My greenkeeping career started when I did two weeks work experience for an architect's office when I was sixteen. I realised then that working in an office was probably not the best way for my future to progress.
The same job, with the same people, doing the same things, and at the same time every day. It was, perhaps, an unfair view of work after just two short weeks at such a tender age but, coupled with my love of golf, I knew a career in the great outdoors would be my chosen path.
After discovering alcohol and girls, I completed my A levels and saw an opening at Reaseheath College for the HND in Golf Course Management. So, at eighteen I embarked on a three year course with the intention of becoming a Golf Course Manager. How little I knew! The course was mainly theory based but also involved a sandwich placement for one year, which I did at Delamere Forest Golf Club. I started there in the February of 1995, a drought year, and I saw the course go from green to a khaki colour one day in May.
I panicked, saying we should be applying 25mm of irrigation per week and that a good feed would bring them back. I was reminded that we could always water tomorrow, and only then, to keep the finer grasses alive. I did wonder, even then, how to apply an inch of water in a week with a hosepipe but I soon gave up!
Delamere Forest had no automatic irrigation (still hasn't) and, as a consequence, everyone there enjoys the finer swards to putt on. The rains in September soon brought the greens back to life.
The old Head Greenkeeper, the late Jim Astbury, who had been there for over fifty years enjoyed listening to this new college boy come in with these radical new ideas, and took me for a walk round the back of the greenkeepers sheds and proverbially beat three years of college greenkeeping out of me!
Now, here was a man who had seen many different social, climatic and economic changes on the course over his fifty year tenure and even I recognised that his practises, based on Jim Arthur, acid theory, disturbance theory, or whatever its name was in the mid nineties, were the sustainable practices we enjoy today. And Jim was producing some of the finest links type greens on an inland course I had ever seen. This was a man who should be listened to, and boy did I listen. From that day on, my path was sustainable and traditional.
A young man who also worked under Jim was Andy Ralphs, now Head Greenkeeper at Delamere, and we became good friends and still are today.
I left Delamere, finished my college, and went into golf course construction for a couple of years, mainly because I was nosey and wanted to see how courses were built.
I then returned to work for Andy at Delamere, for three years, as the Deputy Head Greenkeeper until I saw an opening for a Course Manager. The lucky club was Lymm, a parkland course in Cheshire, built on a mix of old Mersey river bed and the sand, gravel spoil from the Manchester Ship Canal. So, in the May of 2000, at 24 years of age, I travelled off into the sunset and straight into the Dragons Den that is Golf Course Management.
Lymm was typical of courses managed in that area at that time. Greens kept green, lush and stripey meant the members were happy. Greens that were quickly watered at the first swallow of summer kept the members happy, and greenkeeping staff the members never saw on the course, spoiling their round, kept them even happier.
They certainly didn't want any aeration and were quite happy resting the greens over winter. They were annual meadow grass, good for 4-5 months of the year and requiring a lot of babysitting and expensive inputs to keep them to an acceptable playing standard. I thought things could do with a change for the better.
I was realistic. I knew we would never get to the fescue surfaces of the classic links, but I thought a bit more bent would come in handy. After all, the world needs a little more bent grass. I spoke to the members and told them what I wanted to achieve, how it would be done and how long it would take.
In the year before my tenure they had reconstructed a green, the 2nd, as it was failing. I knew that, with a little bit of TLC, the rest of the greens could be improved with good old fashioned, austere greenkeeping. The greens were nearing a hundred years old and they were contemplating a full rebuild. Who says a golf green has a sell-buy-date?
Your grasses on your greens are a direct reflection of how you manage your soils. I wanted to give the old greens a chance by creating freer draining profiles through sustainable practices. At this point, with a potentially huge cost for a rebuild, levied from the members, the club knew they had problems and were willing to trust me to do my thing. I say the club, meaning the club council and the officers of the club.
