Weymouth Golf Club is accessed off of Links Road; "but it's a parkland course," states Rob Bayliss, who has been the head man at the club since 1978. "I was twenty-two at the time, with just two assistants that started the same time as me. Both were not long out of school with no experience of the job at all."
Now Course Manager, Rob's long association with the club has not diminished his enthusiasm. Indeed, it could be said that the innovations seen in the industry have helped to keep him 'fresh'.
"In my forty-five years in the industry, I have seen a complete transformation. Many of the jobs that were slow, laborious and manual are now done in a fraction of the time as machinery has been introduced to carry out jobs, like topdressing for instance. And nobody could have predicted the impact computers and modern technology would have on the work we do."
"And there's the ecological aspect to consider. On older golf courses, like Weymouth, that were once in open country but are now surrounded by housing, the rough on the course may be the only remaining vestige of native grass in the area. Apart from its playing strategy, it has great benefit to the community as a whole. I remember a time when golfers had no interest in wildlife at all and expected everything cut down so they could find a lost ball. It took a long time to get the message across, but there has definitely been a great change in attitudes over the years. I think we still have some way to go before the wider public realises what an asset golf courses are to the nation and that preserving them benefits all of us."
Rob believes that it is vitally important to involve the membership. "I write a monthly newsletter that is made available to members on the clubhouse notice board, and menu albums in the bar, the internet and Facebook. This gives members information on any forthcoming work that is planned, updates on any progress to our work, and anything else that crops up the members need to know about."
"It took a long time for them to take much note, but they slowly started to get noticed and read. They have now become very popular and I get a lot of positive feedback from members, some of whom look forward to my scribbling," he jokes.
"I find that a lot more members have become aware that we do a lot more than perhaps they previously realised and maybe appreciate more nowadays that the greenstaff are trying to do the best they can."
"The other major communication tool I use is a full report on all work that has been carried out on the course for the week, which is emailed to everyone on the greens committee. They then send this round to everybody on committee to keep everyone in the loop. This too has proven to be a greater success than I thought possible. The Greens Chairman likes it because I am effectively writing his monthly greens report. The committee likes it because they know what is going on and realise that the greenstaff do earn their keep after all. It also appears to have broken down the 'them and us' barrier between the staff and committee. I only wish I realised this when I started out in greenkeeping; it would have made life a lot easier."
"Communicate as much as you can," states Rob. "The more that you can teach members about what is going on at 'their' club, the more support you will get from the majority to do what you want. Let's be honest, greenkeepers are often at the receiving end of personality clashes, so the more friends, supporters and respect you have, the harder it is for the devil to do his worst."
"In a nutshell, members love stripes. A course that looks attractive from the moment a player arrives will help them to enjoy their surroundings and get some measure of enjoyment from their game. A player that has enjoyed the experience of playing a course is more likely to keep coming back for more. It also has a major effect on staff morale to be working in an attractive setting and creates great job satisfaction and pride amongst the team," Rob concludes.
The greenkeeping staff has now grown from the somewhat inexperienced trio of the seventies, to a highly qualified team of four plus a trainee.
Robert Mabb is Rob's Deputy Course Manager, who has been with the club for thirty years. "A member of the club, man and boy," comments Rob.
"Then there are two qualified greenkeepers; James Hallett with eleven years service - he came to us from Weymouth Football Club where he was the groundsman - and Mark Venner (five years) who previously worked at Chippenham, Bath and the Manor House Hotel and Golf Club."
"Ben Tyrrell is our trainee greenkeeper, who has been here for one year and is studying greenkeeping at Kingston Maurward College in nearby Dorchester. He was already a junior member of the golf club before he started working for me. He asked me about becoming a greenkeeper at Weymouth before leaving school so, not surprisingly, he is very keen to learn and is doing well."
"With the exception of Ben, every member of staff is qualified to use pesticides and chainsaws as well as their normal greenkeeping qualifications. Ben will be expected to study and pass his spraying tests in the fullness of time so that he can carry out his fair share of the spraying."
Every member of staff is given an annual appraisal to determine any future training needs that would benefit them and/or the club. "Training and education is the foundation on which any successful enterprise is built," extols Rob. "Giving people the opportunity for self improvement boosts their confidence and self esteem, and their work rate and commitment to the job will be reflected in that. Greenkeeping is too technical and members' expectations are too high now to consider just employing labourers and machine operatives. There can be no excuse, in this day and age, not to offer everyone and anyone proper training and education."
Rob continues: "The team work to a four week rotation of jobs. This ensures that everyone becomes proficient at every job on the course. Therefore, in the event of holidays or sick leave, there is always someone to step in and fill the role. From the greenkeeper's point of view, the work is always varied from one week to the next."
"I am responsible for first aid," adds Rob, "but sympathy is not my strong point, so everyone best avoid having accidents in the first place!"
"All workshop requirements are generally undertaken in-house. If there is a job we cannot tackle ourselves, we call in a mobile mechanic. Our location is on the boundary limits of the firms we deal with. This means that, if we relied on suppliers to carry out servicing and repairs, we would have to add in travelling time and cost to the equation. As a result, we have to be self sufficient in maintaining and repairing our equipment."
"We don't use any part-time or seasonal labour as a rule but, if a local student needs to get practical experience, we are always happy to help out. On the weekends when I am on duty, my wife comes along to help out and rakes bunkers for me. Bless her."
"We don't use agronomists or consultants. These days, we haven't found a need to use their services, and the club seems quite happy to continue taking our advice on how best to do the job, which comes back to good communication."
