Chiltern Forest Golf Club sits midway between Aylesbury and Tring in one hundred acres of beautiful, undulating Buckinghamshire countryside in the Aylesbury Vale. It is best described as a chalk downland course, but with some parkland characteristics. At just 5,300 yards (par 69) it is not a long course, but Head Greenkeeper Steven Horwood is keen to point out that its length doesn't tell the whole story; "the terrain provides a real challenge for all golfers. It's more about placement than length. To score well, you have to plot your way round the golf course. It is really unique in that way. This was highlighted in Golf Monthly magazine in 2011, where we were recognised as one of the UK's top 100 Hidden Gems."
Steven has been at Chiltern Forest for twelve years. "I initially got involved in the golf industry through caddying at Moor Park Golf Club from the age of eleven," he begins. "I then started playing in the junior artisan section there, and this is where I came into contact with the then Course Manager, Gordon Childs. He offered me an apprenticeship and I've been in greenkeeping ever since. From Moor Park I moved on to Gerrards Cross Golf Club, where I was promoted up to Deputy Head Greenkeeper, and it was from here that I secured my current position at Chiltern Forest Golf Club in 2001."
"When I started my career, in 1978, there was no recognised training for greenkeeping other than the City and Guilds in horticulture as this was prior to the formation of BIGGA. I attended Oaklands College, St Albans for two years to achieve this. By 1984, I had moved on to Gerrards Cross Golf Club and the recognised qualification was now City and Guilds Greenkeeping and Sports Turf Management. I attended Maidenhead College, Burchetts Green to gain this. Since then, I have completed the NVQ Level 3 and A1 assessor courses and all relevant practical courses, including PA1, 2 and 6 spraying, ATV vehicles, self-propelled mowers, machinery maintenance, tractor driving, chainsaw crosscutting, maintenance and small tree felling and have attended the BIGGA sponsored management courses at Aldwark Manor."
Steven says that he is grateful to his parents for instilling a good work ethic. "They have always encouraged me in whatever I have done," he confesses. "In my greenkeeping career, John Nudds, my Course Manager at Gerrards Cross, was the one who gave me the belief and confidence required to become a head greenkeeper. Self belief is everything if you want to become a success in whatever profession you choose."
Steven manages a team of four; thirty-seven year old Scott Sanders has been with the club for seventeen years, Lewis Smith (36 with eleven years service), Peter Allam (27 - four years) and twenty-three year old Steven Edwards who joined the team just ten months ago.
"In addition, we work closely with Iain Richardson of Headland Amenity on our fertiliser programme," continues Steven. "We concentrate on providing a good, structured turf management programme that ensures a good healthy plant throughout the year. Allied to this is a preventative programme for disease. We have been on the same programme for nine years and are now producing good consistent surfaces throughout the year, with very little disease incidence."
Steven describes the soil profile as "rock chalk" and, with greens of varying ages and construction, he says that their management can be complex. "Our older greens were cut out of the existing chalk soil profile, with the newer greens built with a chalk, silt and soil cut and fill. We also have three greens constructed to a modified USGA specification."
"We have incorporated a drill-n-fill operation into some of our cut and fill greens, using Ecosol machines and operators. We drill down to twelve inches using three quarter inch diameter drills, which are then backfilled with a soil amendment product which is sometimes mixed with sand."
"Being a north facing course, we suffer extremes of temperatures during the winter months. If there is any snowfall, it can take long periods of time to clear on our shadier holes. We have coped very well this winter, despite record rainfall figures (230mm in January alone). We are fortunate that the course drains very quickly due to the soil type and being so high up."
"As long as the surfaces are healthy going into winter, the course holds up extremely well to the extremes of the weather. We have predominantly fescue fairways and they cope with all weather patterns."
Steven explains that the holes at the bottom of the course suffer from shade and lack of air flow and reduced light. "At times, it's like looking after two courses because, at the top of the course, the opposite applies."
Steven explains that greens are cut daily throughout the growing season. "We do double cut and roll on specific days, dependent on the importance of a competition or charity/society days."
Height of cut on the greens is dependent on the existing conditions at the time or on the importance of competitions, etc. This can range from 2.5mm to 3.5mm in the summer months to 4mm or 5mm in winter.
Tees are cut one to two times a week at 11mm throughout the season. Fairways can be cut up to three times a week, again dependent on the events going on, and are kept at 16mm all year round. Primary rough is cut to 25mm up to two times a week, semi rough once a week at 62mm and permanent rough/wildflower areas are cut back once a year around October time.
"I'm not big on measuring green speed as I believe that consistency is more important, although I have done, especially close to big events. We apply a wetting agent programme to the greens on a monthly basis throughout the growing season, using Headland's Tricure. We also use their Expedite soil amendment mixed with sand and incorporate it into the soil profile during any renovation programmes, especially if we are hollow coring."
