Not many people can claim to have given up a career in the the West End musical theatre to take up greenkeeping, but that is exactly what Craig Cameron, Superintendent at Golf Club St. Leon-Rot, did. In this article, he explains the lure of grass over the bright lights and his plans for the future at two of Germany's finest golf courses.
Golf Club St. Leon-Rot is a golf club in the village of the same name in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, twenty kilometres south of Heidelberg. It has hosted the Deutsche Bank - SAP Open TPC of Europe in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2004 (Tiger Woods winning on the first three occasions) and also hosted the 2015 Solheim Cup and Junior Solheim Cup.
The club was founded in 1997 by SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp. SAP is a German multinational software corporation. There are two 18-hole courses, called St. Leon and Rot. The 2015 Solheim Cup was played on the St. Leon course, whilst the Junior Solheim Cup was played on the Rot course.
The site covers 250 hectares and includes not only the two championship courses but also a nine hole course, a 5-hole children's course and extensive practice facilities.
The courses are described as 'parkland and inland links', with St. Leon measuring 6541 metres (7153 yard) par 72, Rot 6587 metres (7204 yards) par 72, and the nine hole course 3943 metres (4312 yards) par 64.
Charged with the upkeep of this vast area is Superintendent, Craig Cameron, who has been at the club just short of two years. In this question and answer session, he discusses his somewhat unusual route into the industry.
Pitchcare: How did you get into the industry and where did you work prior to your current position?
Craig Cameron: I got into the industry as a volunteer at my local club in Bremen, Germany eighteen years ago. I was a professional musical theatre performer for thirteen years prior to greenkeeping, but had played golf on and off during that time, and had worked in the West End for five years. Before this job, I was a greenkeeper instructor at Elmwood College and deputy course manager at Aldeburgh Golf Club, a UK top 100 club.
What training and education did you undertake? I have my NC in greenkeeping (I was Barenbrug Student Greenkeeper of the Year in 2003), my HNC in Golf Course Management and I'm currently studying my HND in Golf Course Management. I've attended countless seminars through BIGGA and work.
Was there one person who inspired you? Klaus Schmitt, the agronomist at Bremen, set me on the right path in my career and Mark Broughton MG was an excellent mentor for me at Aldeburgh.
Are you responsible for budgets or do you report to someone else? I am responsible for my department's budget and report only to my general manager.
What additional staff do you have? Two full time mechanics, Stefen and Volker; three full time gardeners, Karsten, Dustin and Murat; two head greenkeepers, Jörg and Daniel and their respective teams at St. leon and Rot, which includes twenty-one greens staff and two apprentices. A number of them have been here since the course opened in 1997.
What additional help do you get (part time, consultants, agronomists, contractors etc.)? We are supported by the European Tour and, at my request, the STRI. Various contracts are brought in for forestry work and some specialist construction, such as bridges, roads, etc.
How would you describe the soil profile generally? The Rot course is heavy ex-agricultural sandy loam and St. Leon is sand based, mostly by sand capping. All the greens and tees were constructed to USGA specification.
Do they require any special maintenance? Nothing special, I just give the turf what it needs to be healthy. Fertiliser targets are around 80Kg N/Ha, a weekly light topdressing, monthly aeration, including Air2G2, Sisis multislit and microtining, hand mowing at least twice per week and rolling at least once per week on the greens' rest day. I haven't verticut the greens at all in the last year and a half.
Do you have an irrigation system? Currently, the irrigation system is Toro Site-Pro (over 4,000 heads), but our new practice site has Toro Lynx and we are looking to extend this to the whole course this year.
Ecobunker being installed
Does the course suffer from any regular natural occurrences? The whole course is low lying, with a series of drainage ditches crossing the course to sumps where water is then pumped to ponds or off site. If the pumps didn't work, the course would be underwater in wet periods. Temperatures are fairly mild all year but, for around a month in winter, it is sub-zero, whilst in summer it can reach over 40°C.
