**DURING THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN WE WILL CONTINUE TO PROVIDE ARTICLES THAT REPRESENT FACILITIES IN THEIR 'NORMAL' ENVIRONMENT, WHILST APPRECIATING THAT EVERYTHING IS FAR FROM NORMAL IN OUR INDUSTRY AT THE MOMENT!**
Yeovil Golf Club is set in the beautiful countryside on the Somerset borders, at the eastern edge of Yeovil town centre. It boasts two excellent courses; the eighteen-hole Old Course and the nine-hole Newton Course. On a very wet day, when the course was closed for essential works on the clubhouse, Lee Williams met with Jason Connaughton, the club's Course Manager.
Jason has been involved in golf from a young age; his grandfather was the caddy master at the prestigious Elm Park Golf Club in Dublin for forty-three years. "He unfortunately died of a massive heart failure on the golf course. Ironically, he was playing with three doctors, and the course backs onto a hospital, but they couldn't save him. I was ten when he died but, whilst he was alive, I spent a lot of time with him on the golf course. His love of the game was infectious, so golf has always been in the family."
Jason has gained a lot of experience whilst working at various clubs in Ireland, England and Australia. "I'm from County Wicklow, just South of Dublin where there are lots of golf clubs and I loved to play golf as often as I could. When I was sixteen years old, it was time for me to start looking for a part-time summer job and, obviously, the natural choice was to be greenkeeper."
"My first taste of the industry was as a seasonal worker at Charlesland Golf Club. After a week or two, I went home to my mother and told her this is what I want to do - my mind was made up. The next step for me would be to attend college in England, studying sportsturf management, whilst supplementing my learning by carrying out seasonal work at various golf clubs to gain experience. After college in England, I then moved over to Sydney, Australia with my girlfriend, who I met in England and is my now wife (she's a garden designer). It was a great experience; I worked at The Australian Club and Cromer Golf Club as an assistant greenkeeper. We lived out there for eight months, before we both got homesick and missed our families."
"We moved back to Ireland and I was offered a position at Glen of the Downs Golf Club, where I worked for six years. Then, the recession hit, and I was put on a three-day week. My wages reduced by twenty-five per cent and, unfortunately at the same time, my wife suffered the same fate. She's from Saffron Walden in Essex, so we made the decision we should try to move back to England. I started to apply for jobs and one day my wife rang me out the blue and told me there was a position for a greenkeeper/mechanic at Saffron Walden Golf Club on the BIGGA website; it was too good to be true. I applied and got the job, and we moved over straight away. After three years, I was made Deputy Course Manager; I stayed for one more year."
"After volunteering to work at the Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club, I came back with so much confidence that I felt it was time to take the next step. I applied for two course manager jobs - here at Yeovil Golf Club and Panel Golf Course in Harrogate. Luckily, I got the job here two years ago and I couldn't believe it as it's always been a dream. To be honest, it's been a big learning curve, but I enjoy every minute of it."
The twenty-seven-hole parkland course, which covers one-hundred and eighty acres, is split over two counties and is built on a sandy-clay soil. Jason tells me it's much more free draining than London and Essex clays.
"It's pretty decent and we drain really well because of it, but not to say we don't get wet in areas. We have the river Yeo which runs through here which means the Old Course is situated in Dorset, but if you go down to the Newton Course, you're in Somerset. The Newton is built on a flood plain, which means the sixteenth green and seventeenth tee are at that same level, so they flood. There has been lot of drainage installed down there in the past to help cope with this issue, but we don't have a lot of drainage throughout the site, not helped by the fact we pretty much have two holes running by each other everywhere. Having said that, we don't have a vast amount of land out where water sits and, on the whole, it drains well. We do have trouble spots that need to be drained, but that's something we are going to work on in the future."
The greens on the Old Course are soil push-ups and, on the Newton Course, they are sand based. Historically, the ninth green has always had drainage problems; the whole soil profile is messy and anaerobic and, before Jason arrived, work was planned to drain it at two-metre centres.
"I remember walking the course before my first interview on a beautiful day in September. That morning, they'd had a little rain and the ninth green was squelching underfoot when I walked over it. On my first day, the first job was to oversee work on the green, which was carried out by MJ Abbott and, with regular deep tining, it's now so much better."
"The eighth is now our worst green but, in all honesty, if we get a decent amount of rain you can be pretty sure there will be a couple of greens this side of the road that will be closed and on temps. We are planning to drain greens five to eleven, but I want to know more about passive capillary drainage (PCD) before I put my plans forward; I'm a bit of a sceptic at the moment. I plan to visit some courses that are currently having it installed and make a decision from there, once I have answers to my questions."
The club wants to move forward and improving the drainage on the greens is a big part of that with golf being played seven days a week. "We have a great General Manager, Chris Huggins, who is very level-headed and proactive. We like to sit down and talk through issues members have; recently, when it rains, the eighth green is off a lot, so we cut out a better temporary green because of that. Chris and I will turn around and say 'why don't we just sort the problem out so you can play on that green, rather than put a bandage on it'."
Both courses have a fully automatic Rainbird Stratus system, with valve in-head sprinklers on the greens, aprons and some selected fairways. It's fed by a borehole with three large-sized tanks.
Jason talks me through the maintenance of the greens, aprons, tees and fairways. "We try to stick to a cutting height of 4mm, but it might drop to 3.5mm, depending on the circumstances in summer. In winter, we will lift the height of cut to 5mm. We have a John Deere 2500B to cut the Newton course and Toro 3400 Triflex for the Old course, I would like to hand-mow greens in winter, but we are not quite there yet. In summer, aprons and tees will be cut at 10mm and, in winter, 12mm but, considering the way it's going with wormcasts, I'm considering going a bit higher in winter. All fairways are cut at 16mm using the Toro 3610 Reelmaster."
