In the suburb of Edgbaston alone, several top flight sporting venues can be found, including the splendidly upgraded Test venue home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, Edgbaston Priory Tennis Club, Birmingham University Sportsground and Edgbaston Golf Club, along with some of the finest city parks - Cannon Hill, Calthorpe Park, Birmingham Nature Centre and Birmingham Botanical Gardens - and all within a five mile radius of each other.
One of the lesser known sites on that list is Edgbaston Golf Club, a parkland course that is a true hidden gem. It is not easily seen from the road but, once discovered, the extent of its value to the city can be appreciated.
Established in 1896, the club pride themselves on being one of the finest private member golf clubs in the Midlands. The 18 hole course, designed by Harry S. Colt, is just two miles from the centre of Birmingham. The course includes an ornamental lake and plays through extensive mature woodland with small greens and tight fairways. The only clue to its city position is the occasional glimpse of a high rise building. The magnificent clubhouse has wonderful views across the course.
Having spent years driving past the golf club, with no real excuse to pay a visit, I was delighted to receive a call form their course manager, Eddie Mills, inviting me to pop in to have a look around and possibly 'do a story'. I was aware of its reputation, but knew little of its value to the city or the quality of golf offered.
Eddie's first love was football. He had dreams of becoming a professional and, in his teens, had trials at a number of clubs, but was always told he was 'too small' to make the grade. However, being so sports orientated, working outdoors seemed the next best thing to being a footballer.
Eddie has worked at Edgbaston Golf Club for nearly twenty-five years, joining straight from school in August 1987, initially on a short term contract up until Christmas.
However, after this successful 'trial period', he was put on a YTS scheme (youth training scheme) attending Warwickshire College of Agriculture, where he undertook a three year sports turf management course.
Under the guidance of Mike Hughes, the then course manager, Eddie learned many of the day-to-day basics of greenkeeping, and was always encouraged to improve his learning and to take on more responsibilities as the opportunities arose.
It was after the tragic death of the then deputy course manager, Alan Cutler, in a mowing accident in March 2000, that Eddie had an opportunity to move up the greenkeeping ladder.
Eddie says that it was a very tough and emotional time for everyone at the club. Even though the correct Health and Safety procedures were in place and ingrained into the staff, the accident brought home just how easily things can go wrong carrying out the most basic of greenkeeping tasks.
In 2007, The head greenkeepers job became available, giving Eddie the opportunity to take over the top job, his promotion coincided, with the opportunity to install new drainage to all nineteen greens. Eddie explains that they had a huge thatch problem and were really struggling and, after taking professional advice, the club chose to install a piped drainage system. So, in the October of 2008 contractors, Delta Golf, were called in and, by Christmas, the work had been completed.
Following a survey of the the greens, it was agreed to put in a herringbone system which consisted of a 100mm main drain at a depth of 550mm, complemented by laterals consisting of 80mm pipes at a depth of 530mm, between 2.5m and 3m centres, depending on low spots on greens. The drains were topped up with 2-6mm of pea gravel covered with 300-350mm of rootzone.
The in-house staff then re-turfed the drain lines, leaving them slightly proud to allow for sinkage. The results were immediate and, since the work was completed, Eddie hasn't had to put any of his greens on temporaries - even this summer! To ensure the drain runs do not cap over, they are sand injected every year using the Graden to a depth of 30mm.
Like many other golf clubs, this year has been a testing time due to the inclement weather, which has certainly tested the drainage system. Without it, I dare say they would have lost a lot of income.
Greens are cut at 4mm in the summer and 5.5mm in winter using their new Jacobsen Eclipse 322 triple. For competitions, they are hand mown with Toro 1000 pedestrian greens mowers.
Data readings are taken every Friday to measure moisture and the speed of greens. Weather and rainfall readings are taken every morning and recorded as part of a greens monitoring programme which Eddie has been following for the last two years.
To complement the effectiveness of the new drainage, the greens are aerated, once a month, using a Toro Procore fitted with 6mm solid tines. Verticutting is undertaken throughout the summer.
A feeding regime, centred around an Everris programme, begins with Invigorator 4:0:8 in late March, followed by a liquid feed of 25:0:0 Blade, plus Effect and Primo Maxx. Eddie has applied this formulae every 3-4 weeks with excellent results. Before renovations in August, the team apply a granular feed and a fungicide. The greens are then gradened, hollow tined and oversown with a Penn A4 and G6 mix.
Topdressing is carried out on a monthly basis, with approximately 200 tonnes per year being applied. Wetting agents are also used on a monthly basis.
The tees are cut twice a week at 11mm, using Toro 1600 pedestrian tees mowers, and are kept at this height all year round. They are divoted and seeded on a regular basis to maintain good grass cover and improve their presentation. A granular 25:5:8 feed is applied in March, followed by applications of Primo Maxx to help improve sward quality.
Aprons are cut at 8mm with either the Toro 3250 or Ransomes G-Plex. Fairways and surrounds are cut at 17mm with the Toro 5610.
The first cut rough is kept at 36mm using either the Toro 6500 or Toro Zero Turn. The rough is mown at 63mm inches with the Ransomes R311.
Fairways are cut three or four times a week and vertidrained throughout the autumn and winter. Eddie has also introduced members' divot days where they volunteer to help divot the fairways. This has had a great response and means that all the fairways can be divoted in one morning.
Eddie employs contractors to spray for weeds on the fairways in May and, in November, they return to spray for worms and leatherjackets.
There are six staff in total. Paul Smith is Eddie's deputy and has been with the club eight years. Tim Hendy (13 years), Mark Cutler (18), Mark Vickers (7) and Gavin Hackley (3) complete the team. All are qualified to spray and have PA1, PA2 and PA6 certificates. They are also qualified in chainsaw cross cutting and are fully trained on every piece of kit in the shed, so can undertake any task required of them.
Eddie and Paul organise course walks for the committee, which allows them to keep them updated on what is happening out on the course.
Since becoming course manager, Eddie is mindful that the he is only as good as his staff, and says that, without doubt, it is a team effort to keep the course looking and playing its best.
On the personal front, Eddie is always keen to learn new skills and, for the last two years, has been helping Jonathan Calderwood and his staff - Paul Mytton and Karl Prescott - on match days at his beloved Aston Villa - Eddie is a season ticket holder and has not missed a home game for twenty-two seasons. He also helps out at Wembley during match days. Eddie says that he is impressed with football groundsmen's attention to detail, and some of these skills have been brought to the golf course, with emphasis put on presentation to ensure that mowing lines are straight. This was evident during our course walk. Every fairway, green and tee was presented immaculately.
Edgbaston Golf Club is certainly a hidden gem, and one that Birmingham can be very proud of; a club that offers so much in terms of golf, biodiversity and wildlife. It is certainly a place I would like to visit again soon.
Ransomes Jacobsen Eclipse 322
Toro 3250 Greensmaster - used for aprons and fitted with thatchaway units and vibrating rollers
Toro HDX Workmans x 2 - one has Hardi Boss sprayer permanently fitted
Toro Workman 4WD
Jacobsen R311 wide area mower - used for rough
Toro zero turn mower
Iseki compact tractor
New Holland tractor
John Deere 955 tractor with front bucket and Lewis backhoe
Wiedenmann xp8 Terraspike
Graden Sand Injector
Toro 1600 pedestrian teesmowers x 2
Toro 1000 pedestrian greensmowers x 3
Trilo leaf sweeper
Ryan turf cutter
Etesia rotary mowers x 2
Theta moisture probe