Carden Park in the Spring
By Laurence Gale
St George's day - the sun was shining, the grass and trees gleaming with new growth and the weather sunny and warm. An ideal day to visit one of Cheshire's finest golf courses; Carden Park Hotel and Golf club set in over 750 acres of Cheshire countryside boasts two 18 hole courses, one nine hole par three course and driving ranges.
The staffing level at the end of April was 19 but this increases to 25 by mid May when some of the staff return from annual leave. Carden Park operates an annual pay structure based on 39 hours a week. In the growing season staff that work 50/60 hours will take time in lieu in the winter. This works very well because the Nicklaus course, which is very wet during the winter period, closes down for 3 months of the year, reducing the need for staff during this period.
Staff are detailed into specific tasks and operations:
· Two gardeners responsible for all ornamental areas around the clubhouse and hotel complex.
· Two estate workers responsible for all strimming operations.
· Two skilled labourers who carry out building structure repairs.
· Two head green keepers - one for each course
· Two assistant head green keepers - one for each course
· Two Mechanics - head and assistant.
· 14 green keepers who are shared around the courses.
The two courses are completely different in character, the Cheshire, laid down in 1992, being an elevated course with plenty of mature tree plantations, woods and sandstone outcrop features, and the Nicklaus, built in 1996 on the lower plains, having a typical American style but with a naturalised look and feel created by some areas of grasses being managed as meadows which are cut and collected in rotation in the summer. Last year saw well over 37,000 rounds of golf played on the Cheshire course and 22,000 rounds on the Nicklaus course, still a reasonable amount considering it is closed during the winter.
Andy operates a very successful IPM management programme resulting in very little in the way of chemicals being used. In fact he has only used a total of 15 litres of fungicides in the last twelve years, having only to treat the occasional outbreak of Fusarium. Weed control is also kept to a minimum. Chemical treatments are only used on weeds on greens, tees and approaches as a last resort. Good cultural practices are encouraged instead.
Each course has its own irrigation systems with the Cheshire having irrigation on tees greens and approaches and the water being drawn from the mains. The Nicklaus course has irrigation on tees, greens, approaches and fairways with water being drawn from recycled water systems from the hotel wastewater.
Two full time mechanical engineers are kept very busy maintaining and repairing the wide range of machinery held at the course. Andy has recently decided to change to TORO equipment and is gradually replacing the old for new. The mechanical work hops are kitted out with all the essential items of equipment, including grinding and hydraulic lifting machines that enable the efficient maintenance of machinery at the club. The club has also acquired a new £20,000 washing down facility, enabling efficient recycling of the waste water.
Andy's main aim is to continue to improve the appearance and performance of the greens so that they provide a consistent surface throughout the year, culminating in both courses being ready for the annual De Vere PGA Seniors Championship Tournament and The European Tour Qualifying School scheduled for August and September.
As with many course managers, the critical component for any success is the quality, experience and commitment of the staff. These qualities do not come overnight; they have to be developed with appropriate management practices, resources and training. Keeping good staff is a priority issue at any golfing establishment, however staff will often leave to further their careers. Therefore, ongoing staff education and training programmes are vital to ensure the potential advancement of any staff within the organisation. Martin Thompson, who has been at Carden Park for seven years, is leaving his post of Head Greenkeeper on the Cheshire course to take up a new appointment at Myerscough College as a tutor/assessor. This has given Andy the opportunity to promote John Evans to Head Greenkeeper.
Education and training are the key factors in improving employees' skills and experiences that, in return, improve the standing of greenkeepers and groundsmen in the industry. As current chairman of BIGGA, Andy wants to make a concerted effort to bring all the trade organisations, industry leaders and education authorities together to take the industry forward both in this country and abroad. This will in time improve the level of technical expertise of all who work in the turf grass industry.