Set on the Lincolnshire coast with beautiful views over the North Sea, the James Braid designed North Shore golf course at Skegness offers a challenge to all levels of golfer with its interesting and attractive mixture of links and parkland holes crossing over each other in two loops of nine.
Like many golf clubs across the country, North Shore has seen a growth in membership during the coronavirus lockdown, and owner/director William Mitchell anticipates their biggest increase for several years when the club's country members return to play safely. Country membership is available to anyone living outside a 30-mile radius of Skegness, and local legend has it that at one time North Shore could boast the largest holiday membership in the world.
The pandemic also interrupted, but ultimately did not affect, an order for the club's first new fleet of John Deere course maintenance equipment from local dealer F G Adamson & Son of Langworth near Lincoln. This was originally finalised before the lockdown started, but with the closure of the club's popular hotel as well as the course, payment had to be postponed.
"John Deere Financial were very understanding and flexible about the finance lease on the new kit," says William. "This has been structured around a six-year seasonal profile matched to our normal income stream, based on membership renewals in April and summer visitors to both the course and hotel. The whole deal has been very straightforward and works very well for the club, especially in the current circumstances.
"Annual full membership makes up a small proportion of rounds played, with our main business relying on visitors staying with us on golf breaks. Skegness' population is about 20,000, but summer visitors account for 10 times that number, so we really rely on that influx of people each year. Groups stay at the hotel for a couple of nights, play four rounds of golf and hold their own competitions.
"The course therefore has to be in tip-top condition - if that side of the business isn't as good as we can make it, the rest wouldn't stack up. We're happy to say that we've had really good feedback from members on the course's playability since the John Deere machines were introduced, right from the start. Kudos to our head greenkeeper Brett Cornelius, too - he did an amazing job during lockdown and the members have really appreciated it."
The new fleet consists of a John Deere 7700A PrecisionCut fairway mower, 8800A TerrainCut rotary roughs mower, two 2500E hybrid electric triplex mowers equipped with greens and tees cylinder cutting units, a TH 6x4 Gator utility vehicle and a Tru-Turf greens iron.
"We lost our head mechanic last December, but Brett combines his greenkeeping expertise with mechanical skills," adds William. "This cemented in our minds that we needed to move from a shed of old kit to new, up-to-date machines and technology that are reliable and efficient."
Brett had used John Deere equipment before coming to North Shore as head greenkeeper seven years ago, so he discussed what was available with Adamson's area sales manager Scott Trestrail and had all the recommended machines on demonstration before finalising the deal.
"The machines we chose were pretty much like for like replacements, although we hadn't had a dedicated ride-on rough mower before, so that made the biggest immediate improvement," he says. "The 8800A rides the course contours well and you can raise and lower the cutting height in five minutes, it's really easy. I had used a Gator at my previous course and it's such a versatile vehicle, with the six-wheel design providing very low ground pressure."
Brett carried out very basic course maintenance during lockdown - he was originally furloughed along with the rest of the staff, but only took about 10 days off before opting to return and keep the course looking as tidy as possible. "Basically I just did a lot of mowing!" he says.
"The initial drought conditions meant the links holes browned off straight away and didn't need much attention, so I was lucky in that respect. Since reopening in May we're still doing a lot of catching up, but having new machines has helped us enormously. They've made us more productive and we spend far less time in the workshop than before."