The Wildernesse Golf Club has purchased a Ventrac 4500 compact tractor and selection of attachments to assist in the maintenance of the magnificent wooded 18-hole course, located in the village of Seal near Sevenoaks in Kent.
Deputy Course Manager, Lee Austin, mowing greens surrounds on the 18th
Mark Todd is the Course Manager and heads a team of eight including a full-time mechanic. He began his career in 1988 at nearby Lingfield Park Golf Club, where he spent 10 years learning his trade before joining The Club Company at Nizels Golf and Country Club as Deputy Course Manager. Within six months he was promoted to Course Manager and in 2007 took up his current position at The Wildernesse.
"It might be a cliché, but this incongruous looking machine is a gamechanger," he said. "We purchased the tractor unit and three attachments; the Contour deck, Tough Cut deck and Turbine Blower. We are a heavily wooded course and we spend too many hours using backpack blowers removing leaves and other debris, not just in the autumn, but all year round. We hand cut all our greens and the team take a backpack blower with them every time, to clear the surface before mowing. This is so time-intensive, but the Turbine blower is brilliant; we also use it to remove the debris after scarifying tees and even blow cores from the greens after aeration.
"The Tough Cut deck is great for maintaining the woodland margins. We used to use a compact tractor and flail to mow these areas, but it was a heavy and cumbersome combination. The out-front position of the Tough Cut deck combined with the low profile and agility of the tractor unit, means we can get in and under the trees. Without doubt, it has lifted the presentation of the course.
"Changing between the different attachments is quick and easy. There's no three-point linkage to worry about or adjustments to make, you simply drive out of the current implement and drive into the next one. The mounting system is ingenious; it's so quick that it encourages you to use it to its full potential. We recently loaned the stump grinder attachment and I was extremely sceptical that a belt-driven implement on a sub-25 hp tractor would be robust enough to do the job. However, it was outstanding and seemed defy the laws of mechanics; it will certainly be our next purchase.
Left: Mark Todd, Course manager at the Wildernesse Golf Club
"Initially I thought buying the Ventrac would be just about maintaining the banks and removing leaves, but we're finding more and more uses for it. When we were looking to purchase the equipment, I had great support from the club. I made what I hoped was a sound business case and also invited the Greens Chairman to the demonstration. Everyone was impressed with its slope climbing ability and its potential labour-saving attributes, which have since become a reality. You know you're on a winner, when there's a lot of interest and positive comments from the members!
"I've been very fortunate during my time here as the club has been very supportive. They have invested in a new irrigation system, new machinery and throughout the Covid-19 pandemic have been superb. We had numerous meetings and discussions on how we would approach and handle the situation and I must say, that my greenkeeping team have gone above and beyond expectations.
"We split into two teams; one headed by Lee Austin, my deputy, and the other by myself. We worked 10-hour days, one on, one off and it worked very well. We've followed the rules on social distancing, we've done a lot more cleaning and sanitising and the lads have been really flexible.
"The course was in very good condition when we reopened. We normally have a two-tee start, but that's now down to a single tee and two-ball groups only, although this will be relaxed shortly. We've been booked solid and have a starter on the tee all day. Golfers must arrive 10 minutes prior to the allocated tee time and change in the car park. The only facility that's open is the toilets.
"There was a lot of talk about golf being allowed back earlier than it was, but I think it would have been seen as elitist if this happened. Now that it is back it might help encourage more participants, as it is one of few sports that can adapt in these strange times. Only time will tell."