Coed-Y-Mwstwr Golf Club is situated midway between Cardiff and Swansea just south of the M4 and close to the town of Bridgend. Its English name of 'whispering woods' perfectly describes its peaceful, tree lined fairways and wooded location. Tending the 'green stuff' and much more is Head Greenkeeper Andrew Hatcher, who currently heads up a full-time team of three
Welsh for 'Whispering Woods', Coed-Y-Mwstwr Golf Club was founded in 1994 and, as the name suggests, is located in wooded countryside on the outskirts of Bridgend, South Wales.
The course was originally nine holes and progressed to twelve holes in 1995. An additional twenty-seven acres of land was purchased in 2003 and, with grant aid from Sportlot for construction work for six additional holes, the 18-hole layout was officially opened in June 2006. The course has a mature look beyond its years thanks to sympathetic design work keeping many original features, including a 19th Century walled garden on the 5th and mature horse chestnuts commanding the landscape.
The parkland course occupies a total of 120 acres and measures 5,738 yards with a par of 69.
Tending the course is Head Greenkeeper Andrew Hatcher, who makes up a team of three full-timers that includes his twin brother Richard and Graham (Sarge) David, who has been with the club for over twenty years. The club took on a new apprentice in February - Jake Hapgood - who will be starting college this autumn, whilst Neil Perry is employed as a summer casual. Each member of staff is trained and 'up to speed' on what they need to know to comply with the club's own health, safety and training manual. Ongoing training includes risk assessment, manual handling and first aid courses every two years or so.
Andrew's career began as a YTS apprentice at LLantrisant & Pontyclun Golf Club, which afforded him the opportunity to attend Pencoed College and gain his qualifications which, along with further training, comprise City & Guilds 1- 4 Sports Turf and all relevant spraying certificates.
After six years at LLantrisant & Pontyclun, Andrew moved to Creigiau Golf Club, where he remained for ten years, until his current position at Coed-Y-Mwstwr became available eleven years ago. "I am grateful to my former managers Paul Davies and Robert Frater, both of whom inspired me to progress in this industry. I learned a great deal from both of them."
In 2004, the construction of six new holes, all built to USGA specification, was completed. The other twelve holes are soil push-up, but Andrew confirms that he treats them all much the same.
"We try to aerate the greens on a monthly basis using solid tines, and we'll also topdress them from April to September, again monthly, budget and weather condition allowing. During our maintenance week, we either use hollow tines or scarify; we overseed with bent seed during this period. If the budget allows, we verti-drain once a year. We will also sarrel roll the greens weekly or fortnightly with our Thatchaway units." Andrew states.
The soil profile is red clay on a limestone base, with a small layer of topsoil which is prone to drying out. One section of the course is prone to flooding during heavy rain. "This only occurs in the winter, and no more than three times," says Andrew. "Basically, it's a natural run for the water to move from the fields surrounding the course. A plan to address this issue will commence when the club can afford such action. It's not really led to a major problem, just wet feet for golfers!"
"Being in Wales it's simply the volume of rain we get," bemoans Andrew. "Each year is different, but the volume and rate it comes down now seems more frequent, especially during the summer months!"
In complete contrast, an upgrade to the irrigation system was carried out in-house over the past three years. "We only had hydrants on the greens, so a plan was drawn up to plough in pipe work, install swing joints, sprinklers and add valve sets. A cable was installed when the original ring main around the course was put in place. This was used to connect decoders, allowing us to operate our irrigation automatically.
The system supplies water to all eighteen greens and nine of the tee sets. We've come into the twenty-first century at last," enthuses Andrew.
"There are no specific projects planned for this winter, although a few greens are surrounded with trees, which presents a slight issue with shade and air flow, so we may look at that. Additionally, and under discussion, is the possible extension, remodelling or levelling out of the tees as required."
"Everything we do is affected by what budget is available," explains Andrew, "even our renovations, but we just have to work with what we're given. I am responsible for the available budget, reporting to the club's manager and, occasionally, the greens chairman."
"As for our general maintenance regimes, we cut the greens with a Toro TriFlex at 3-5mm, depending on the season. Rolling is performed with our Toro Greenspro as and when required, but is usually focused around competitions. Tees and approaches are cut with a Toro 3250 three times a week at 12mm. The main rough takes around a day and half to cut and is usually done twice a week, depending on growth rates, using our Toro 4000. Fairway and semi-rough is cut approximately three times a week with a Toro 5610 and Toro 3100 respectively."
