Picking up the pieces at Silsden
by David Markham
Gavin Hawker and his staff got more than they bargained for when Silsden Golf Club decided to extend their course from 14 to 18 holes. For, the contractor engaged by the club left before the work was completed, leaving the Head Greenkeeper and his men to pick up the pieces.
Ultimately, they had to construct six extra holes and 14 tees in addition to their normal task of keeping the Aire Valley course in a playable condition for the members.
Silsden was a nine-hole course until 1982 when the club bought 38 acres of land and extended to 14 holes. Then, in 1999 the Silsden committee decided to buy more land to extend to 18 holes. The club applied for a lottery grant to build a new clubhouse, replacing an old wooden hut that had served as Silsden's headquarters. They received a grant of £625,000 to build the clubhouse, and bought nine acres of land at the bottom end of the course and eight acres at the top end.
Behind those bald statements, however, lie a lot of hard work and heartache for Gavin and his staff. Gavin said: "A contractor came to do the work but left it only part completed and we had to finish it off. At that time, there were only two full-time members of staff plus one YTS youngster."
It was a huge task for Gavin and his small team, but they set about it with determination despite a huge amount of extra work. He said: "We took two of the original holes out of commission so we had to construct two extra holes, which meant six new holes in total. When the course re-opened after the extension there were only three holes that had not been worked on.
But, it wasn't just a case of putting in six new holes - the layout of the whole course was completely re-organised. To make the six new greens we dug out the land, put in drains - a drainage layer pipe, a four inch gravel carpet then a two inch binding layer - half an inch of gravel and a 14 inch root zone."
The extended 18-hole course was opened in May 2002.
"In the last three months we have constructed four tees and made them safer. Behind one of them there was a wall with a five feet drop and a six feet drop at the front. It was unsafe to maintain so we have taken off the top, removed the wall and made it into a slope. It is exactly the same size as before, but we have moved it sideways. Two of the middle tees were extended and we have levelled another one. We built them out of the soil that was there already."
Gavin continued, "We have also repaired the irrigation system and put in new drainage in other areas. It has all been hard work, but a great education for us all. Recently, we hollow tined the greens - we normally do it in September or October - but the hollow tining machine could not penetrate the dry ground following the long dry summer and autumn.
We are improving drainage on the course all the time, there are still some rough patches, but conditions are slowly improving. It is the greens that are the problem. For instance, it is unbelievable how much fertiliser we are getting through. Because the root zone is basically sand the fertiliser is going through more quickly. So, instead of applying fertiliser every six weeks, we are doing it every two weeks. The six new greens are mainly sand based similar to USPGA specifications. They are not quite the same, but they have a lot more sand than we had before.
Also, unfortunately, the disease fusarium culmarum appeared on six greens. Within five or six hours it had wiped them out as grass rotted from the growing point downwards. We sprayed them with fungicide but by that time the damage was done."