Founded during the Great War in 1914, Balmoral Golf Club is situated right beside the Kings Hall Exhibition Centre, less than four miles from Belfast city centre. Uniquely, Balmoral has had an Open Champion and four Ryder Cup members serving as club professionals and assistants over the years - Fred Daly, David Feherty, Norman Drew and Eddie Polland.
The club also has its own strong connection with the wartime past; there was once an aerodrome based here until 1918, which was used by the Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force. However, these days it's a gentler type of machine that rumbles along the fairways and greens of this historic course.
In 2008, Balmoral Golf Club enlisted the specialist services of Northern Ireland John Deere dealer Johnston Gilpin & Co to supply an extensive new range of professional golf & turf machinery, worth in the region of £300,000 over the next five years, to maintain and improve the playability and presentation of the course.
Balmoral is currently two thirds of the way through an extensive redevelopment that will see the club create 18 USGA specification greens, including new tee boxes and bunker complexes. This £1.3m investment over four years is designed to raise the profile of Balmoral as well as the standard of courses across Ireland.
Course manager Kevin McColm and Johnston Gilpin sales manager Ricky Neill have worked closely together to ensure that the right equipment has been matched to the job. It was also the dealership's reputation for providing a first class backup service that swung the deal in their favour, according to Kevin.
Indeed, Johnston Gilpin was formally recognised as a highly professional business in September this year, when the firm won a prestigious Machinery Dealer of the Year prize in the annual awards organised by trade magazines Service Dealer and Turf Professional.
"Given the level of finances that the club is investing in the remodelling of the course, it made sense to invest in the best kit to maintain it," says Kevin McColm. "Having previously worked with John Deere equipment at two other courses before coming to Balmoral, I was more than happy to do the deal with Johnston Gilpin, which has been a fantastic success.
"John Deere still leads the way with the likes of their pedestrian mowers and utility vehicles, they're by far the best machines I've seen," Kevin adds. "It's also been a great advantage having professional advice from the team at Johnston Gilpin - when it came to choosing machines for certain tasks, I trusted their judgement completely."
For example, Kevin was looking for a machine that could handle cutting the rough, but would also have the flexibility to tackle banks. Ricky Neill advised him to opt for John Deere's new 8800 TerrainCut semi-roughs rotary mower. This has since proved to be good advice, as Kevin says that the 8800 produces a quality finish and maintains a high standard of presentation around the course.
He is also a fan of the MotionMatch feature on his new John Deere 4520 compact tractor, which is fitted with a front loader and backhoe. "MotionMatch, which is an anti-stall feature, does a fantastic job," he says. "It is so user friendly, it makes it very easy to train the staff to use the machine, and it allows us to give our younger operators a chance to work with the larger kit."
Kevin is also expecting the 4520 to come into its own this winter, with irrigation pipes to be located and replaced, and bunkers that need scraping out and reforming, among other tasks.
In addition to these two machines, the new John Deere fleet includes three 220C walk-behind greens mowers, two 2500B tees and greens triplex mowers, an 8700 PrecisionCut fairway mower, a 900 utility mower, two HPX Gator utility vehicles, a 2030A ProGator with sprayer, a tractor-mounted Aercore 1500 aerator and a 1200A bunker rake.
The photograph shows (left to right, back row) Balmoral Golf Club greens staff Billy Mills, Keith Spiers, Jonny Moore, Jim Murray, Pat Campbell and Adrian Morton; (front row) Ricky Neill of John Deere dealer Johnston Gilpin & Co, course manager Kevin McColm, club captain Harry Glover and Brian Shelcott of Johnston Gilpin.