Vic Purse has been a lover of bowls for over forty years, having first taken up the game up as a player way back in the early 1970s at his local club Coton, near Cambridge.
As the years went by he became more and more involved with the club, helping with bar duties, as captain and, eventually, head greenkeeper, taking on sole responsibility for maintaining the green and organising end of season renovations.
It was a steep learning curve but, over time, his experience and reputation for providing a good surface grew. This led to other clubs in the area seeking advice from him, so much so that he saw an opportunity to set up a bowling green maintenance contracting business. That was seven years ago.
Vic now looks after fourteen bowling clubs in and around Cambridge, six of which are on a full time contract basis. The eight other clubs employ him to undertake the end of season renovations, winter mowing duties and specialist works, such as feeding, aeration, spraying and topdressing.
Being a 'one-man' business is hard, however he is lucky he can call upon his brother and grandson to help him during the busy periods, generally with mowing and end of season work.
Vic is only too aware of the big issue facing bowling clubs. Declining membership means that many clubs simply don't have a huge income stream and, subsequently, only have a shoestring budget for maintenance.
So, Vic has to cut his cloth accordingly, constantly seeking good deals from his suppliers. Buying in bulk helps to keep down costs. He has forged a good relationship with Sherriff Amenity who supply him with a range of products, including 90 tonne of topdressing, fertiliser in half tonne loads, plus seed and fungicide.
Many of the greens he looks after are predominantly clay based. In the past these were problematic in terms of surface drainage. Many would become unplayable after a bout of rain. However, after several years of 'appropriate maintenance regimes', topdressing, aeration and the use of fertiliser products, wetting agents and, more recently, the application of Tower's Oars soil conditioner, Vic has been able to improve the performance of the sward, with all his greens having deeper rooting and improved surface playability.
During the playing season Vic will cut the greens three times a week, twice mid week and once on match days, which are either Saturday or Sunday.
A height of 5mm is maintained during the playing season (April- October), and raised to 10-12mm for the closed season, mowing as and when required.
Up until this year Vic always mowed the greens using Ransomes Super Certes pedestrian mowers, which meant walking several miles a day. This began to take its toll on him (he is in his sixties) and he found it increasingly tiring. So, this year, he decided to invest in a triple mower to see if that would help.
In February he bought a second hand Toro Greensmaster which not only did away with the walking, but also significantly reduced his mowing time.
However, it has come at a cost. The Greensmaster cost around £5,000 and he also had to buy a trailer and skids to transport the machine.
He obviously considers it worthwhile because, when I met up with him recently, he was trying out a Jacobsen Tri-king provided by Ransomes Jacobsen.
He seems at ease using the triple and is convinced it will not create any lasting problems to the greens. He knows that, during the winter months, he may have to revert to pedestrian mowing when weather conditions dictate.
End of season renovations begin in late September when the greens are scarified to a depth of 15mm using a Graden, topdressed with five tonnes of 70/30 and over seeded. The greens are then fertilised with a NPK 6:5:10 granular fertiliser.
During the winter months Vic will aerate the greens several times with his Groundsman spiker to a depth of 100mm.
Vic also takes a number of soil samples from the greens and sends them off for analysis.
A full maintenance programme costs between £4500-5000 (mowing and end of season renovations), end of season renovations £1500 and £600 for a winter cutting regime. To assist clubs he offers a direct debit payment scheme to help them spread the maintenance costs.
At the end of the day there is a cost for providing a maintenance service - labour, materials, fuel and transport have to be paid for. It may seem a large amount, however, when you split the costs down by the amount of games played per season, and take in to account the number of members who participate, the costs are manageable.
For example, most of the clubs Vic looks after play at least four matches per week - a total of 96 in a season. Divide the annual maintenance cost of £4500 by 96 and the cost is £46.87 per match.
Further divide this cost by the number of members who regularly play matches (usually twenty) and the cost is just £2.34 per match per player.
Vic is concerned that membership appears to be on the wane at most of the clubs he looks after. In addition, there appears to be a lack of interest in working on the greens.
He sees the survival of these clubs dependant on individuals who are prepared to take up the role of greenkeeper (paid or volunteered).
But, for the moment, it would seem that there are plenty of bowling clubs in the Cambridge area who are happy to rely on Vic's skills and dedication.
Long may it continue!