Located in the beautiful county of West Sussex, Chichester Golf Club is located just two miles south of the City. The venue is well established in the area as the premier public, parkland golf venue designed by Philip Saunders back in 1990.
The club boasts a vast array of golfing facilities; the testing 18-hole Cathedral course, a wonderful par 72 (6,442 yards), the 18-hole beginners Tower course, measuring 6,109 yards with a par of 71 and a well maintained 9-hole short course for the starter (or for those of us who find less time on their hands).
The club also boasts a 16-bay floodlit driving range complete with video teaching academy. For a little fun, also available is a specially designed footgolf course, and if that isn't enough, there is also a fantastic 18-hole jungle paradise adventure golf course complete with crashed aeroplane which you actually play under!
Getting Down to Business
Phil Helmn caught up with Andy Brown, celebrating his third anniversary as Course Manager at the club, where we had the opportunity to discuss the improvements he has made - not only out on the golf course, but behind the scenes. Plus, more importantly, how his appreciation for the business element of his role has aided his personal development as a course manager.
Andy's greenkeeping journey started out in October 2000, where he began working at his home club of Bognor Regis in West Sussex.
Incidentally, Andy still holds his golfing membership at the club and, being an exceptionally good golfer (yes, he plays off scratch, well -0.5 to be exact), he usually holds the enviable title of 'club champion'!
Course Manager Andy Brown
After a five year apprenticeship, he moved and took a role as an assistant at the prestigious Goodwood Club where he progressed quickly through the ranks; from assistant to deputy, then becoming the head greenkeeper of the Downs course in 2012.
With the wealth of experience of managing a premium course, Andy accepted the role of course manager at the newly formed Boundary Lakes Golf Club in Southampton, overseeing the grow-in of their new golf course. Establishing a golf course is a tough job at the best of times and Andy had to call on all his experience and drive to withstand the challenging very dry summer of 2016.
In 2019, Andy then moved a little nearer to home to the very popular Chichester Golf Club.
Andy knew that Chichester was a very busy facility with rounds of golf on the Tower course averaging 35,000 per annum and the Cathedral 25,000; large numbers. This, coupled with the other areas he had the responsibility of maintaining, he very quickly realised he had a big job on his hands!
Andy explained, "The Greens are thirty-year-old USGA specification so they drain well and hold nutrients, but after such a long time they need a little more attention with regard to aeration. The fairways and rough are pretty good, but can become wet very quickly if I am not on top of slitting and verti-draining."
Left to right: Anthony Misselbrook, Nick Malby, Chris Plum, Clive Haimes, James Jackson, Ian Ginn, Charlie Bloem, Andy Brown, Paul Williams
Andy's focus was on consistency of performance and he knew the overall success would hinge on careful planning of their maintenance programmes. Luckily (of course it's not luck), Andy is excellent at analysing Standard Operating Procedures (S.O.P.'s).
With only nine staff (including himself), he is constantly thinking of the most efficient way of carrying out all tasks; from the best route for raking bunkers to transport issues when machinery has to travel great distances around his domain. This level of thought has helped Andy make every operation much more efficient, not only for man-hours, but also for machinery usage. Now, I know not everyone thinks of the machinery aspect, but Andy explained that it is vital to maximise machinery usage so that the mechanic has the opportunity to service equipment in a timely manner, reset heights of cut, sharpen blades etc - all of which help to reduce unnecessary faults and breakdowns.
When Andy first started, he soon realised that he didn't have the right equipment in the shed to optimise all the tasks at hand. With such a large area under his stewardship, he understood that his fleet needed improvement and so he set about changing his machinery gradually. This also helped keep his budget costs manageable and enabling the finances to be spread.
It's important to mention that Andy has had to be clever with his purchases, as he hasn't had the luxury to buy new. As all turf managers in this position know, it's not always easy finding the right equipment at the right cost and right quality. However, with the help of Reesink Turfcare he has been very successful in purchasing second hand or ex-demo equipment of very good quality and at the right price for his budget.
Andy explained, "I've had to be extremely mindful of my fertiliser inputs - especially on greens. As I've mentioned, consistency is key to success and our playing surfaces need to perform at the highest level with the minimum of nutritional input and disruption to play."
"It's very much a little and often regime (with a lot of fine tuning) to ensure we don't get flushes of growth which slows greens speed and results in excessive and unnecessary cutting." Andy uses Agronomic Services and David Snowden for his Premier course (Cathedral) and ICL for the Tower course.
Shrewd Nutrient Programme
Agronomic Services liquid feed and granular range.
Spring Early granular feed: 10-4-4+fe,
Autumn/early Winter 10-0-15 +Mg
Liquid feed range of 18-18-18, Iron Man, Defender Plus, Multi Micro.
Primo Maxx every 3-4 weeks depending on weather and competitions.
Winter/Spring Greenmaster Invigorator, cold start granular.
Summer CalMag, Double K CalMag (Minimise Anthracnose)
Autumn/winter Invigorator plus Pro Iron.
Liquid feed range of Stressbuster, CalMag, Seamax, Ryder, Primo Maxx and Tri Smart wetting agent.Applied from April-September every 2 weeks at half rate.
Scarifying and hollow coring twice a year
(spring and late summer). 30-40 tonnes sand applied during each of the two maintenance days per course.
Light dressing/dustings (5-7 tonne) applied monthly around events, competitions, society days etc. All greens verti-drained once a year with 10mm tines to a depth of 200-250mm.
With 20% of the site covered in trees, the team have a constant tree removal programme in place. Mostly removing dead, damaged or diseased trees to allow the golf courses to 'breathe'.
Andy inherited an old system and has systematically (as budgets allow) modified or changed heads and pipework to allow for better coverage of all his fine turf surfaces.
"It's obviously a long process," Andy explained, "But, with water becoming such a valuable commodity, we have to endeavour to use it as wisely as possible." To that end, Andy instigated a modest 'holding' reservoir so that his metered stream inlet could be utilised in a far more sustainable manner.
Greens species change
"Slightly controversial I know," Andy smiled, "but I've started to overseed my greens with Barenbrug ultrafine100 dwarf ryegrass. For me, it makes perfect sense! It's extremely hard wearing, it has amazing recovery properties, doesn't require excessive nutrient inputs. has great drought and disease tolerance and maintains a beautiful dark green colour all year round. The leaf is so fine I defy any non-professional to distinguish it from a fine leaved bent grass!" We discussed the merits of the dwarf rye and could only find one drawback, its limited reproduction and therefore the constant need to overseed. Overall, in Andy's circumstances it seems an ideal 'fit'.
It was fantastic to catch up with Andy and chat through his business style approach to turf management and his ability to convert this into managing an extremely busy venue with limited resources at his disposal.
I know there are many turf managers out there with similar challenges and it was fascinating to understand how these issues can be overcome if the right approach is adopted. It was particularly rewarding to see Andy and his team producing excellent results and the praise they are receiving from their customers is credit to all their hard work and insight into operating in such an efficient way. Well done guys and thank you Andy for your time!
Article by Phil Helmn.