Massive financial investment in golf over the last few years has elevated the sport at Goodwood by a fair few notches, allowing it to proudly stand its ground in the company of the West Sussex estate's other world-class activities - horseracing and the internationally renowned Festival of Speed celebration of motor heritage.
Under the entrepreneurial auspices of Lord March, a descendant of the Dukes of Richmond, who have called Goodwood home for more than 300 years, this dramatically beautiful corner of England has become, arguably, the country's greatest sporting estate - hosting not only horseracing, motor sport and golf, but flying, shooting and cricket, not to mention a calendar of glamorous social events.
Even the 'village' cricket team, reckoned to be one of the oldest in the country, has a place in the history of the game.
Below the surface of the spectacular commercial success of the Goodwood sporting estate, lies a bedrock of groundcare professionalism that ensures the social glamour and glitz keeps on rolling. Tom James met two managers committed to nothing less than excellence.
The 18-hole Downs and Park golf courses offer something for everyone, set within a 12,000-acre stunning rural setting that stretches out over the landscape of the Sussex Downs.
On a clear day, you really can see forever, whether across the south coast to the English Channel, or inland gazing over the panoramic countryside from on high.
Over the years Goodwood has played host to many famous golfing and society faces, among them The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) and The Duke of York (later King George VI).
The reason why so many high profile guests and golf lovers continue to flock to the Sussex countryside to enjoy their rounds is, in no small measure, down to a regime of meticulous maintenance by Bill Payne, the man leading Goodwood's team of committed greenkeepers, and Course Manager for thirteen years.
In 2006, Goodwood launched a new programme - 'Golf at Goodwood' - that introduced an innovative, highly successful, credit membership scheme to both the world of golf and to the Downs course, designed in 1914 by James Braid, and currently rated in Golf World's top 100 courses throughout Great Britain and Ireland.
The Park course, designed by Donald Steel, the eminent architect and player, was taken back into the Goodwood estate from the Marriott Hotel some six years ago to become, what is now, an increasingly popular pay and play destination.
Whichever course he discusses, Bill displays a burning passion about his mission here. No stranger to the chalky downland of Sussex, having served at Brighton and Hove Golf Club, along the coast to the east, before coming to Goodwood, he sees his purpose with the clarity of a seasoned professional.
"My primary duty here is to present the two courses as well as I possibly can, ensuring they are always in top condition," says Bill, speaking on the terrace of The Kennels, a magnificent period flint-clad pile, typical of the region, that serves as both the clubhouse and a meeting place for those visiting the estate."
"The true test of my abilities though is what the members say about the course. If they are pleased and enjoy the golf, then I know I'm doing my job right." And it seems they are, judging by their popularity."
"The two courses are totally different, catering for every type of golfer," explains Bill. The Downs is set up as pure fescue. It's long and demanding on the golfer - ideal for the more skilled player. The Park course is quite the opposite - extremely open, soft and perfect for the average golfer: a fine example of a course of its type, tuned to the golfer who just wants a good game."
Given the rural emphasis, it's to be expected that wildlife management will be part and parcel of his job - a task that Bill also feels passionately about. "We have to deal with a number of wildlife issues here, including deer and badger control measures," he states.
"Badgers can be a problem on the courses in dry conditions as they go searching for water, and this can mean that our irrigation systems fall victim to their persistence. To help both parties, we make sure we put enough water out for them."
"Deer are a common concern on estates of this size but they are managed centrally by a team that covers the whole Goodwood estate. Wildlife management is a very sensitive issue and has to be managed with a sensible programme."
Bill has a particular interest in the flora and fauna of the courses, so much so that, eleven years ago, he compiled an inventory of all the species he could find on the sites.
"We have a splendid range of orchids, both the bee and fly varieties thrive here," he reveals. "I am very keen to keep up to date with all the wildlife we have and to ensure it is looked after and managed appropriately."
At a time when golfers are taking far more interest in environmental management at golf clubs, his sentiments are those of someone aware of the wider issues of attracting members.
Managing such a large hectarage is one thing, but maintaining it to meet the higher standards that today's golfers demand, and to do justice to the Goodwood superbrand, is no mean feat and must prove a source of unending pressure. Bill looks every bit the man capable of shouldering that responsibility as he talks assuredly about tending some of golf's most glorious holes.
"A great part of our success is down to the quality of our fifteen-strong greenkeeping team," he states categorically. "It is, without a doubt, the most important aspect of greenkeeping here at Goodwood. We make sure we all look after each other, if we see something we think needs doing we make sure we keep each other in the loop. There's no substitute for good team work and understanding how each of us works."
But, to become a good course manager, it helps to play golf to "a reasonable standard", Bill believes, "but, what is more essential, is for greenkeeping teams to visit courses up and down the country, as well as abroad, to see how they do things and to see how we can improve what we do here still further."
