With the River Blythe forming a major feature on the course, the Manor Golf Club has grown from humble beginnings to become a popular venue for members and visitors alike.
Course Manager Anthony Foulds explains how this 'hidden gem' has risen to become one of the region's favourite courses
The Manor Golf Club (Kingstone) sits just off the A518 a few miles south-west of Uttoxeter in the village of Kingstone; denoted in brackets to identify it from various other 'Manor' clubs in the UK.
Anthony 'Ant' Foulds is the course manager, a position he has held for twenty-two years. "In 1989, the Bathew family, whose daughter I had married, decided that they'd had enough of farming and, in order to still get some use out of the land, they announced they were going to build a golf course," he explains. " My father-in-law asked me if I would like to help run it. It seemed like a good idea at the time but, looking back now, I probably should have kicked him in the shins and run off!"
He didn't and, just two years later, the club was established as a business venture and the family approached Ted Anderson, a local architect and family friend, and asked if he would design the layout of a nine hole course on the seventy acres of land.
This, along with the building of the clubhouse that would eventually overlook the whole course, was the best start the Manor could have had.
The nine hole course proved to be great fun to play and, as Ted's first attempt at course design, a great base from which to expand to eighteen. The only regret now is that more photographs weren't taken at the time.
"Whilst still serving in the Royal Navy, I completed a two year correspondence course in Golf Club Management, then a basic greenkeeping course at Rodbaston Agricultural College, followed by further qualifications at Reaseheath College," Ant continues.
In 1994, the club purchased another thirty-three acres of land and brought in a golf course constructor to change the existing nine holes into an eighteen hole golf course. This involved a complete reshaping of the nine hole layout, indeed, only the first and second remain from the original Ted Anderson design.
In 1999, the club acquired another sixteen acres of adjacent land and built three brand new holes - a par 3, 4 and 5 - and got rid of three par 3s. This took the par of the course up to a more respectable 71 and also brought in the new regime of USGA greens, built by Ant and his staff in-house, and got rid of three poorly constructed ones.
In 2003, another USGA green was constructed on top of what was by far the most unfair green on the course - the infamous 3rd; a wickedly sloping green that was hard to keep the ball on.
In 2008, another three USGA greens were constructed to replace the 1st, 7th and 9th, the original greens having been poorly constructed using materials from the ponds that were dug out.
New, larger tees are constantly being constructed in order to keep up with the popularity of the course. Currently standing at 6,215 yards from the white tees, the course has now settled into a design that tests all levels of golfer.
"The land here is clay based," explains Ant, "and, right back at the beginning, used to dry out and cracks would show up all over the place. However, after a rigorous verti-drain programme, the course usually stands up to a good drought now."
"When I started here, just twelve months after opening, it was a nine hole course with three 'constructed' greens, with the rest just 'mown out of the ground'. The tees were just mounds of soil with a flattened top. We now have eighteen holes with twelve greens constructed to USGA specification, with another two to be completed this winter. Every new tee has also been constructed by the greenstaff," confirms Ant proudly.
"As you can imagine, having a combination of push-up greens and USGA spec greens means two different programmes throughout the year. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages, but it will be good to eventually have them all as USGA spec."
"When I first started out, I received a tremendous amount of help from Richard Clarke of Trentham Park Golf Club, (sadly now passed away) and Andy Cole has also been a big help to me throughout my development."
Ant continues; "The course is over 110 acres in total and is situated in the valley of the River Blythe. I have a small team here and, so, a lot of the acreage that is not in play is untouched. The flora and fauna are very important here. We had an environmental study done on the course a few years ago and found we have a rare dragonfly that likes our water features. The club is also a member of the Barn Owl Protection Society."
"I have my right-hand man, Don Blacker, who's been with me for twenty years and, without him, I'd be a bit lost. He is a fully qualified mechanic and takes care of all the machinery. I am also very lucky to work with my son, Jack, who has just finished his NVQ Level 2 qualification at Reaseheath."
"That's all my full time staff, although I have a part-time greenkeeper and, this year, Johnny Taylor is back over from the States. Johnny used to work here but, two years ago, got an internship at the Robert Trent Jones golf club in Virginia. He's back in the UK for the summer whilst his work permit gets sorted for his return to the USA."
Ant bemoans the fact that this is the first time in twenty years he has not had an apprentice at the club. "I have had some great results with apprentices - Johnny was one of my former apprentices and, as well as working at RTJ, has even changed the pins on the White House putting green!"
All the staff are encouraged to attend as many educational seminars as possible. "Jack is currently part of the BIGGA CPD programme and tries to attend all Midland's based education days. We also try to attend any local demo days and seminars throughout the year."
