Surrounded by beautiful countryside, The Point at Polzeath is only a mile from the Camel Estuary in north Cornwall, with stunning beaches for surfing and water sports. The coastal footpaths are unbeatable in terms of beauty for walking holidays. Lee Williams 'gets to the Point' with Head Greenkeeper Tom Collings.
The Point at Polzeath lies less than a mile off the South West Coast Path; 630 miles of stunning scenery, wildlife and flora. From Polzeath beach, it is approximately ten miles to walk to Port Isaac - a historic fishing village now more famous for being the film location for Doc Martin, the television series starring Martin Clunes, and for the surprise hit film of this summer, Fisherman's Friends. The course is set, somewhat dramatically, within 230 acres of undulating parkland, sitting high above the river estuary and boasts spectacular views to Newlands Islands.
The Point originally started out in the mid-1990s as Roserrow Golf & Country Club, designed by former Ryder cupper turned broadcaster, Dave Feherty.
Roserrow failed dramatically during the recession and was acquired by husband and wife team Jeremy and Eva Davies in 2012 and a new lease of life was quickly breathed into the facility. It was rebranded The Point at Polzeath, and massive investment in new machinery, greenstaff, plus the involvement of Tim Lobb (of golf course architects Thomson Perrett & Lobb and now Lobb and Partners) ensued, completely turning the golf course's fortunes around. The improvements are already significant but, according to the owners, it's still "work in progress".
Lee Williams caught up with Head Greenkeeper Tom Collings, who has been instrumental in helping turn around the once failing course of Roserrow into The Point of Polzeath, with investment of the new owners.
Left: Tom Collings Right: Early morning brushing
I first asked Tom how he got into the industry and how he ended up in his current position. "My family built a golf course - Lostwithiel - on old farmland on the opposite coast close to Fowey, and that's how I got into golf. As many kids do, I wanted to be a professional golfer, but soon realised I was never going to be good enough. I always found the design, maintenance and set up of a golf course interesting and loved the outdoors so, when I left school in 1996, I got a summer job at the family club. Sadly, the club closed a few years ago, as they just couldn't get enough people through the door, like many other courses around the country."
"I spent nine years at Lostwithiel and gained my NVQ Level two and three in sports turf, before realising if I wanted to step up the ladder in this industry, I needed to move on. I got a position at Trevose Golf Club as the first assistant, where I spent four years, before coming over here as Head Greenkeeper when it was Roserrow Golf & Country Club. That was in 2009. At that time, I was promised the world; that the course was going to be redesigned and that another eighteen holes were going to be built. I soon had a feeling that all was not right and, after about six months, the owners were struggling to pay wages. I realised I had probably made the biggest mistake of my life, as working at Trevose is one of the best courses in the country and I had a job for life there with a family run business. I had a nightmare two years of no money, to do what was needed to the course and sporadic payment of wages until, finally, it closed in October 2011. I was very close to giving up greenkeeping altogether until, one very wet day in November, Robert Clive (360 Golf) and Tim Lobb came to view and walk the course to evaluate its potential. The day spent with these guys, walking the course and talking golf, convinced me to keep volunteering until there was no chance of saving the golf course. Thankfully, in March 2012, we became The Point when Jeremy and Eva took over. They have invested well and have slowly turned it into a profitable business after some early losses. Seven years ago, I would have said I should have stayed at Trevose, but it's actually turned out to be the best decision I have made, and I'm now doing the job I always wanted to do.""
Left to right: Josh Taylor, Toby Trudgian, Ben Hurst, Sven Todd, Sam Polatajko and Tom Collings
Helping Tom look after the course is Sven Todd, Deputy Head - NVQ Level 2, greenkeeping 15 years, at The Point 4 years; Toby Trudgian, Assistant Greenkeeper - NVQ Level 2, greenkeeping 5 years, all of them at The Point; Josh Taylor, Assistant Greenkeeper - NVQ Level 2, 3 years' service; Sam Polatajko, Assistant Greenkeeper - NVQ Level 2, 2 years' service; Ben Hurst, Assistant Greenkeeper - NVQ Level 2, 2 years' service.