The hospitality of machinery suppliers can help that cause too, he continues. "A recent trip to the US on behalf of John Deere was fantastic for me. We played at a number of courses of varying standards, including some top-notch venues. This was an invaluable experience for me." For Bill, the learning curve never ends, it seems, to his credit.
The Downs course could well hold championship golf in future, he believes, given the standard of the course and the setting and standing of the elegant Kennels clubhouse - built in 1787 for the hounds belonging to the third Duke of Richmond, designed by the architect James Wyatt and described as the finest example of Sussex flintwork in the country.
In such an idyllic, not to say distracting setting, Bill remains firmly focused on doing his job: "Maybe we could host a championship, our facilities and the standard of course would certainly accommodate it, but it's not something for the near future."
Talk turns briefly to the Park sister course: "We have been working hard and invested a load of time rejuvenating it over the last few years. It had been left to go to seed while out of our control, but has improved greatly since then, but still needs a couple of years to reach its full potential.
"We still have a few concerns with the greens and still need to address some topdressing issues, but progress has been very good."
Returning to maintenance on the Downs course, Bill says: "We topdress monthly and hollow tine twice a year to a 4inch depth with 15mm tines using both Toro and John Deere machines.
"Overseeding is done twice a year with a fescue bent mix. I don't like to speed up greens too much so I usually keep the stimp number to between eight and ten. I could get it as high as twelve or fifteen if I wanted but, for us, that would be too fast.
"We hand cut the Downs greens every day using John Deere and Toro machines, and the Park course twice a week."
Good machinery is crucial to his course maintenance programme, he believes, helped by an understanding estate team. "We are lucky to have such good management that supplies us with what we need. Maintenance we do ourselves on site as it can become costly maintaining machinery through a dealer. Having someone on hand when you need it is essential and I would recommend it to any club."
On the surrounds, the team use John Deere walk-behind mowers and Toro triplex mowers on the tees. "We used to hand cut everyday but we don't have the resources to do it that much anymore. It's really a matter of the more you do it the better the course will be. If we had 50 members of staff on hand then we would hand cut everything and the course would be absolutely superb, but that's not realistic."
Like many course managers, Bill benefits from strong support from the local dealer. "The machinery we have here is really very good. I bought what I thought was best for our needs and we enjoy an excellent relationship with our dealer, Winchester Garden Machinery."
Worries are seldom far away though, Bill concedes. "We have two primary concerns, the weather and the bunkering on the Downs course. With the rain having been unduly heavy in winter and this summer starting particularly hot and dry, problems can arise with sand exposure."
"Our main issue with upkeep though is the bunkers. We maintain them fortnightly with an Atom bunker edger, as I want them to look great. Many would not maintain them to that frequency but I see it as a benefit to our course."
Weed control can bring many a sleepless night to groundsmen, especially when spring is in full bloom. Yet, Bill takes a view converse to many in the industry regarding the application of pesticides - predicting its decline with few regrets.
"Poa annua is present on the Park and Downs courses - perhaps 60-80% and 10-20% respectively. A fescue bent mix on the fairways, overseeding and hollow tining throughout the year helps control it."
"We apply precious few pesticides on either of the courses though and, in a few years, the majority will be banned so, to me, it makes sense to not rely on them and look to other methods. Using fescue helps as it isn't normally hit by fusarium. Many pesticides we could not do without - selective herbicide is one example."
Bill had a major role in laying down the greens on the Downs course, he goes on to say. "By putting fescue down, I felt it would be more sustainable. In ten to fifteen years' time, we won't be allowed to use any pesticides, but this will not change much in the golf world. Players will have to adapt and younger players, particularly, will quickly change their game to fit."
Although club members, traditionally, are adamant that their course must remain in pristine condition, close-cropped at all times, the pesticides-free era beckoning will necessitate a shift in that mindset, as new generations of golfers acclimatise to sporting life under European Union directives.
"One product I've had lots of success and brilliant results with is Merit, but many chemicals on the market currently are far too expensive and in many cases not needed," states Bill bluntly, before criticising the timing of applications at other courses.
"Some clubs are putting down products already, which is far too early in my opinion. We usually lay down Merit around June or July; we've been doing this for a number of years and have proven results against chafer grubs."
As far as a yearly programme of feeding is concerned, Bill applies fertilisers to the course, "as often as we need to, although keeping the quantity he uses "as low as possible - about 100-150kg per acre".
As something of a sporting Mecca, Goodwood constantly seeks new ways to capitalise on the potential of its vast estate. Their most recent innovation targets golf's changing modus operandi, introducing a philosophy that focuses on 'pay and play' golfers - one suiting the lifestyle of the modern 'nomad'.
Members now just pay a joining fee (first year only), annual subscription and the cost of 'Goodwood Golf Credits' - a scheme that means the more you play, the less the rounds cost.
