Just a few miles down the road from Belfast, Clandeboye Golf Club boasts two 18-hole courses situated in the idyllic surroundings of Lady Dufferin's Estate. Chris McCullough met with Course Manager Terry Crawford to find out more about life in this rather 'soggy' region of the UK.
Back in 1930, the first course was created by William Renwick Robinson, a local linen merchant with a love of golf and a flair for landscaping. Three years later, Clandeboye Golf Club was formed and is now home to the Dufferin Course, one of the highest rated championship courses in Ireland, and the shorter Ava Course.
William's hard work, combined with a sound personal knowledge of the technical problems involved moving mountains of soil, boulders, bracken and gorse, laid the foundations of what has now become one of the most challenging golfing tracts in Ireland.
Historically speaking, the name Clandeboye is anglicised from the Gaelic. In the year 559, the monks of St Comgall's Bangor monastery grazed their flocks on what is now the Dufferin course.
The original Clandeboye course played host to all the major Irish championships until the early 1970s when, after very fierce arguments among club members, Robinson's original layout was changed.
The present Dufferin Course emerged from a design by German architect Baron Von Limburger in association with former Ryder Cup stars Dave Thomas and Peter Allis.
In keeping with the original vision of Robinson, Clandeboye has continued to develop and improve its facilities. Set in 350 acres of land, this development has consolidated Clandeboye's reputation as one of the finest golfing experiences of its kind in Ireland.
This is well borne out by the number of major golf events held over the years, including European Mens' and Ladies' tournaments, the European Challenge Tour and numerous top Golfing Union of Ireland amateur events.
And the latest news from Clandeboye Golf Club is that it is hosting the GolfCatcher PGA EuroPro Tour event this summer which the club hopes is the first step on the road to luring the Irish Open to the Ards Peninsula.
The club's inaugural EuroPro tournament will be played from 19th to 21st August, with a high profile Pro-Am to be followed by a three-day professional competition.
With so many games on the go and more to come, Golf Course Manager Terry Crawford is a really busy man and, together with his team, always strives to have both courses at Clandeboye Golf Club looking their best.
Terry, who also doubles up as the club's facility manager, has worked there for almost thirty years and still enjoys the job every single day.
"I worked at a number of golf clubs prior to coming to Clandeboye, including six years at Newtownstewart Golf Club, four years at Armagh Golf Club, then to here for almost thirty years," said Terry.
Terry attended Elmwood College in Scotland for training and cites the late Walter Wood, a former course manager at St Andrews Golf Club, for inspiring him to move forward in the greenkeeping industry.
As the club's facility manager, Terry sets the annual budgets and has it agreed by the greens and full committee. As mentioned, there are two eighteen hole courses at Clandeboye that Terry manages, each with their own characteristics.
"The Ava course is eighty percent heathland and the Dufferin course is one hundred percent parkland. Both are eighteen hole courses and are spread over 350 acres, so there is plenty of room."
"In terms of length, the Ava course is 5,742 yards and 70 par, whilst the larger Dufferin course is 6,559 with a par of 71. The Dufferin course is set on 200 acres and the Ava course on 150 acres," he said.
A strong team of dedicated employees work alongside Terry to ensure the greens and course is kept as pristine as it can be.
Six full time greens staff with two assistants and one mechanic work with Terry on a daily basis and a further three part time staff are employed in the summer period.
"The total years of experience that our greenkeepers have extends to 194 years, which is a real testament to the hard work they all put in," Terry said. "Having a workshop technician is also vital to the smooth running on a large golf complex. We try to maintain and service all our machinery in-house to keep costs down."
"The workshop is also fitted out with our own grinders and high lift ramp to make all servicing safer. If my mechanic has a rush of breakdowns then one of my other staff helps out."
Terry calls in outside help for some specialist jobs on the courses. "We use three summer helpers from April to September. I don't have a consultant, but I would use the STRI Group at times to carry out thatch level organic material guidance. We would also use contractors at the main maintenance times to help clear cores and carry out verti-draining to fairways."
"The soil profiles here consist of heavy soil in general, which get wet easily, but dry out fast and become firm afterwards. There are thirty-four push up soil greens and two sand base greens."
"I carry out the same aeration and feeding programme to all greens, but the two sand greens do get additional wetting agents and a little more nutrients. We apply one granular feed early April and then work off a liquid Primo and nutrient feeds every fourteen days to maintain consistency and growth levels."
"Should we need any extra equipment during the course of our work, then we would hire in diggers and other equipment and operate them ourselves," he said.
The weather in Northern Ireland can be very unpredictable at the best of times and the country does get its fair share of rain, which can be a nightmare for the greenkeepers in terms of flooding.
"We just have too much rain in Northern Ireland," said Terry. "If the conditions get too wet, then I try to reduce all cutting if not required and we rope off the areas around the greens early to ensure no damage is done to the most important areas. Roping these areas early is really the key here to avoid damage."
"We also have shade problems on our Ava Course on several competition tee boxes which are surrounded by large trees, but we have introduced synthetic tee mats and the members are happy with these."
"If there are any frosty conditions, or when we are carrying out maintenance, we use temporary greens. On both courses, there are also short game areas with two practice bunkers and an area where you can hit shots up to a three iron only," he said.