"We use John Pierson and his team if we have any major projects that are out of our normal remit. In recent years, he carried out most of the drainage installation as well as rebuilding all our tees over a four year period. We have known John since the early 1980s, when he worked for his father Brian, after he was given the contract to build six new holes due to local road improvements. The greens were laid on a gravel carpet with a fensoil/sand rootzone mix and returfed using turf from the old greens."
"Managing a budget is an absolute must for anyone trying to run a golf course," states Rob. "I doubt there can be many clubs left where the greenkeeper doesn't run his own budget. But I do remember the days when it was the exception rather than rule for greenkeepers to manage their own department."
"At Weymouth, each head of department is responsible for their own department. The course manager and his staff are the people who are best placed to make a difference to their own work environment."
"Whilst my budget for renovation work and any ongoing projects is affected to a certain degree, the time available is probably the greatest factor these days. For example, mowing the course continues much longer into the autumn and winter than it used to, partly because members expect a much higher standard of course presentation than they used to. Improvements in machinery design over the past few decades, particularly fairway mowers, has helped make this possible. This year, with late autumn and early winter being so mild, the greenstaff have been too busy mowing to spend much time to tackle major renovation and projects."
Projects that have been undertaken in recent years have been carried out to make significant improvements. "All our tees were rebuilt over a four year period with a full drainage carpet, fensoil and sand rootzone. Many of the old tees were a bit of a hotchpotch, where the original postage stamp tees had just been added to with more of the same. We designed all the new tees to be large, single tier level, with a winter mat included into the design. The end result was a set of tees with more tee positions and much easier maintenance for machinery and equipment access. The bulk of the work was put out to contract and John Pierson undertook the work."
"Following on from that, we embarked on a programme of bunker renovation. Over a four year period, every bunker on the course was rebuilt by the greenstaff. We had received comments about sand quality in the bunkers, many of which were prone to contamination with silt following heavy rain. We sourced a material that fulfilled the USGA criteria for bunker sands and, after this proved acceptable to the majority, we embarked on a programme of rebuilding the bunkers on the course. Removing the old sand, cleaning out the drains, reshaping and topping up with fresh sand. The opportunity was also taken to adjust the location of bunkers to bring them into play or improve the strategy of a hole."
Weymouth is a parkland course built on heavy Oxford clay. At 6,044 yards, par 70 it is not long by modern standards and is dissected by a main road, with holes 10 to 13 on the west side. The total acreage is around 120. There is just the one 18-hole course. "One is enough," interjects Rob.
The Weymouth climate is mild and snow in the town is very rare. "There's a line of chalk hills to the north of us and cloudy weather will often pass us by and follow the hills to the north," explains Rob. "Visitors frequently remark that they have driven through bad weather and, as they drive down the hill into Weymouth, find the sun is shining."
"On the rare occasions we get a frost, we bring in temporary greens to protect the main ones, and we have an extra temporary green to bring in to play if we need to close a hole for maintenance. This keeps the members playing a full eighteen holes for the duration of the work."
"Most of the original greens date back to 1909 when the course was built. They are on the native clay with an accumulation of many years of sandy topdressing on top. Pipe drainage was installed ten years ago when the course stayed open longer in winter due to mole ploughing (see over)."
"Shade is becoming a problem on some greens and tees. In the 1970s, the members embarked on a programme of tree planting around the course. Large numbers of Leyland Cypress were planted and these have now become large enough to be a nuisance. As a result, we have been cutting down any that started to restrict light and air flow reaching greens."
"Other species have now grown tall enough to give the course some seclusion from the outside world; the course wasn't always so pretty. One end of the course abuts a modern industrial estate, the building of which resulted in a new road being cut across the bottom of the course. Whereas other courses in the middle of beautiful countryside may not need to worry so much about the finer details, in our case, it is very important. The team have always had to pay attention to the finer details."
"I wanted an outdoor job. A friend was a groundsman and suggested I give it a try, so I got a job at the civil service ground at Chiswick. I was lucky in that the team working there at the time taught me a lot.
From there I went to work at the Royal Parks in London, but couldn't afford the cost of living in the capital on those wages, so moved to Dorset. I got a job as groundsman with the local schools. The job came up at Weymouth and here I am.
I had studied horticulture, which was useful for soils, fertility, botany and so on. In those days, there were very few colleges offering turfculture related courses; and none at all in Dorset. So I applied to take the IOG exams which I studied for and travelled up to London to take.
As far as I know, nobody else in the Dorset area had gone down this route and so, with no clear idea of what questions would be set, I tended to cram a lot more knowledge in than if I were at college. The fact that I was prepared to make the effort to learn, when nobody else tried, gave me a great advantage."
What's in the shed?
Toro 3250 greens mower
Jacobsen Eclipse hybrid greens mower
John Deere 8700 fairway mower
John Deere 8800 semi rough mower
Ransomes ride-on rotary mower
Cushman trucks x 3 with various attachments.
Toro Multipro sprayer
Kubota L4200 tractor
John Deere 3520 fitted with Lewis front loader and backhoe
John Deere Aerocore
Turf-Co Wide Spin topdresser
Tru-Turf greens iron
Greentek Thatchaways and Overseeders
John Deere pedestrian mowers x 4
Dabro mole plough
Hunter Juno grinder
Key machinery, such as mowers, are bought on a five year rotation programme. All major items are bought on lease purchase agreements.
We use local dealers.
All manufactures make their fair share of good equipment, so I prefer to buy the best that suits our needs, wherever it comes from.
We have a Course Care washdown area that is compliant with current legislation.