New fleet for new course
The club's comprehensive John Deere fleet, recently bought from local dealer Greenlay of Choppington, includes two 220B walk-behind greens mowers, two 2653A tees & surrounds mowers, a 3235C fairway mower, an Aercore 1500 aerator and TC125 trailed core collector, two 6x4 diesel Gator utility vehicles and the new HPX high performance Gator, a Pro Gator equipped with the 750-litre capacity HD200 low profile sprayer, a 23.5hp 4115 compact tractor and the new 46hp 4320 compact tractor with front loader, one of the new 20 Series models launched at the end of 2004.
Close House was bought last year from the University of Newcastle by ex-graduate Graham Wylie, co-founder of the Sage computer software business. The existing 18 hole golf course, which in the past was exclusively used by the University staff and students but is now open to all, is to be completely redesigned and extended, subject to planning permission, over the next two to three years.
Steve Cram, the new estates manager at Close House, is excited by the challenge of helping to create a brand new championship standard 18 hole golf course from scratch, in this picturesque Tyne Valley setting.
"It's great to be involved right from day one," says Steve. "There's a huge amount of work to do, but we're hoping to make a good start this spring. The existing course is really only big enough for nine holes, so we're looking to make quite a few changes, although we're still deciding on the final layout. The terrain is mostly quite flat, but there are already plenty of water features and bunkers, and we feel we can turn this into a very challenging, US style course."
In the meantime, Close House is fully open for play, and the 12 staff are kept very busy maintaining the estate, which also includes a number of football and rugby pitches that will continue to be used by the University. Legend also has it that W G Grace once played cricket here, and there's even a listed score box.
When it came to choosing his grounds maintenance equipment, Steve Cram made a point of comparing the different makes on the market, but was ultimately swayed by the dealer support he knew was available from Greenlay, from his time as head greenkeeper at Slaley Hall in Northumberland, where he also used John Deere equipment.
"The majority of machines that are available can be quite similar, so dealer service and backup are crucially important," he says. "You need to be happy about what and who you're working with, and it makes life a lot easier when you know what to expect. Greenlay and John Deere know their equipment, what it's capable of and how it will benefit the course, and this makes a big difference."