The course is situated near the coast, but Tom says you can't class it as a links or a parkland course. "You can call it what you like," he says, laughing. "We are not a links, and we are not a parkland, as we are not tree-lined. I suppose you could call it a coastal parkland course."
When the course was initially constructed, Tom tells me they tried to cut corners. "They sort of attempted to do it right, so the greens are built with five inches of a 90/10 rootzone mix, then it goes down into a gravel, sand and shillet mix (shillet is the local stone) and then about 12 inches down is the gravel bed. Tees are similar to the greens, but they decided to build up a big wedge of shillet, then they chucked eight inches of rootzone on the top, so I have loads of rootzone on the tees and none on the greens! The rest of the course is clay topsoil straight onto shillet, and we have very little subsoil, it tends to go straight into the stone. The course will get wet if we have prolonged periods of rain in the winter, but it also dries out very quickly."
The site covers 230 acres and includes Roserrow village, a grass airstrip and a wildflower meadow. The golf course covers 190 acres, including a five-bay driving range, practice area, tennis courts and the clubhouse with leisure facilities.
Left: New par 3 construction Right: Bunker on the 8th
The course has a full irrigation system which has many problems, so this has to be carefully managed. "When they built the place, they put pipework and sprinklers to the greens, tees and fairways. They based it on a polytunnel specification, so it doesn't take the pressure we need going through the system. On top of this, the water is supplied via boreholes, and can't recover enough water to irrigate the fairways, so we have capped any unnecessary pipework and removed a lot of pop-ups, especially around the greens as the configuration was all wrong and we were wasting a lot of water. The mainline leaks like a sieve and loses around a cube an hour when the system is pressurised and our boreholes only recover a cube an hour, so our leaks are as quick as our feed! The system is only on/pressurised for the hours we need to water. To water the greens and tees, we now run hoses from valve points. Last year, we were only able to water three days a week and then we had to shut it down and let the tank fill up, so it was just a matter of managing our timings. I was getting in at two o'clock in the morning to try and get it done before the sun got too hot and to keep ahead of mowers and golfers."
I asked Tom if there were any plans to replace the system. "Yes, it's just a matter of trying to get ourselves in a position where we have enough money coming in to warrant it. Rodger Davey from Irritech has designed the new system for us and we have already completed the first phase, installing a new holding tank and pump station (carried out by Ocmis). Although we still have a lot of issues, the system we have now is ten times more efficient than it was six years ago. Everything takes time, in another five years we'll be in an even better position. Jeremy and Eva have done an incredible job in building our relationship up with the costumers, gaining their respect and trust back after the course has been into administration twice."
Tom is currently working on building a new par three, as well as other projects around the site. "I'm just in the process of building the green. This morning, I was just shaping up the surround. We are hoping to open the new hole in spring/summer 2020, and I want to get the drainage in and rootzone down ready to seed in the autumn. Then, it all depends on the weather. Hopefully it is good to us and we can get the hole open at some point next summer. The whole place is one big project to be honest. We have already done a lot of drainage including open ditches to help keep the course open in the winter. We've constructed tees, bunkers and a putting green. For five years now we have been working on a bunker programme, getting rid of old bunkers, reshaping and repositioning to help make the course more interesting to all golfers; we try and do as much as we can in house."
"Ongoing is constant tree clearing and tidying up. Years ago, we didn't have the manpower or machinery to clear up the scrub areas or in amongst the trees. We want to show off some nice features, like old Cornish stone walls. For five years now we have been working on a bunker programme, getting rid of old bunkers, reshaping and repositioning to help make the course more interesting to all golfers."