Ant goes on to explain that he is the course Health and Safety Officer, whilst every member of the greens staff is First Aid trained; "an important factor when we are spread out across such a large acreage."
"All the greens staff eat in the clubhouse and I encourage them to be accessible to members and visitors. I also encourage them to play golf as, then, they have a proper 'feel' for the course."
"It's important to stay in touch with the members. If there is any major work planned, I will put several notices in the clubhouse, and there is also a members 'mag' published every spring in which I write an article."
"All my staff are able to do every single job on the course. We are extremely short staffed here, so there is no option but to make sure everyone knows how to do every task."
The greens are cut at 4mm every other day in summer (6mm in winter) and rolled on the alternate days. They are sarrel rolled every fortnight, followed by a light topdress. "We follow this up with a brush/roll using the TMSystem units. If I was to name one piece of equipment that has helped to improve the course, it would be the tmsystem roller units. With the brush attachment we can topdress, brush in and then mow before 8.00am on a weekday without any disruption to play."
"I like to pencil tine the greens twice during the growing season and the whole course is verti-drained twice a year - usually October and March," continues Ant. "This practice is entirely governed by the weather. As previously stated, we are on clay here, so the timing of the verti-draining is vital. Too dry and the tines will not go in to the required depth. Too wet and the fracturing doesn't occur."
"Eight of the greens are still to get proper irrigation so, in dry periods, you'll often find me out 'very early' to hand water them."
"I don't use temporary greens here," confirms Ant, "but have had to build one to allow for the construction of one of the new USGA greens on the 15th. This project should begin around October/November; I can't start my construction until the temp is playable."
"My feeding programme is usually based on the soil sample results every other March. This is undertaken by Tony Cheese who I've been dealing with for about fifteen years."
"We cut the fairways twice a week. I like to cut when they are dry - even though my Toro 6700 is fitted with roller brushes - and we aim to cut Monday or Tuesday and then Thursday or Friday. However, during the last few wet springs and summers, we were mowing the fairways three times a week. Cutting height is maintained at 16mm throughout the year."
"I try and cut all the semi-rough at least once a week," explains Ant. "We do have faster growing areas that need doing twice during spring but, overall, in summer, once is adequate. Rough is cut at 45mm."
"We have the River Blythe running through the middle of the front nine and round the border of the back nine. It's a nice feature and brings its own set of wildlife, something we are keen to encourage here. The river valley also means the course usually has a good breeze blowing, which provides an additional challenge for the golfers."
"However, the river is prone to flooding, with 2012 being a particularly bad summer, the worst I have seen in my twenty years here. The river came over and flooded six holes completely. The water level stayed like that for three days; we were very lucky with a minimal amount of damage, particularly on the greens. Only the 12th was damaged. It wasn't really the water that did the damaged, but all the debris that came down from higher up - trees, bridge decking, shingle etc. The river doesn't usually flood that bad and I've certainly never had a whole green submerged before. But, when it happens, there is little we can do but to wait for the floodwaters to subside and clean up afterwards."
"There is also a practice area just down from the clubhouse. It used to be a fully-fledged range, but the golf balls used to go missing, so now it's just left for the golfers to hit and fetch their own!"
As the interview concludes, Ant offers his take on the state of the industry. "It's no secret the golf industry is in trouble. Clubs with dwindling membership are dying a slow death. Just recently, one of our nearest courses closed due to lack of interest in the game, whilst our junior section is non-existent - and the fees are only £10!"
"Greenkeepers, as a whole, are very undervalued in the UK. I have been lucky enough to visit a few golf courses in the USA and the whole response when you say you are a head greenkeeper (or superintendent in their case) is entirely different from here. Over there, greenkeepers are recognised and treated like the valued professionals they really are. In this country, unfortunately, we can sometimes be used more as a complaints bureau for members."
What's in the shed?
Toro 3250 greens mower c/w 6 cutting units, 3 for use after topdressing
Toro 3050 petrol greensmower c/w verticut units and TMSystem roller units
John Deere 2653A tees mower
Toro 6700 fairway mowers x 2
Kioti 551 mid-size tractor
John Deere 4410 compact tractor c/w 72inch underslung mowing deck
Pro-flex Progressive rough mower
Ant aims to replace one piece of major mowing machinery each year, which tends to work out at about a six year turnaround on each individual mower.
This autumn/winter Ant is hoping to re-site the workshed to the middle of the course. "At the moment, our machinery space is by the side of the club car park, which means we have to use the car park at all times of the day. That's not ideal, especially when it's damp and the machines are dumping grass clippings off the tyres everywhere!"
"I have sole responsibility on all course purchasing. There is no green committee. The buck, as they say, stops with me!"