Moor Allerton Golf Club was founded in 1923, with its original 18-hole course designed by Dr Alister McKenzie. However, by the 1960s, the club had outgrown its original site and made the decision to move to the nearby village of Wike in North Leeds.
Robert Trent Jones Senior was commissioned to design the course, his first in Britain, utilising 220 acres of picturesque and undulating Yorkshire countryside. He created three superb loops of nine-holes - the Lakes, Blackmoor and High - that all start and finish at the clubhouse. The Trent Jones trademarks of shallow bunkers, huge teeing grounds, lakes and large contoured greens are evident on all three loops. The courses opened for play in 1971 and, such was their design and quality, were shortlisted to hold the Ryder Cup in 1977.
Peter Alliss, who represented GB and Ireland in the Ryder Cup on eight occasions, was the Club Professional in the early 1970s. Whilst he is best known as 'the voice of golf' on TV, an author and course architect, he is still an honorary member and a frequent visitor. Likewise, Howard Clark (former Ryder Cup Player and now commentator on Sky Sports) was the tournament pro for many years and is also an honorary member.
Like many golf clubs up and down the country, Moor Allerton is facing some tough challenges to ensure they remain a viable asset in terms of attracting and retaining members during this ongoing recession. This is made even more difficult in an already competitive market as there are a further eight golf clubs within a five-mile radius.
Whilst a number of clubs have gone down the route of reducing budgets and, in some instances, laying off greenkeeping staff, Moor Allerton are bucking this trend by continuing to invest money to ensure it meets the demands of its members and guests alike.
This has come about with the vision of the clubs new chairman, Henry Stone, who is putting the final touches to the restructuring of the Board of Directors, Operations and Golf Services teams to oversee the running of the club.
Henry has been with the club since 1971 and has seen it go through good and bad times, especially the standard and playability of the course. Many of the 'bad times', he says, stemmed directly from decisions made by the committee at the time.
He believes that it is important to have the right blend of skills and experience on his committee, and to work closely with the members - currently just over 600. Fifty percent of the total annual income is ploughed back into the course as, he says, it is the main reason why people come to play at Moor Allerton.
One of his first tasks, on taking over the chairmanship, was to survey the membership. He wanted to find out exactly what they thought about the club, how well it was being run, the off course facilities - clubhouse, pro shop and changing rooms - and, of course, the presentation of the course. Whilst the results of the survey were positive, he is not resting on his laurels.
The club are blessed with having a very committed and vocal Greens Chairman in David Goldstone, whom many of you will know as the Managing Director of Tower Sport (Europe) Ltd. David has been a member for many years and it was his knowledge of sportsturf that, Henry saw, would make him ideal for the position.
David works closely with Course Manager, Marcus Oakey, who has been at the club for eight years, the last five as course manager. The partnership between them has seen steady improvement in presentation and playability. Between them, they have set a number of objectives:
• the course remains playable, if possible, 365 days of the year
• the quality of the playing surfaces continues to improve (encouragement of finer species)
• continue to invest in both the course and the greenkeeping staff
• improve the aesthetics of the course
• complete the fairway drainage programme
• improve greenkeeping facilities including new shed, messroom and workshop
• improve the ranking of the club with the aim of staging an Open regional qualifying event
• open up lines of communication to the membership, this is done by weekly e-mails regarding course updates to all members
Taking on the role of Greens Chairman has given David the opportunity to put into practice many years of industry knowledge, especially of supplementary products to maintain turf health. David acknowledges the strength of the partnership with Marcus.
The one area both Marcus and David honed in on was programmes. They both agreed that programmes only worked if the weather was with you. Therefore all products are purchased to enhance the course when the weather dictates and not to make a salesman's target achievable.
They have, initially, targeted the greens ensuring they receive detailed attention using new and tried and tested products such as tonics, growth regulators and wetting agents, along with a very comprehensive and structured aeration and topdressing programme, complimenting this with a new, safe acid that reduces bi-carbonate issues, thereby unlocking previously tight soils and letting the fertility products work at their peak all year round. This is producing huge cost savings as the fertiliser bill has reduced drastically.
They work very closely with Scotts, who supply their fertilisers with great success, especially as all Scotts products have been spoon fed, thereby reducing any possible thatch issues, and use Tower branded wetting agents, tonics and safe acids. As Marcus says, it is all about getting the soil in balance and ensuring the grass plant is healthy and stress free, coupled with a keen, willing and able staff who are open to new initiatives presented to them.
Marcus has a staff of eight to assist him - Kevin Towend, Andrew Ival, Adam Cheetam, Philip Stanton, Andrew Sweeting, Gary Hudson, Johnny Platt and Tony Boyes.