"In April, we have a maintenance week in which we will hollow core selected greens and solid tine the rest. We would look to give them a deep verti-cut two ways, using our GreenTek Thatch-Away units at a depth of 4-5mm, depending on how the machine copes. We will overseed with 80kg of bent seed, over twenty-seven greens, and apply a light topdressing. I will be looking at going with five tonnes of sand every two/three weeks after that this season - if the weather allows. I want to go with a 'little and often approach' so that ball roll is not affected too much, and let the wind and rain help get it into the ground."
"I like to get the Toro ProCore out as often as I can using the needle tines, but this can be difficult as we are a very busy course and the golfers always want a true running surface. So, throughout the season, we often go out with the sarel rollers as this is much faster with minimal disturbance. Last season, instead of going over the greens with the verti-drain, we hired the Air2G2 for the first time. We used the nine-inch tines and I was impressed with the results; we will definitely be hiring it again this season."
Jason uses two separate fertiliser companies to get his soil test results and compares the two before deciding on is nutritional inputs. "I believe it's the wise thing to do. In terms of our fertility, we try to keep it quite low under 100kg of N a year. I'm not on a low nitrogen crusade as we are not dealing with fescues here. I'm massively learning and adapting things here as I go along. Everywhere I have worked in the past, the levels have been higher in comparrison and we've battled with fungicides, but it's never really sat well with me."
When purchasing most of their machines, the club tend to go with a five-year payment plan, or a financing option, rather than buying machines outright. "It all depends on what the machine is; things like our sprayer that was replaced, I see as a longer-term purchase. I gave two options to the GM; buy it outright, as it will last a long time, or look at repairing what we have. But we tend to go with a five-year replacement plan."
Jason tends to sway towards Toro machinery and uses local dealer Devon Garden Machinery. "I like Toro equipment, but I do believe in buying the right machinery for the job for me. It just happens that always seems to be Toro for cutting machinery and John Deere for utility vehicles/tractors."
In the past year, Jason has seen a significant increase in worm casts, with the withdrawal of suppressants from the market. "This year has been bad and it's getting progressively worse, but it's also been wetter. However, I don't think we are suffering as bad as some places. They have been a big problem on tees; we have kind of adapted to it, getting the guys to switch beforehand, just to try and knock them off. The team have been great - you see them getting off the machine and scraping the rollers off because they know it needs to be done."
"Last year, we had an issue with chafer grubs down on the Newton, where we lost a fair chunk of the seventh fairway and we lost a bit on the sixteenth on the Old course - mainly in the rough. We put some chafer traps out with the pheromone, and we didn't get one, but that doesn't mean we haven't had activity since. To repair the damage, we just dressed it out and seeded it. We have to start being as adaptable as possible."
In late 1907, The Yeovil and South Somerset Golf Club was founded. The original course was laid out over nine holes at Abbey Farm. In 1920, the club was renamed to Yeovil Golf Club and land was purchased at its present location at Babylon hill. Nine holes were built in that year and designed by Charles Hugh Alison. In 1936, it was decided that the course would be extended across Bradford Hollow to eighteen holes and that more land would be rented from the north farm. The extension was completed and opened for play in 1938.
In 1954, the owner of the land passed away and the entirety of the land that the course was situated on went to auction. The members of Yeovil Golf Club successfully purchased the land for £6,000.
In 1989, Yeovil Golf Club approached neighbouring Newton house about the possibility of purchasing some land to build a nine-hole course. A deal was struck and forty-four acres were purchased. The STRI were chosen as course designers and construction started in 1990. One year later, the nine-hole Newton Course was opened to members.
What's in the shed
Toro Greensmaster TriFlex 3400 x 2
John Deere 2500B greens mower
John Deere 2500A triple mower
Toro Sidewinder 3500
Toro Sidewinder 3100
Toro Reelmaster 5610
John Deere 1200A bunker rake
Toro 4000d rough mower
John Deere F1145 rough mower
Toro Multi Pro 1750 sprayer
John Deere 3520 Tractor
John Deere 4600 Tractor
John Deere Gator HPX
Toro MDX x2
Toro Workman HDX-D
Toro ProForce blower
Toro ProPass topdresser
Toro belt dresser
GreenTek Thatch-Away Supa-System cassettes
Bernhard 3000 series grinders
No one could have ever predicted that we would be in our current situation. How things have escalated over the last few weeks is beyond comprehension. Here at Yeovil Golf Club, we have put as many measures in place as we can to ensure that we are as safe and healthy as we can be. Morning meetings now take place outside, everyone is lone working, but also ensuring that we are in constant communication with each other. Disinfecting of all machinery and tools takes place after every use.
At the time of writing this, we have closed for business. The club and I are happy to continue with minimal maintenance out on the course, as long as it is safe to do so. We have raised heights on greens and are going to keep everything else at winter height for the moment. My main focus for the foreseeable future will be plant health on greens. I feel if greens are left to grow that we may need to spend more money to get them back to where they need to be. This is not just cutting grass that we are talking about. This is about keeping people in jobs and doing the best we can to keep the business alive. Some will survive, but, unfortunately, others will not.
I think it's time for us all to band together and help each other more than ever. If you are running out of a product and can't get a delivery, don't be afraid to reach out to others and ask for help. We can all get through this collectively.