The calendar is split into three different periods depending on the time of day and time of the year - peak times, popular times and peaceful times - with each costing a different number of credits. Credits can also be used to pay for other items such as golf buggies and balls.
Bill sees golf shifting direction and stresses the need for clubs to adapt accordingly. "The future will bring far more pay and play sites as demand for it grows. The more flexible a club can be, the more successful it becomes. The days of the traditional club member have largely passed, although some do still prefer the old ways, the fact is that it is becoming less viable to operate solely for that market."
"Prime condition pay and play courses will soon be essential, but clubs do need to price accordingly to ensure they do not attract too many feet onto the turf."
The third Duke of Richmond first brought horseracing to Goodwood in 1802. Now, 200 years on, the venue is internationally acclaimed as one of the most beautiful racecourses in the world, famous for its picturesque views and elegance, replete with dramatic grandstand architecture and resplendent when in its 'Glorious Goodwood' finery.
The gusty conditions up on the Downs must always present a challenge, but more than capable of overcoming tricky topography is Goodwood's own whirlwind, clerk of the course Seamus Buckley, who breezes into the office ready for action.
Fifteen years in the post, Seamus has the task of ensuring Goodwood maintains its status as a Group 1 course - the Premiership of horseracing - to help racegoers continue to enjoy one of our finest 'flat' courses.
Steeped in the sport, Seamus, 57, was grounds manager at Epsom for fourteen years and three generations of his family have worked in the racing industry. "Horses are in the blood. It's the only thing I ever thought I would do," he beams.
He has not allowed disappointment to dent his ambitions though. Initially training for a career as a jockey, a serious injury put paid to his dream, prompting him to pursue another one in management.
Voted best kept racecourse of the year by the Racecourse Association no fewer than four times in the last ten years, and coming second five times, Goodwood has an enviable reputation to maintain.
"This is one of the most beautiful courses in Europe and it's a real pleasure to be able to work here and be given the task of making it look great," says a clearly grateful Seamus.
"We have twenty-three race days throughout the year, with the beginning of May being one of our busiest times," he continues, "with seven days of racing in that month alone. The winter is a tough time, usually, as we need to prepare the turf for the beginning of the season in spring."
The pressure to maintain a top course is not merely to attract the 'punter' and the corporate and social glitterati, Seamus stresses. In a sense, it's the priceless thoroughbred horses that matter most. Without them there would be no spectacle.
"The perfect flat racing conditions are good to firm with a little moisture and a grass length of around four inches," he explains. "We must maintain the turf correctly throughout the season as we are dealing with the safety of the horses and, potentially, their lives if the standards are not consistently good."
Part of his race day responsibilities involves answering to the sport's governing body, the British Horseracing Association (BHA), to ensure those standards are being met. "They visit us four to five times a year to ensure we are up to scratch. We have to always ensure our standards are high."
Soil on the course is surprisingly sparse - a six-inch layer of topsoil over most of the length of the course, except out on the loops where he limits that to three or four inches, "although this makes it harder to maintain as the surface tends to dry out quickly".
Irrigation is on every groundsman's routine but, for racecourses, where a going that's too hard or too soft can prove the deciding factor whether a horse runs or not, it assumes critically important proportions.
"We irrigate constantly," Seamus confirms. "Letting the course dry out means the circuit takes a lot longer to get back to normal. By regularly irrigating, vertidraining and aerating, we can avoid that happening."
"Roughly 10,000 gallons of water goes on along the three-mile length of the course. There is a definite science to irrigation. It needs to be done so that all areas of the course are well covered but that waste is kept to a minimum. If the surface isn't soft and well-watered, trainers simply won't run their horses on it - it's too hazardous for them to risk a horse getting injured."
The boom sprayer Goodwood uses enables better water coverage than standard pop-up sprayers, which Seamus says are "particularly bad for wasting water and not giving a good even coverage".
He is all praise for his kit. "The Upton self-propelled boom irrigator is a godsend. It's self-driving and we simply attach it to the rails and it covers the whole area without missing a drop."
No matter how prepared Seamus may be, there's always the chance that something unexpected might crop up on race day. Irrigation is his biggest worry. "Having an unexpected burst pipe or a leakage is my worst nightmare. There are four to five miles of piping around the course supplying all the water at a six Bar pressure. If the pressure drops below that we know we have a problem. Discovering the course has flooded on race day is probably the worse case scenario for any clerk of the course."
Goodwood's water supply is sourced through the main borehole that feeds the whole estate, bringing major savings on water bills. "We are lucky to be self- sufficient, but are very conscious that we should use water wisely, and having the right machinery helps us to do this."
The racecourse runs a variety of machine types from a number of manufacturers, including John Deere, Toro and Ransomes. With such a vast space and differing terrain, being able to buy the right equipment for the job is paramount, Seamus maintains.