When the temperature is sub-zero, the staff spend their overtime and go home until it thaws; in summer heat, the irrigation runs flat out and we hand water, lots! All watering is measured to hold moisture between 16-25%.
Are there any issues with shade and air flow? There were only six trees on the course twenty years ago, but now you can barely see the next fairway. We have spent the last two winters removing trees and scrub that were slowing air movement and causing shade on greens and tees.
Do you use temporary greens? We use temporary greens when carrying out our greens maintenance. In winter, if disease occurs, we use winter greens to prevent the spread of disease within that green and then transference to other greens.
Do you have a driving range/practice facility? We have a double end driving range, six putting and chipping greens and have just built a new chipping green 1500m², new bunker practice green with five different types of bunker and our Wedge-O-Drom with a 3200m² green surrounded by 11,000m² fairway and five move practice bunkers. If Carlsberg did practice facilities, this would be it.
Are there any other facilities available to members - for example tennis courts, croquet lawns - and who is responsible for their maintenance? We have the Allianz centre of excellence, which is a an indoor chipping green and putting green. The chipping green is fully undulating and runs at 12.5 feet. Upstairs is the putting green area which runs at 14 feet. Using this facility gives the opportunity for all year practice and Pro Tour practice.
Tell us about your weekly/monthly maintenance regimes.
Height of cut: greens 3.2mm - 6mm, collars/approaches and tees 10mm, fairways 13-15mm, 1st cut semi-rough 25mm, semi-rough 50mm.
Aeration: once per month - Air2G2, micro tining and Sisis multi-slitting.
Weed control: herbicides; for now. These will, no doubt, be banned soon, then it will be back to cultural control. Fungicides are now all but banned and the the ones that are left are so regulated they are useless.
Overseeding: Vredo overseeder. We are in a transition period of changing our greens sward composition to bent from Poa annua. In one season, we have gone from 90% Poa to 50-80% Creeping bent (007 and Tyee).
Do you have specific tasks for specific staff or is it an 'all hands to the pump' approach? All staff can do everything, or are in the process of being trained to work this way. There are two dedicated irrigation technicians and only staff with a licence can spray, use chainsaw etc.
Where does presentation rank? We are one of the leading golf courses in Germany. There are a group of around forty. For many years, both courses were ranked one and two but, over time, they have slipped to between ten and fifteen in the rankings. It is my goal to get us back on top.
What end of season and ongoing renovations do you undertake? We have a complete programme including tree and scrub removal, bunker renovation, tees renovation and drainage repairs.
Are renovations affected by budgets? No. We write up the plan with costs and generally, up to now, it is approved. It's work that should have been carried out for ten years or more.
How have changing weather patterns affect what you do? Winters are longer and cooler and summers are getting hotter. This creates problems in summer of keeping the turf alive whilst, in winter, there is increase disease pressure with nothing to fight it!
Do you take regular soil samples to ascertain what work is required? Soil samples are taken as part of our programme to calculate organic matter and pH.
How do you interact with your club members? Various ways. A members' bulletin, written reports and email, social media (Facebook, Twitter), plus 'meet the greenkeeper' evenings and presentations. We need to educate the masses! The bottom line is just get out there, meet people and explain what you are doing and why.
Are you working on any special projects at the moment? We have just built a new chipping green 1500m², practice bunker area (5 types/styles of bunker) and our 'Wedge-o-drom', a 3200m² green surrounded by 11,000m² of fairway and another five different deep bunkers. This will allow players to practice every wedge shot imaginable up to 120m.
Do you have additional areas to maintain? We have gardens around the clubhouse, and we also have set-aside areas outside our boundaries, but local farmers take care of these.
Do you source additional help or is the work done in-house? We try to do everything in-house, but time plays a big role in finishing works, so we will then employ outside help as they are quicker and have access to better equipment.
Are you and your staff compliant with current legislation? Yes, health and safety is taken very seriously and we have our own safety officer.
Do you offer ongoing training to your staff? Yes, ongoing training is par for the course for improving your staff skill bank. All staff complete a once a year first aid course in basic first aid and CPR. We also attend all seminars that are useful to us and, of course, BTME Harrogate.