Terry and his team follow a fairly stringent maintenance regime to keep the courses looking their best. With the amount of rainfall, Northern Ireland can certainly grow grass, therefore the greenkeepers have to be very proactive, particularly during the summer time.
"Our maintenance programme kicks off in the spring time with vertidraining using 12mm tines to a depth of eight inches, followed up with Air2G2 and then lightly verticut and heavily sanded."
"A granular fertiliser would be applied early April when soil temperatures are around eight to ten degrees Centigrade. Fairways and tees are scarified and fertiliser applied at low rates to encourage growth and help seed germination as we would be carrying out an all course divot programme."
"On the greens, after six weeks, we would start applying Primo and nutrients at low amounts every twelve or fourteen days, weather permitting. This ensures steady uniform growth which I can control using light sand topdressing and verticutting."
"Using these techniques, we can create constant green speeds around 9 to 10.5 on the stimp which my membership are very happy with. Around mid-August I carry out vertidraining again and grading to a depth of 20mm."
"We then lightly sand, mat in and then apply grass seed using a droplet spreader, mat in again and then apply more sand to ensure all grade lines are filled to finish."
"We roll greens with our speed roller. Prior to our maintenance, we always spray a disease preventative three days before which ensures some protection against fusarium," he said.
All of Terry's staff are trained for a variety of jobs with some specialising in operations that require advanced education.
"I have three spray operators to carry out the greens maintenance operations, but all men are trained on all equipment and we switch regularly."
"Switching the jobs around keeps the operators fresh and then they don't get bored and start losing interest. When we carry out autumn greens maintenance, all staff work together to complete the job quickly.
"Presentation is a big factor here at Clandeboye Golf Club on both courses. Our membership expects this as we are surrounded with lots of well manicured golf clubs fighting for the same pound, so we must always produce consistent surfaces which play well and look good to the eye," he said.
As mentioned, the weather plays an important role on the maintenance of golf courses, but climate change is also affecting programmes, especially where seasonal work is concerned.
"We carry out all greens maintenance a lot earlier now," Terry said. "It used to be mid-September, but now we do all greens work in mid-August for much quicker recovery times and less chance of disease attack."
"Regular soil samples are taken every two seasons to see what the ph readings are and if there is anything that is showing as deficient that require me to either increase or decrease applications."
"Members are always kept well informed about what work we are carrying out on the courses via regular newsletters, on the notice boards and with course walks. It is the only way that we, as course managers, become more professional and educate the golfer in what goes on behind the scenes," he added."
Terry and his team have just completed a full length buggy path around the Ava Course which allows buggy access all year round.
This new path has helped provide disabled golfers the opportunity to play all year round and not just during the summer months.
Terry said: "We have a fleet of buggies which now bring revenue in for us all year round, which pays for the path system."
"During the past few years, we have added a lake onto our Dufferin course and, more recently, added a new plastic liner into it."
"We also installed a sleeper face all around the sides, which has turned out great. And we have started to install synthetic tees on heavily played tee boxes for winter play."
"Other than maintaining the courses, we also keep an eye on the surrounding woodland, removing any downed branches to enhance the safety for members and guests."
"We try and carry out any work ourselves but, at times, we bring in tree climbers as my staff are not trained to climb," he added.
Terry ensures all his team are fully trained with current legislations in health and safety, with all staff qualified to level three.
"My two assistants are fully trained to administer first aid and all staff have been trained to use the defibrillator at work," he said.
The machinery replacement policy has changed over the years, just like it has at many similar venues as budgets tighten.
Terry explains: "We used to work to a five year replacement plan for machinery but, as the purse strings became a little tighter, we now purchase as required and have increased our mechanic maintenance budget."
"Normally, machinery and equipment are purchased from our local dealers. I have a multi-colour, multi-brand filled workshop. I buy the best machine, regardless of its colour.
"Out of all the equipment, I would say the Air2G2 and the Toro ProCore 648 aerator, along with my tractor mounted grader, are very useful machines."
"Sometimes, we do hire in machines to carry out fairway vertidraining, clearing up cores and sanding fairways, if required."
"There is also a large washdown area and pit that we constructed, which gets cleaned out three times a year," he said.
Most outdoor sporting venues have some kinds of problems with various diseases and pests. Clandeboye Golf Club is situated near woodland which can add to the problem.
"When it comes to diseases, it's mainly fusarium that affects us," Terry said. "In terms of pests, we have had badgers digging up areas during the spring for a few years now."
"Conservation and wildlife, when controlled, are very valuable to a golf course. With that in mind, I try and leave areas all around both courses that have any type of flower and colour that enhances the landscape."
"We put up fifteen bird boxes last season and have also sown out some areas with wild annual flowers near tee boxes," said Terry.
The greenkeeping industry has endured its fair share of highs and lows over the years and Terry has certainly noticed some changes in his long career.
What's in the shed?
Toro 3250 Greensmaster
Toro 3550 Reelmaster
Jacobsen Eclipse mower
Toro Greens mower
Jacobsen Triking 1900D x 4
Jacobsen LF 4677 x 2
Toro 4700 Groundsmaster x 2
Kubota L3600 tractor
Kubota L4200 tractor
Kubota L5030 tractor
Toro 648 ProCore
John Deere Gators x 3
Wiedenmann Terra Spike
Trimax rough mower