The members were a different story. Some lived off past glories, refusing to believe there were any problems, but that the greens were subjectively better 'in their day'. Maybe those green, lush surfaces of yesteryear were the start of the decay? Others knew we had problems but assumed we could just 'pop in' overnight, do this change over and we would have lovely greens again. Of course, all very easy. Bish, Bash, Bosh, Done.... Gordon Ramsay we are not! Some just weren't bothered! It was my job to highlight the potential of their course and explain that there would be a 'perceived' backwards step to go further up the ladder.
Agronomically, we could only go up. All was good until the work started. The first step was to write a Course Policy Document; we had the backing of the club, but we needed an insurance policy. A written document saying what we were 'up to on the course' and that we were following good advice and best practice.
I then started a high disturbance three years at Lymm. We were micro hollow coring every month, using the deep Graden, vertidraining twice a year, importantly, when dry and in the playing season, not in the wet Novembers when the comps had finished, and slitting more times than you could shake a tine at. All bad things as far as the members were concerned.
They were now wanting Gordon Ramsay in. I also took the inputs down, put the greens on a bit of a diet, reducing fertiliser applications over three years from 200kgN to 85kgN, and further still over the remaining five years.
Irrigation was only to be applied by hand. To this day I have never watered my greens with the pop ups in eight years at Lymm. Topdressings and wetting agents were increased and outbreaks of Fusarium were dramatically reduced.
We used a chainsaw to great effect, clearing eastern sides of greens, allowing more light and air to dry out the surfaces. After these three years we noticed the bent grasses coming back in. After all, we had got rid of the thatch and we weren't building any more.
It was then we started our overseeding programme with bent. We had created the environment for it and it was appearing naturally. During these early, high disturbance years I would like to say I made many friends at the club and the members were in full support. They relished going out to play on greens full of holes and topdressings, and really enjoyed changing their game from target golf, which had flattered many a poor shot for many a year, to running a ball on to firm, pale greens.
Sadly, they didn't enjoy what I was doing and I stopped getting Christmas cards but, through open forum nights, newsletters, course walks, casual chats in the car parks or clubhouse after the weekend comps, some of the members started to trust me and believe in the results we were achieving.
As the years went on and we eased the disturbance pressures and increased the bent grass populations, the members had true, sustainable putting surfaces that played 365 days a year. We now apply less than 20kgN per year to the greens, less than 200m3 of water, and we have not sprayed for Fusarium for over four years.
Bent grass populations are around 60-70% and we even have a whisper of Fescue on most of the greens. Money saved on previous inputs could now be applied to improving other areas of the course, by expanding the intensity of the greens programmes to tees, fairways, machinery and sheds etc.
They believed in me, and the practices we employed, and the members now enjoy the results. For most of the time that is. Yes, the temperature still gets a little high from time to time, but the existing lines of communication we have set up soon put any fears or unease to rest. Feedback is a great thing and it is so important to put yourself up there and talk to the members. A golfer's assumption is a Greenkeeper's worst enemy!!
So, we went through all these bad times and, as a Greenkeeper, you try to take it on the chin. You know you have confidence and trust in yourself, but why do you keep getting the 'knockers', and how do you pick yourself up and keep going? You know it'll be worth it, your realistic, you know what you can achieve on your site but, sometimes, the whole thing can be a bit of a drain, both at work and it can go home with you, and that's never a good thing. We all have mortgages, families, partners, and personal responsibilities. We should all take time out to love them as much as we love our golf courses. Us Greenkeepers will never be on our death bed and proclaim "I wish I had spent more time at work".