With course presentation high on the list the mowers are kept in pristine condition to ensure an accurate cut. Green speeds are monitored on a daily basis with the intention of keeping them around 10-11 on the stimpmeter between April and September for general play, increasing to 13.5 for tournaments. The average stimpmeter reading over the year was 11.2. Summer height of cut is 3.5mm rising to 6mm in the winter.
The greens, collars, aprons and tees are cut on a daily basis during the growing season, tailing off when growth slows. Collars and aprons are cut at 7.5mm all year round and tees at 9mm.
The fairways are cut two or three times a week - 15mm in the growing season and around 18mm at other times. Striping of the fairways begins as early as the end of February. Semi-rough is mown on a weekly basis at 45mm whilst the rough is kept at 75mm.
Renovation work on the greens begins early in the year, hollow coring in late January with 13mm tines and topdressing with between 1-1.5 tonnes of Rufford No 2 per green.
At the end of February each green is 'Gradened' at 13mm spacings to a depth of 20mm using 2mm blades. A further 1.5 tonnes of topdressing is applied.
The greens are then topdressed on a monthly basis, applying 0.5 tonnes of material to each green.
At the end of September, or early October, they are microtined at 25mm spacings to a depth of 85mm. 1.5 tonnes of topdressing is applied.
An aeration programme is ongoing between the three main renovation periods, when they are sarrel rolled on a weekly basis and pencilled tined monthly to a depth of 100mm. Finally, in late October, they are vertidrained with 13mm tines to a depth of 250mm with a slight heave action.
The feeding programme is:
• Nov-Feb: RT 3:0:3+Fe+Mg 20kg per 650 square metres
• Mar-Apr: Scotts 16:0:16 spring start 25kg per 650 square metres
• May-Oct: Scotts 10:0:10 liquid feed applied monthly
• Tower's ph acid + FX30 seaweed applied monthly
• 120-130kg of N is applied per year
• Depending on weather conditions, one of Tower's fourteen different wetting agents monthly.
Sward composition varies from green to green with various levels of bent and poa. Some are currently at a 50/50, whilst a few are moving in the right direction at 70/30. Only one green is where Marcus would like it to be, at 90/10.
Wetting agents are applied on a thirty day programme on greens, and ninety days on tees.
Having three loops of nine holes helps with renovations, as a loop can be closed off at at time for the work to be carried out and recover as required without affecting the members.
Much of the winter work will concentrate on the tree plantations that require thinning and cleaning out. Some areas of woodland will be removed altogether to improve aesthetics and line of play. Other work will involve the renovation of some of the bunkers. All the machinery will be serviced in-house and then sent away for sharpening.
As for longer-term projects, the club have submitted plans for new sheds and mess room facilities which will be modelled on the ones at the new Castle Course at St Andrews. They are also aiming to redevelop the bowling green into a modern, short game practice green area, based on the one at the EGU headquarters.
The club are also looking to offer a range of deals to encourage new members, and have already set up a passport scheme to enable current members to get green fee deals at other clubs of similar standing.
David has also arranged for a number of the greenkeepers attending Harrogate Week, only twelve minutes drive from the club, to have the chance to undertake a course walk to see the work being undertaken, with the aim of sharing information and getting feedback from fellow professionals.
It's good to see a forward thinking club like Moor Allerton in action. The combined efforts of Henry, David and Marcus are certainly making a difference at a club with much local competition.
You would have to say that the future looks bright, and their approach may prove to be an example for other clubs faced with recessionary difficulties. Certainly, the support given to the greenkeeping team is to be applauded.
Toro Greensmaster 3250D greensmower - 11 blade units with groomers
Toro Greensmaster 3100 greensmower - 11 blade units with groomers
Toro Groundsmaster 320D 3wd tees and aprons mowers x 2 - both 9 blade
Toro Reelmaster 6700 fairway mower
Toro Reelmaster 6500 fairway mower
Toro Groundsmaster 4700 semi-rough mower
Ransomes 3520 Commander rough mower
Toro Sidewinder for tee surrounds, bunker faces and green surrounds
Toro 2000 for tee surrounds, bunker faces and green surrounds
Toro Greensmaster 1000 pedestrian greensmowers x 5
Toro Greensmaster 1600 pedestrian tees mowers x 3
John Deere 495 tractor for plantation work
John Deere ProGator with sprayer
John Deere HPX Gator
Toro Workman diesel 4wd
Toro 2100 Workman
Toro bunker rakes x 2 - 1 with pump and grader
New Holland TD90 tractor with loader
Iseki TK38 tractor
Kubota 2150 tractor
Charterhouse Verti-drain - 2 metre for fairways
Charterhouse Verti-drain - 1.5 metre for tees and greens
John Deere Aercore - 1.5metre