"Bunkers are raked around three times a week. We try and perform our other tasks -strimming, edging bunkers, divot repairs and many others - on a Tuesday when our seniors have their day. Aeration and topdressing is carried out around our competitions using our tractor mounted ProCore, and topdressing is spread with a Dakota spinner, and is either brushed or dragmatted into the canopy."
"Weed control is carried out once a year around May time. Overseeding is carried out with our renovation works using bent seed. We start off with granular and then apply liquid feeds each month, including penetrant wetting agents, seaweed and biostimulants. I am always willing to try new products and we are currently using a compost tea; it takes a bit of preparation, but only time will tell how it works."
"We run with an 'all hands' approach, but all staff have different skill sets in which they each excel, including myself," says Andrew with a grin. "That way, we achieve a balance of duties to help cover holidays, sickness etc."
"At the end of the day, presentation ranks highly across the whole course. We take great pride in maintaining a tidy course and feel that it is improving each year."
"We currently undertake spraying for pests, disease and weed control in-house and will occasionally use a contractor for fairways. Like most courses, we suffer from fusarium patch, and have seen dollar spot over the last few years, but only on the fairways."
"We have problems with worms, rabbits and foxes. Worms are controlled by spraying, where required and budget allows, whilst the foxes only seem to make a mess in bunkers when the cubs are around, so no action is taken."
"The ecology and environment is very important to us. Whilst we don't currently have an environmental policy in place or work with any local or national environment agencies, it is always at the front of our minds. We operate a commonsense approach," Andrew states. "For example, we have numerous areas around the course which are left uncut during the main playing season to aid presentation and make the golf course more difficult to play. These areas are mown in early spring and come back quite quickly to help with ground cover for animals. This process has encouraged bees, voles and other flora and fauna and we have gained numerous local awards over the years for our work. Additionally, a local beekeeper keeps and maintains hives on the course and we have certainly seen an increase in the amount of bees around the hives."
Clearly, the trials and tribulations of tight budgets and the Welsh weather have not dampened Andrew's passion for the industry. "I believe we are in a healthy position, education wise, and the advances in machinery, plus the technical support we are provided, is excellent."
"The industry is doing well again, although some clubs in our area seem to be struggling more than in other parts of the country, where there are obviously many that are excelling."
"From a personal perspective, I believe we have all felt undervalued at some point; golfers not appreciating what we do, whilst salaries have never been ideal for regular greenkeepers. But we must keep our heads held high with pride."
And how would he raise our profile? "That's a difficult one. Without sounding negative, I believe we are all professionals; it is the lack of understanding that members and guests have about how much effort goes into delivering a high quality product, sometimes with limited resources, so I suppose better communication."
To that end, Andrew generally interacts with members with a newsletter a few times year, has a dedicated notice board and also uses social media. "I think we still need to educate golfers," he concludes.
What's in the shed?
Toro 5610 fairway mower
Toro 3400 TriFlex
Toro Greensmaster 3250 TriFlex Hybrid x 2
Toro Groundsmaster 4000-D
Toro Reelmaster 3100
Toro Groundsmaster 223-D
Toro Workman truck
Toro MDX truck
Toro Greenspro roller
Toro Procore 660 Aerator
Kubota tractor with loader
Sweep N Fill Brush
Hardi 400l Sprayer
Sisis tractor mounted scarifier
Dakota Turf Tender 410 mounted topdresser
Thatchaway sarrel roller (one set)
Bernhard Express Dual 2000
Strimmer x 2 (one with attachments)
"General machinery maintenance is carried out in-house, including servicing. Repairs and suchlike are outsourced to a local mechanic and Ted Hopkins Ltd., who are based near Newport.
During my first few years of employment, the machinery was in a poor state and was constantly needing repairs. We looked at various suppliers whilst the club worked on a financial package to suit.
We eventually invested in Toro machines from Ted Hopkins and are currently half way through our second 5-year replacement plan with them.
Whilst we are loyal to Toro, we also purchase other individual pieces of machinery as necessary.
We hire in a verti-drain with operator and an excavator for any project work we might be doing.
Next on the list is a wash down area."