Works programme at Lymm Golf Club - April 2006-April 2007
April Rainfall 56mm
3rd Lawn sand to all greens
(14 bags, 18kgsN/hec) 18kgN/hec
3rd Hollow core tees
5th Vertidrain greens
10th Hollow core, dress and seed USGA greens
12th Solid tine greens
18th Vertidrain approaches
20th Solid tine, seed, wetting agent granular and topdress greens
24th Hollow core top approaches,
gran wetting agent and brush in
25th Alistair Beggs (STRI) visit
May Rainfall 86mm
2nd Topdress greens
3rd Star slit greens
8th Fairways sprayed for weeds
9th 3.0.3 to USGA greens
10th Topdress tees
11th Topdress greens
15th Star slit greens
16th 12.0.9 to all tees (9 bags)
17th Wetting Agent to top fairways
22nd Height of cut 4mm greens
22nd Maxicrop seaweed and wetting agent to greens
24th Verticut greens
25th Star slit greens
June Rainfall 20mm
1st Verticut greens + star slit
1st Topdress greens
19th Topdress greens
26th Verticut greens
29th Sulphate of Ammonia applied to all greens (2 bags) 10kgN/hec Total 28kgN/hec
30th 8.0.0 to USGA greens
July Rainfall 50mm
3rd Solid tine greens + Fescue overseed
4th Spot treat Dollar Spot (Rovral in knapsack)
5th Topdress greens
6th Wetting agent applied to greens
12th Solid tine tees
25th Wetting agent applied to greens
26th Topdress tees
31st Solid tine greens
August Rainfall 111mm
2nd Verticut greens
7th Topdress greens
8th Star slit greens
15th 3.0.3 to USGA greens
16th Star slit greens
17th Spray 18th green for Dollar Spot (Rovral)
21st Vertidrain greens (16"Depth!!!)
22nd Solid tine greens
23rd Verticut and bent grass overseed + topdress greens
Sept Rainfall 83mm
11th Deep scarify USGA greens (1/2") Fescue + bent overseed
11th Star slit greens
11th Vertidrain tees
13th Wormkill fairways (Carbendazim)
19th Overseed top fairways (31 bags)
20th Earthquake greens - Full Depth
21st 12mm Solid tine, verticut, fescue overseed, and topdress greens. 180 tonnes for year
25th Topdress tees
25th Spray greens Dollar Spot (Rovral)
25th Height of cut greens 5mm
October Rainfall 128mm
4th Sulphate iron to all greens
9th Sulphate iron to all tees USGA Fert. (N) Calcs per 500m2 = 20kg @ 5% +
11th Deep slit greens (1) 100kg @ 3% +
16th Slit Greens (2) 25kg @ 8% =
16th 3.0.3 to USGA greens 5kg (5000g)/500m2+
17th Alistair Beggs visit
18th Height of cut greens to 8mm Total USGA (N )= 50g/m2
23rd Slit greens (3)
30th Slit greens (4)
November Rainfall 65mm
6th Slit greens (5)
8th Wormkill fairways (Carbendazim)
9th Spray greens for leatherjackets (Chlorifypos)
13th Slit fairways
13th Slit greens (6)
21st Slit greens (7)
27th Slit Greens (8)
28th Slit tees
December Rainfall 125mm
4th Slit greens (9)
12th Slit greens (10)
12th Lawnsand to all tees (1/2 oz/ yd)
14th Star slit and brush greens
18th Slit greens (11)
January Rainfall 105mm
2nd Slit greens (12)
2nd Earthquake top fairways
3rd Solid tine bunker banks
4th Solid tine tees
9th Solid tine approaches and walk offs
15th Slit greens (13)
16th 3.0.3 to USGA greens (1oz/yd)
16th Sulphate of iron to all greens
30th Slit greens (14) - Finish 8" slitting (14 times), start star slitting
February Rainfall 65mm
5th Star slit and brush greens
13th Star slit and brush greens
13th Solid tine USGA greens
19th Star slit and brush greens
27th 3.0.3 to USGA greens (1/2 oz/yd)
27th 3.0.3 to top bunkers
March Rainfall 46mm
2nd Star slit and brush greens
12th Iron/Seaweed to all greens
14th Needle tine all greens
26th Star slit and brush greens
26th Solid tine tees
26th Vertdrain greens (3/4" tines 14" Deep), 14mm solid tine greens, Fescue overseed, Granular wetting agent, star slit and brush greens and topdress (30 tonnes)
April Rainfall 11mm
3rd Height of cut greens 6mm
4th Vibro Roll greens
10th Star slit and brush greens
10th New sprinklers fitted to all tees
16th Topdress greens and brush
17th Alistair Beggs visit