"We are currently upgrading our irrigation system. SJS Irrigation are installing a new PC controlled Rainbird system, incorporating new valve-in-head sprinklers to greens and approaches. We have also added four new tees using block systems and irrigation to our practice green area. The irrigation system is the next stage in our development as a golf course, so that we can begin collating the data necessary to keep surfaces performing to their maximum throughout the year."
"Our water supply is sourced through the mains. We are obviously governed by the water authorities, if they were to impose any restrictions. At present, there are none, and we will now be able to show that we are more efficient with our use of water thanks to the new system and, therefore, have reduced wastage."
Ongoing improvements to the course are also an important part of the 'next stage', and the team have just finished putting in over 400m of buggy paths around the course and are planning to begin work on concreting their work yard area later this year.
"We constructed a new tee on the 3rd hole last year that also involved putting in an access path from the 2nd green down the 3rd hole to the 4th tees."
"Course presentation has improved dramatically in the last twenty years," comments Steven, "through the impact of self-propelled machines.
To me, eighty percent of our job now is all about presentation. As the demands to produce good consistent surfaces has increased, it has had the knock on effect of improving presentation standards."
As an example, a recent addition to the machinery fleet at Chiltern Forest has been a Toro ProCore pedestrian aerator. "We use solid and hollow tines on both tees and greens, and have a variety of different diameter tines. The depth and diameter of tine used is dependent on the time of year and the purpose of the task. For example, we will use pencil tines in the summer months just to keep surfaces open and prior to the use of any wetting agents/soil surfactants, which has less impact on play."
"When hollow coring (March), we will use Headlands C-Complex 4:3:4 and incorporate it into the soil profile to help stimulate microbial activity and root development. This is followed, in April, with their C-Complex 5:2:10, an organic mineral based fertiliser which contains humic acids and composted cow manure. They also have a processed seaweed extract which allows for a fast breakdown of the product, and a low temperature turf response, which is vital for us, as temperatures for good growth can be slow early in the year. We will then apply our first foliar application from mid May onwards, using Trisert 15:0:12, Seamac Ultra and a water soluble fertiliser, Solufeed NK 15:0:25."
"Our foliar applications used to be on a four week cycle. However, in the last two years, we have reduced the dose rate by 50%, but increased our applications to fortnightly. To me, this ensures a more consistent uptake to surfaces and stops any peaks and troughs that we used to get on our four week cycle."
"We will continue the same foliar applications through to August, but add in some growth regulator to try to keep surfaces playing and looking as consistent as possible."
"Renovations are then programmed in for August. This year, we are looking at incorporating a sand fill operation down to 20mm to dilute any thatch issues we may have, and the same 4:3:4 C-Complex will be applied. Once September comes, we are back to foliar treatments using an iron product with seaweed; Seamac Proturf. This is mixed with Turfite, a phosphite categorised plant elicitor and a liquid turf hardener and Vertex K potassium. This will be applied on a four to six week cycle and will be followed up with an application of Throttle fungicide as a preventative measure. We may add in some Iprodione as we go into the winter months, dependent on if there are any visual signs of disease."
Many golf clubs have been affected by budgetary controls in recent years due to the economic situation and Chiltern Forest are no exception. "We have had to prioritise any renovation work due to these restrictions. Needless to say, our greens have remained the absolute priority during this time," states Steven.
"We have a Greens Committee and I liaise closely with my Chairman and General Manager on the day to day workings on the course. I am responsible for ensuring that expenditure is kept within the parameters of the greens budget set out at the beginning of each financial year."
Steven goes on to discuss pests and diseases. "We have suffered a lot of turf damage in recent years due to badgers feeding on chafer grub activity. Budgetary controls mean we treat behind any damage seen, using Merit, but it does mean we pretty much follow them around wherever the damage is."
"Being on a chalk downland site means we do not suffer too much in terms of worm casting, as they tend to be further down in the soil profile. Our most problematic weeds are on some fairways, with speedwell (Veronica filiformis) prominent, as well as self-heal (Prunella vulgaris). We use Relay containing Mecoprop, MCPA and Dicamba. We are looking to use their Cabadex product this year, containing Fluxopyrand Florasulam, to try to combat these weeds."
Machinery has, in the past, been purchased on a five-year renewable finance deal, however, budget constraints meant that this was not achievable, so a seven-year plan was initiated instead. "We have fallen a bit behind the plan and are trying to play catch-up now," claims Steven.
"Recently, we were given funds to buy outright, which is how we purchased the Toro ProCore, and I'm not averse to buying secondhand if the right machine is available."
