine, which is an upgraded version of our old machine. The new machine has a hydraulic drive to the cylinders whereas the old machine was belt driven."