"Goodwood has been very good with equipment. They supply all we need and we always aim to get the best products we can. We do all our maintenance in-house as part of the whole estate. The machines are maintained centrally and this is a very useful aid."
With a budget of £100,000 for purchase and maintenance each year, Seamus has all the tools he needs to keep standards high. "We use John Deere tractors with special floatation tyres so as not to put too much pressure on the grass. We've fitted front-mounted Vortex cutters so we can be sure we are getting a good even cut."
"Overall, I run five tractors, a hollow tine cutter, a number of Ransomes ride-on mowers and Hayter models as well, which are sturdy, robust machines."
Despite having only two races a month on average, maintenance of the course requires a well-planned programme run throughout the year, including careful management during winter.
Like Bill Payne, Seamus believes a successful course comes down to the dedication of the team. "It helps that we all really love the job, although it's hard during the season with lots of early mornings and late nights, sometimes having to stay on all night if a problem arises, but it's a labour of love."
Preparation for the racing season starts in autumn. "We first put down 3:9:9 fertiliser to stimulate the roots. I don't want lush green grass throughout the winter as this can cause problems for cutting in the spring when preparing for the new season.
"Come spring, we apply a higher rate of nitrogen to help feed the leaf, cutting three or four times a week without collecting the cuttings as this helps to put nitrogen back into the turf."
Although visitors may marvel at the glorious flint work of The Kennels, the stone that is a characteristic of the region can prove more of a peril than a pleasure, for horse, human and machine, because it naturally lies only inches under the topsoil.
"We tine down to a six-inch depth, as deep as the topsoil goes," Seamus says. "The flint below the topsoil means maintaining the course is sometimes tricky. It's important to make sure no flint gets on to the grass, especially when vertidraining, to ensure we don't pick up any flint from underneath the topsoil as it could be potentially damaging to the horses. These are the problems with being located in West Sussex, but we do our upmost to ensure this doesn't happen.
The only fertiliser Seamus applies is Vitax. "In my opinion it is the best on the market and has delivered proven results over a number of years."
"On the sward, we usually put a lot of liquid iron down, especially close to big race days like the 'Glorious Goodwood' festival. It is essential that the turf is as strong as possible. Downland courses are hard to maintain at the best of times so we have to be on top our game. As a rule, we don't use much fertiliser on the course, usually only about four or five tonnes per hectare. I like to keep it relatively low as I don't like a lot of flush growth. We give it two applications throughout the racing season."
When tackling weeds, less is more, Seamus argues. "On the whole we suffer few problems with weeds generally. Occasionally clover, which can be problematic as it becomes slippery, but this is rare. We use Clovertox to eradicate any weeds we have, but I could go without applying it for two to three years - our weed problems are minor ones."
Seamus uses ryegrass throughout for the turf, with a rye, creeping red fescue and bent mix to repair divots - an often laborious process for many racecourse groundsmen.
"It's essential that they are repaired correctly as we don't want turf to come loose and affect the horses. At this time of year, with the right conditions, repairing a divot fully may only take seven to ten days.
Seamus is about to introduce a straight ryegrass at Goodwood, as other courses around the country have used it successfully, he reports. "We are always keen to look to what other courses are doing, and take pointers here and there that might be of use to us," he notes.
With a lifetime spent overseeing racecourses, you might expect Seamus to offer up a long list of dos and don'ts for those looking to enter the industry. The reality though is quite the opposite, and he demonstrates that the simple approach is often the most effective.
"My tips are these. Cut, feed well, water well and aerate. These may seem obvious points but the balance of these elements is the essential ingredient, making sure it is all done at the right time. You'd be surprised how many people overcomplicate what can be a straightforward process."
Goodwood Cricket Club is thought to be one of the oldest cricket clubs in the world. A receipt for brandy, given to the players, records the earliest known game of cricket at Goodwood in 1702. Today, the club and ground is owned by the Duke of Richmond, but run by a group of volunteers that make up the team.
In 1727, in Goodwood Park, a game was played between teams representing the 2nd Duke of Richmond and Mr Brodrick of Peper Harow Park, near Godalming (cricket is still played there today). As was common in those days there was a wager on the match and a set of rules was drawn up. These rules are the oldest set of cricket rules in the world. The originals are kept in Goodwood House, with a copy in the club pavilion and at Lord's.
The club has a strong link with Lord's. The 4th Duke was one of the original backers of Thomas Lord when he bought 'the rough piece of land' in St John's Wood, and the 5th Duke was President of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). The present Duke is Patron of Sussex County Cricket Club.
Another link with Lord's is the club colours. They were the racing colours of the Dukes of Richmond, since 1801. Sometime after their use by the Dukes and the cricket club they also became the colours of the MCC circa 1888.