Colin Montgomerie is regarded as the best golfer never to win a Major, although he has, since joining the Seniors Tour, won one of their equivalent tournaments on four occasions. Monty has now turned his considerable golfing talents to course design, and one of his most stunning creations is Montgomerie Maxx Royal on Turkey's Mediterranean coast at Belek.
Course Manager, Ben Lovett, discusses his role at the club and how he came to be a Brit working abroad
Benjamin 'Ben' Lovett took on the role of Course Manager at Montgomerie Maxx Royal, part of the European Tour Destination portfolio of courses, in June 2009. Having previously worked at several Troon Golf properties worldwide, including Troon North in the USA, The Grove here in the UK, Pacific Harbour and Settlers Run in Australia, before heading to Spain to work on the construction and grow in of Las Colinas de Campoamor in Spain, he was well qualified for the position.
"I started working on golf courses as a summer job, doing renovation projects in Ireland, before going full time after completing my A levels. After spending time doing construction and maintenance in Ireland, the UK and Spain, I went to Penn State University to complete a Turfgrass Management programme on an internship at East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta. From there, I joined Troon Golf."
"It was my father who got me into the industry and inspired me to be where I am today ... and he puts up with my numerous phone calls about everything!"
Opened in 2007 and designed by Colin Montgomerie in association with EGD (European Golf Design), 'The Monty' as it is affectionately known, has hosted three Turkish Airlines Opens as part of the European Tour Final Series. It is built on pure sand amongst pine trees on the Mediterranean coast with bent grass greens. The rest of the course is Bermuda Tifsport 419, which is overseeded with ryegrass during the winter.
It is an 18-hole, par 72 course measuring 6522 metres (7133 yards), with some forty hectares of grass, two of which are the bent grass greens. There's seven hectares of wasteland, forty-five traditional bunkers, seven lakes and a man made stream. There are also two full size football pitches, four clay and five hard tennis courts, plus three practice greens - putting, chipping and bunker - and a double ended driving range. Also on site are two hotels with over one thousand rooms.
Ben reports to the Golf Course Manager and, together, they work with the Hotel group on budgets and purchasing.
He has a team of twenty-seven, including an assistant, foreman, two irrigation technicians, two golf mechanics and three buggy mechanics, with an additional team of three for the football pitches and clubhouse landscaped areas. All the team are Turkish and most have worked at the Monty since its opening. All staff work a six day week, with a designated day off to enable Ben to schedule a full team every day. Everything is serviced in-house with support from the local dealers.
"We aim to train all the staff to carry out multiple tasks and, during the year, job rotate to mix everyone up. Running up to tournaments, we tend to move towards keeping everyone on the same jobs to improve quality and control."
"We have regular management meetings where I update everybody on my ongoing programme. I like to put together Power Point presentations for upcoming projects as well as our yearly plan and objectives. I find it's better at showing what's going on than just sending an email and lots of photos!"
Additional help comes from the European Tour agronomist team, whom Ben has worked with for the past few years. "This will continue as we are now a European Tour Destination," he explains. "We also work closely with EGD on all design changes and use the original contractor to carry out these works. We are currently in the process of gaining certification from the Golf Environment Organisation."
"We are on pure native sand which, although a little fine, is very good for growing grass on. The greens have a gravel layer to help speed up lateral movement of water, but are pure sand, unlike a USGA green. The tees are square and built with gravel drains and a sieved native sand. Greens and tees do require regular aeration, but nothing outside our normal maintenance programme."
"We have a wall to wall RainBird satellite decoder system and have sensors in a couple of greens monitoring temperature, EC (electrical conductivity - the concentration of dissolved ions) and VWC (volumetric water content). In the past, we had ten fixed fans on some of our more shaded greens but, through our work to improve shade and air movement issues, we have been able to get rid of these and have adapted them to be mobile, just in case of extreme weather conditions. All lakes have underwater aerators and fountains to help with water quality."
"This region of Turkey has what I would call an 'extreme climate', with cold winters and hot summers. This means we have to overseed our Bermuda with ryegrass in the winter when it goes dormant. Our summer temperature reaches the high 40s Celsius, and this makes maintaining bent grass greens very difficult. In the winter, we get regular frosts and, when it rains, we get large volumes in short periods of time. We are fortunate to have a free draining sand rootzone and good quality irrigation water available in sufficient amounts. Over the year we have tailored our maintenance programme to prepare the greens for the summer temperatures and put a lot of work into root growth."