"We always purchase from our local dealers. I believe service back-up is very important when looking who to purchase from. We have a mixture of different make of machines using John Deere, Toro and Kubota. We have investigated using one machinery fleet, but it wasn't financially viable for us."
"We look at each different make and choose the best option for us, both practically and financially."
"The quality of cut on fairways has greatly increased since we purchased the Toro 5500 fairway mower in 2002. We have since replaced this machine with the Toro 5610. Our presentation on fairways really stands out visually now against the backdrop of our views and tree line. Equally, the recent purchase of the Toro ProCore pedestrian aerator will ensure we can make more passes on greens this year in terms of cultural practice, whilst the Thatchaway and vibro-roller attachments on our Toro 3250 greens triples will ensure we can produce good consistent surfaces on greens."
"We put in a new washdown facility about nine years ago having consulted with the environment agency. We use an oil separator facility, which allows us to close off the system should we need to."
"We work closely with the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation who advise us on how to manage our long rough/wildflower areas. Chiltern Woodlands Project are currently involved in setting up a woodland management programme for us."
"The flora and fauna at Chiltern Forest is an important part of our site. Our box woods are quite unique and particularly rare. They are good for a range of invertebrates and also breeding birds. We have seen Edible Dormice (Glis glis) nesting in some of our yew trees. These were introduced to our site over one hundred years ago by the land owner at that time, Rothschild, who brought them into the country at that time.
We are also fortunate to host a number of rare plants, including pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis), fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera), bee orchids (Ophrys apifera), cowslip (Primula veris) and twayblade (Neottia ovata)."
Steven believes that continuous training is worthwhile. "It is important, in a small team, for everyone to be able to perform all tasks. The team can be more efficient then. It is also important for staff in terms of developing themselves, as it ensures a more rounded professional, should they seek bigger challenges in future."
"Prior to BIGGA, there was no recognised training set up, so you learned off your head man. Coming into the industry as a young apprentice in 1978, I had to buy my own boots, there were no uniforms and ear defenders were never seen. The changes BIGGA has brought about have really advanced us as a profession and, today, there are no limits to what you can achieve in this industry should you wish to do so.
However, the one-on-one training I received as a young man should not be underestimated and is still important in how young greenkeepers develop. Our industry is strong at the moment and there are some fantastic opportunities for young greenkeepers out there as are reported often in the pages of this magazine."
"But we are still undervalued. We have tried very hard to promote ourselves in a more professional image and the hierarchy in most clubs appreciate the work we do and the professionalism we show. However, my experience of most golfers is that they just want to play the game and go home and, if they miss that four foot putt to win the monthly medal, it won't be their fault, it will be ours!"
"I think we are doing as much as we can to raise our profile here at Chiltern Forest. We have held open evenings, as we did at Gerrards Cross when I was there. What I found at both clubs though is that there will be a hard core of members who are interested and will attend each year, but you very rarely see any new faces wishing to learn about how a course is managed. It goes back to my previous comment about golfers just wanting to turn up and play. So, each year, we are effectively preaching to the converted. But we persevere."
"We have used newsletters, greens reports, notice boards and have held course walks. Social media is an area we are beginning to use now as well. Communication, communication, communication as they say."
What's in the shed?
Toro 3250 triples + attachments (thatchaway units, vibro rollers, topdressing brushes) - greens x 2
John Deere 2500 triple - tees, approaches
Saxon 22" cylinder hand mowers - greens x 4
Saxon 27" cylinder hand mowers - tees x 2
John Deere 500 - primary rough
Toro 5610 fairway mower - fairways
Kubota 3680 rotary deck rough mowers - semi rough x 2
Kubota 5700 tractor with Quicke loader.
Kubota ST40 compact tractor
Allen National triples x 2
Cushman turf truckster
John Deere xuv all terrain vehicle
John Deere 6x4 all terrain vehicle
Toro ProCore pedestrian spiker
Trilo 200 Leaf Vacuum
Gambetti Barre 300 tractor mounted sprayer
The boy's done good!
Steven's son, Stuart Horwood, is currently working as an intern at Quail Hollow Golf Club in North Carolina, where he has four months to complete as part of the Ohio State University program. Here, he explains how he came to get the opportunity to fulfil a long-held ambition
Before coming out to America, I worked at The Grove in Hertfordshire for seven years, covering spray techniques, irrigation and, for a temporary time, was head greenkeeper. I had some great mentors there, especially Course Manager Phil Chiverton, and appreciate the opportunities I got and the time he spent developing me.
I was introduced into the industry through my dad. I always knew what I wanted to do and loved working on a golf course. I will always look up to him; he has supported and encouraged everything I do.