Tom talks me through the general maintenance of the greens throughout the season. "Cutting height is at 6mm throughout the winter. In early October, we will verti-drain using 20mm solid tines at a depth of seven to eight inches, hollow core (every other year) and overseed with the Vredo disc seeder, using Johnsons J All Bent grass seed. We have gone with bents over the last few years which has come through well. I previously went with just fescue but, in the last few years, we have had a lot of wet winters and the fescues were struggling. Also, last year with the hot weather, I found the fescues took longer to come back than anything else. We will then heavily topdress and brush in; we use about sixty to ninety tonnes of dressing a year, two heavy dressings at the start and end of the season and as many light dressings as we can through the main playing season. Around mid-April, when we see a bit of growth, we will gradually drop the height of cut down to 4mm, this year we had to cut it down slightly earlier as we had the Cornish Festival in the first week of April and had to have the course competition ready earlier than normal. I generally like to roll more than we cut, so on a weekly basis we will roll three/four times and cut two/three, I like to have at least one day where we don't do anything other than brush the dew off. We will tine every month, from April through to September we use 8mm or 12mm tines at a depth of four to six inches and form October to March we use 12mm or 20mm tines at a depth of five to eight inches. If we can't tine, we sarel roll."
Sunrise on the 3rd
In the past, the greens have suffered heavily with various diseases. "About six years ago, I lost two or three greens to dollar spot, and we used to have a terrible problem with take-all patch as well. To try and make sure this never happens again, we now tine as much as we can and have a consistent monthly programme limiting how much nitrogen we put down and looking more at soil health by using Biomass sugar, HumiMax, seaweed, phosphites and only adding N and K when we think we need it. Being consistent is the key, keeping it just ticking over rather than lots of peaks and troughs.
From November to February, I'll add sulphate of iron as and when we need it to our monthly app to control moss, plus strengthen the plant against disease, but I'm looking to reduce this application this year and only use it if I really have too. What we have been doing seems to work as we have been fungicide free now for twelve months. We did have a bout of fusarium back in December as we were sitting at about ten degrees and it was damp, so we would go out and hand tine, core patch and seed the affected areas and try and bring it through that way. The main aim is to go fungicide free from now on, especially when so many active ingredients have been taken off the market in recent years."
Since the new owners took over the course, they have backed Tom and the greenstaff and invested in new machinery to help improve the course. "I have two machines on lease at the moment; the tractors and a couple of the mowers we have bought outright, and I have the old fleet still running, which we are looking at replacing within the next year or two. At least, that is the plan. We like to use our local dealer Masons Kings when purchasing our machinery and, being just down the road, it's ideal for me to go and pick up spare parts. All our machines are serviced, repaired and reground in house by our self-employed ex John Deere mechanic who works out of our sheds."
Tom likes to do as much as he can to help maintain and improve the ecology around the course. "We have just seeded out a wildflower meadow and incorporated bug hotels. All our flailing, hedge cutting and any major tree work is done outside the bird nesting season before March, weather depending. We have put out bird boxes around the course and would like to add bat boxes. Having such a large site, we can let quite a lot of areas go 'back to nature' so that the wildlife can thrive."
What's in the shed
Jacobsen GP 400 greens mower
Jacobsen G Plex 3 greens mower
Jacobsen TR3 x 2 - for tees and approaches
Jacobsen 305 fairway mower
John Deere 8800A first cut mower
John Deere 9009A semi rough mower
John Deere Pro Gator
John Deere HPX Gator
John Deere 4066R tractor
John Deere 4520 tractor
New Holland TC27D tractor
Toro Greens pro-1200 Turf iron
Team Demount 600L sprayer
Dakota 410 spinner top dresser
Jacobsen TD1500 drop topdresser
Wiedenmann Terra Spike XF
Sisis Rotorake 1000 scarifier
Amazone GHLT 1500 flail collector
Fleming 10TOP5 topper
Doosan DX27Z 360 digger
Terex 3000KR 3 tonne dumper
Bomag 120 3 tonne road roller
Browns mole plough
Stihl brushcutters x 4
Stihl hedgecutters x 2
Allen hover mowers x 3
Stihl blowers x 3
John Deere rotary mowers x 2
Chainsaws x 2