The course is tree lined, but the design was very good at limiting areas affected by shade issues. "Three years ago, we undertook a tree management programme where 8,000 trees were trimmed and 1,000 removed. On top of this, we now undertake regular undergrowth removal to improve air movement."
As for general maintenance regimes, Ben confirms that the greens are kept at 3-4mm, tees and approaches at 8-10mm, fairways 10-14mm and rough 25-35mm.
"We hand mow the greens every day with brushes during the growing season and alternate with dew removal and rolling during the summer months, as well as lifting the height to alleviate stress. We vent the greens every two weeks in conjunction with a topdress. How we perform this depends on the amount of golf being played and the temperature. When possible, we solid tine with pedestrian aerators but, during busy periods or high temperatures, we utilise a PlanetAir or Star slit after applying sand. This is followed by bushing or blowing to get the sand into the canopy. On top of this, we aim to vertidrain two or three times a year -December, February and April."
"For irrigation, we monitor using our POGO online system and water on a light, but frequent basis which suits our soil profile and, during the summer, we syringe hot areas during the day. It is import to maintain adequate moisture, but not too much as, with the high heat we get, it is possible for us to get scalding when the water boils the plant, so our POGO is a valuable tool to provide the perfect amount of water each night."
"We fertilise the greens weekly, based on growth potential (GP) and temperature-based growing degree days (GDD) and, during the summer, start using Primo Maxx. I tend to go with an NPK ratio of 4:1:2 and also use seaweed, amino and humid acids. Over the last few years, I have cut back on my use of wetting agents as I've felt the products available to me have not provided me with the results I need. During the summer, we edge the greens weekly to stop the ingress of Bermuda."
"Tees, approaches and fairways are Bermuda 419 during the summer and sown with ryegrass during the winter. All tees are mown every four days and we have just adapted our mowers to brush cut. We fertilise with foliar fertiliser every week using TeeJet BoomJet nozzles, plus two granular applications of 15:15:15 every year in May and September to aid the transition. We verticut four or five times a year and use the recycling dresser twice. We are in the process of making a solid tine aerator to be able to spike three or four times; at the moment, we use the level spike."
"The rough is mown once a week during the growing season and fertilised the same as the tees, approaches and fairways. To aid transition, we are aggressive with raking and verticutting during the spring and remove all clippings."
"Every September, we overseed all Bermuda areas with ryegrass. For this process, we are closed for ten to fourteen days. This year, we seeded three types of rye from Semmilas Fito, a Spanish company specialising in warm and cool season grasses - Sun at 30gm, Lover at 30gm and Rinnovo at 10gm."
"To prepare for overseeding, we have to enable a good seed/soil contact. To achieve this, we back off watering the Bermuda and verticut the tees, approaches and fairways in two directions; for the rough, we scalp it down to 12mm. We seed Sun and Lover in two directions with a Vicon fertiliser spreader, and the Rinovo in one direction with a speed seed. We top up areas by hand with drop rotary spreaders where needed. To finish the process, we dragmat in and start watering in short regular cycles during the day to ensure the seed stays damp. The seed germinates within five days and the first cut is just prior to opening, at 16mm."
"To transition back to Bermuda in the spring, we monitor temperatures and start cultural practices to open and weaken the ryegrass and enable the dormant Bermuda to come through. This includes lowering the height of cut, verticutting, raking, solid tining, hollow tining and using the Koro Recycling dresser. It is important to achieve 100 days of Bermuda growth every year to provide a good surface to overseeded into."
"As a resort course, we are very presentation driven as each guest expects Championship like conditions year round."
"Where renovations are concerned, we almost have a wrap-around season here and, therefore, very limited down time. We currently have an ongoing irrigation project and a woodland management programme which we undertake over the winter months. In the coming years, we are also looking to upgrade our bunkers and are looking into the various liner options at the moment."
"We try and do as much as possible in-house with our own team and, of course, we have to stick to the budget. We aim to work to a five year plan, but that is constantly being updated."
"Recent weather patterns have impacted hugely on our overseeding and transitions back. We have to plan our seeding dates nine months in advance, and to predict the weather that far in advance is proving impossible."