Are you considering employing or do you currently employ apprentices? We started two apprentices this year and both are completing SVQ level 2 through Elmwood College in Scotland; distance learning with onsite assessment.
How is this working for you? Both are doing very well and will be an asset to our team once fully trained.
How do you purchase machinery? Outright from a local dealership on a five year replacement cycle. We are not loyal to one manufacturer as quality of cut takes precedence over price. The only time we hire in machinery is for forestry work.
We have a fully sealed wash down recycling area that is compliant with all current legislation.
How do you undertake pest, weed and disease control? By controlling nutrient, organic matter and water. We also carry out timed mowing of deep roughs to encourage finer grasses.
We did have a major outbreak of fusarium in my first winter. We spent the next season overseeding bent to replace Poa annua.
Wild boar are a major problem. We employ part time hunters with warning cameras sited around the course, we remove cover within the course and use Niteguard lights to discourage them. All mixed together, this is proving effective. Worm casting is a big problem. We are using Purity soil conditioner and then removing the worms.
Wild boar damage
How important do you consider the local flora and fauna? Very, we are a gold standard Golf and Nature site which requires us to have an environmental policy in place. For this we have access to an environmental consultant. We also work with local universities who carry out testing at our Biotop sites.
We've also undertaken wildflower planting, put up bird boxes and harvest our rainwater. Along with solar panelling and led lighting, I believe we are doing everything we can for the environment.
How do you see your job changing in the future? A move to 'back to basics' greenkeeping with the removal of fungicides ... and a lot of education for golfers; "brown is the new green". Performance measuring and scoring to judge how the course is playing will also become important.
How do you balance work with your personal life? I spend half my time at work and the other half recovering from working!
What would you consider to be the state of our industry? It's in good shape, but every club is working very hard to attract new members. Our club's philosophy is to run a junior programme second to none and catch people early.
The problem over here is that greenkeeping isn't even recognised as an actual job in Germany!
What's in the shed?
Toro Greensmaster 3200 x 3
Toro Greensmaster 3200 with verticutter
Toro Groundsmaster 455 rotary
Toro Groundsmaster 4500 x 3
Toro Groundsmaster 4700
Toro Groundsmaster 4100 x 4
Toro Workmann 4300
Toro Workmann 3300D
Toro 1000 with groomer x 6
Toro 1000 without groomer x 2
Toro 1600 with groomer x 5
Toro Flex with brush x 5
Toro Hydroject 3000
Toro Pro Core 648 x 2
Rink Topdresser GS 10 x 2
Wiedenmann Terra Float
Wiedenmann Terra Spike GXI6
Wiedenmann Terra Spike GXI8
Toro Spiker Sand Pro 2050
Toro Sand Pro 2050
Toro Sand Pro 3040
John Deere 1200A
Kramer loader 750
Kubota mini excavator
John Deere 670 tractor x 2
John Deere 670 tractor
John Deere 5400 tractor
John Deere 4710 tractor
John Deere 4720 tractor
John Deere 3720 tractor
Steyr 9085 NT tractor
Toro 3235C fairway mower
Toro Reel Master 5510 x 5
Toro Reel Master 6500D
John Deere 2500 E Hybrid x 2
John Deere 2500A x 2
John Deere 2500 verticutter
John Deere 2500E x 2
Toro Greenmaster Triplex Hybrid 3420 x 3
John Deere Aercore 1500
John Deere 500
John Deere E-Gator x 4
John Deere Pro-Gator Sander
John Deere Pro-Gator 2030 x 3
John Deere syringe HD 200 x 2
John Deere Gator TE (schwarz)
John Deere Gator 4x2 TX x 3
EZGO Workhorse x 8
Club Car Carry All x 2
EZGO MPT x 7
Coreharvester x 2
Walzen Salsco Transformer
Toro Groundmaster 3500D x 7
Classen Turf Cutter x 2
Sabo rotary roller mower x 2
Extensive selection of Stihl handheld equipment
Various trailers, waterpumps and other machinery