When I left school, he told me he would never give me a job! That would have been the easy option and he knew that I'd be better if I did my own thing, explaining that a father/son relationship in a small team could go either way. He has a good team at Chiltern Forest and I visit regulary. The best thing about my dad and greenkeeping is talking, I learn so much from him and he always listens to my ideas.
For a manager, this is so important to your team. Ideas need to be heard. But, you need to listen and be approachable. A good question to ask yourself is 'does your team follow you because they want to or because they have to'?
My dad has over thirty years of experience, which I couldn't buy, and I'm lucky and proud to have him as a father.
I've always been around golf, just like my dad. My granddad, Jim Horwood, played to a handicap of 1 for the majority of his golfing life and was in the Hertfordshire county side that Nick Faldo and Ken Brown passed through.
It has always been a dream for me to experience working on a PGA tour venue in the USA. The Ohio programme made it possible and I'd encourage any young greenkeeper take the plunge; you won't regret it.
The life experience is something I'll never forget. The superintendent at Quail Hollow - Chris Deariso - has given me good opportunities to experience the American culture, including American football, ice hockey, a Thanksgiving dinner, cookouts and tailgating.
On the work side, it is nothing like you get back home. Where else could you overseed with rye grass and then transition back to bermuda for the build up to a PGA tournament - the Wells Fargo Championship at the beginning of May. Through the superintendent, I have also been given the opportunity to work at one of the four majors; the PGA Championship at Valhalla in August.
After the Wells Fargo in May 2013, Quail Hollow shut for three months to renovate and improve the course. Hole 16 is completely new and seventeen tees have been moved. The greens were completely changed from bent to mini verde bermuda, including new subsoil to USGA specification. Hundreds of trees were taken out, one for better golf holes, but also so the bermuda greens could get more sunlight.
I arrived in October, just after my induction in Columbus, Ohio. Here, I managed to taste the university's nightlife, see the college football stadium - which is around 105,000 capacity - and went and helped out one of the assistants at Muirfeild Village who had previously been an intern at The Grove. It was for the 2013 Presidents Cup and was a great introduction to America.
My first day at Quail was quite hectic. They had recently overseeded, wall to wall, with rye grass and the course was due for its first mow. The course was looking great, with the rye grass establishing and the trees turning colour for the fall.
Member tournaments were a regular occurrence, so the new mini verde bermuda greens were being put through their paces, mowing first thing in the morning and then quad rolling almost every day. We had to use boards to help protect the young rye grass collars from wearing out.
Once winter time settled in, we focused on attention to detail and back of house areas. They do a thorough job of keeping everything neat and tidy. Another job was splitting wood; they have a big wood store here for members during the winter.
With the new Bermuda greens, we covered them with a permeable transparent plastic cover when temps got below 25OF. On one occasion, the temperatures got down to single figures, so we helped the insulation by putting pine straw on top of the covers.
The weather here is extreme and changes daily. For instance, in one week we had twelve inches of snow, a day of 75OF and a thunderstorm that dropped two inches of rain!
As I write this in mid-March we have had a couple of stints of nice weather. The Wells Fargo tournament is six weeks away and the place is starting to look immaculate in readiness for the TV cameras to show our work to the world.
This is our busiest time. Grandstands are going up and there is a lot of work to do. One things that does work well is bleaching the bunkers.
It turns the sand back to bright white and, with the weather back home in the UK, I think that it is something that could make a huge difference to the presentation of golf courses coming out of winter.
Throughout the winter, there has been no stripes when mowing. This is because, for the tournament, everything is light and dark so every time we mow tees, fairways and rough, it is always in a different direction.
Once the tournament is over, the focus will be on the transition back to Bermuda. The rye grass will have a chemical applied to kill it off.
Leading up to the tournament, only nitrogen is applied and no phosphorus or potassium, this is so the transition will be easier and so the roots are not as healthy as they could be (in theory).
The first week of June is our renovation week where fairways, rough, tees and approaches will be cored out. We have two Toro tractor mounted corers and one pedestrian.
For the tournament, the fleet will all be Toro and there will be up to 120 greens staff, including two guys from the UK, Danny Allen who works at Centurion and Callum Herbst, who is a senior greenkeeper at The Grove. I think it will be great for them and their respective CVs and shows their commitment to their careers.
All greenkeepers should experience a tournament conditioned golf course to feel the buzz and to see how it is done and, possibly, take some tips back to their club.
When I return in September, I hope to find a deputy's job, although it's the wrong time of year. I know one thing is certain; that I'll stay in the turf management industry. I couldn't think of any other job with the same satisfaction.
My future is uncertain at the moment. I might even travel abroad again for the winter, having previously done a stint in Abu Dhabi. For the moment, I'm just looking forward to the remainder of my time in the USA and the pga Championship at Valhalla.