"We take yearly soil samples, although my soil generally tells me the same thing every year, which is we are low in everything and have high pH and carbonates. We take daily readings of canopy and soil temperature, EC and VWC using a POGO turf probe, which is one of the best bits of kits I've bought. It also has inbuilt GPS which enables us to map our course, including checking our irrigation layout."
Recent projects have included the rebuilding of the stream on the 8th hole, two new tees, and an extended green. We also narrowed and levelled a couple of fairways in preparation for the 2013 Turkish Open. On top of that, we curbed a couple thousand metres of cart path and always have little landscape projects on the go. The main project last year was the installation of nine holes of floodlights which we project managed and supervised."
"And, over the last few year, we have worked on four grass areas around our hotels, laying over 100,000 metres of turf!"
"As a resort course, we need to keep on top of pests and diseases, so we regularly scout for insects and have traps set up. We have a pre-emergent programme in place for weeds and run a preventative fungicide programme in the summer on the greens. We aim to apply the minimum amount of pesticides possible to enable us to reach our desired conditions. Summer weeds, especially Crabgrass and Goosegrass, are tough to control and require several pre-emergent applications but, for the last several years, touch wood, we have been lucky and not seen much disease activity."
"Army worms are our main pest and we need to make regular applications as they have multiple lifecycles throughout the year. This year, we are working with GDD models to time our applications before they become a problem."
"The local flora and fauna is very important to us, and it's part of our being in the process of joining the GEO concourse programme. We are currently working toward this as a golf course and a hotel group."
"We work with the local forestry department and the local university and are looking to bring in a consultant to help us fulfil our GEO commitments. As part of our woodland management plan, we are constantly trying to promote native species and wildlife."
Asked how his job has changed in recent years, Ben says that it is becoming more data orientated. "This is leading me to become more flexible with planning and carrying out jobs when the weather suits. I am hoping, over time, that newer software and apps will mean that less time is spent on paperwork and more time in the field."
"However, with constant phone and email access, it is becoming more and more difficult to detach myself from the job. With only one day off a week here, year round, and a wrap around season, it is always an intense working environment."
On the plus side, social media activity means that I am able to network and meet like-minded people. Seeing what other people are doing worldwide really opens your eyes and lets you try new and interesting ideas. The amount of training and get togethers I see in the UK, organised by BIGGA and through other seminars and roadshows, is truly outstanding and I hope this filters through to the rest of Europe and, indeed, worldwide. We have recently hosted a two day seminar with FEGGA, GEO and R&A, so that's a start."
"Are we undervalued? To a point, but it's something we need to work on personally to show our value to our own golf courses. Slowly, but surely, greenkeeping is becoming more recognised."
What's in the shed?
Allen 450 Pro Hover mower
Classen SC-18 sod cutter
Hersteller Rink C300 rake
John Deere 800 Aercores x2
John Deere 3235C fairway mowers x3
John Deere 2653B rough mowers x3
John Deere 2500 approach mowers x3
John Deere 2030A Pro-Gator
John Deere 2030 Pro-Gators x2
John Deere 1200A Sand-Masters x3
John Deere 6x4 Gator
John Deere 1500 Aercore
John Deere TS Gator x4
John Deere Gator x2
John Deere CX Gator x3
John Deere 260C tees mowers x6
Koro Recycler Dresser
Planet Air Aeration
Redexim Rink 1015 topdresser
Redexim 1600 Speed Seed
Redexim 1310 Turf Tidy
Redexim 2200 Level Spike
Toro 4500 rough mower
Toro Sidewinder 3500 rough mower
Toro Greenflex 2100 greens mowers x6
Toro Proforce debris blower
Toro greens roller
Turfmech 360 Tornado
Tycrop PP-180 SH topdresser
Tycrop MH-400 material handler
Tycrop QP-300 SH Quick Pass topdresser
Vicon Gübre-Tohum x2
Club Car Precedent x2
"All machinery is purchased outright, We work with our local dealers, but have regular contact with the regional representatives.
Working in Turkey and abroad, the main selling point to me is service and I will work with whoever provides this, so I'm not loyal to any particular brand, however, it seems the top two are always reliable, as is evident by the above list.
Our Koro Recycling Dresser, Sisis Veemo and PlanetAir have helped considerably to improve the course quality
We have a wash bay, but we do need to look into improving the outflow.
My wish list would include Toro Procores, a flail mower for the woodland and new fairway mowers, but I do alright for machinery, in general."