Less than three miles from Harrogate in North Yorkshire, Rudding Park Golf Club was originally part of the Forest of Knaresborough and still retains some of the ancient oak trees. Since the course opened in 1995, it's developed into a popular Yorkshire retreat with over 700 strong active members. In a slight twist to our usual format, Lee Williams sat down with Danny Millar, the Deputy Head Greenkeeper to discuss the day to day running of the course.
Whilst Richard Hollingworth, the Head Greenkeeper was unavailable, I caught up with him briefly on the phone; he told me how he got into the industry and that I would be in good hands when I met Dan. "My dad was the head greenkeeper at Horsforth Golf Club and I took my interest from there really. I started as an apprentice at Moortown Golf Club where I gained a lot of experience and then applied for the head greenkeeper position at Rudding Park. When I started, the course had only just been built, so it's fair to say that I have evolved with it over the past twenty-five years. Although my title is Head Greenkeeper, I do a whole lot more around the estate, which includes being responsible for all the maintenance budgets. It's only when I require larger items, such as new machines, that they have to be approved by owner Simon Mackaness who, thankfully, rarely says no if the proposal is strong enough. Dan runs the day to day things around the golf course and he's an excellent team leader. If I weren't here, the place would be very safe in Dan's hands, as he proved three years ago when I was off for two months with a broken leg."
Arriving at the 18-hole, par 72, parkland course, I'm given a warm welcome by 33-year-old Danny Millar, Deputy Head Greenkeeper, who has been at the course for seventeen years. "When I reached sixteen, I knew I didn't want to stay in education, but my parents told me I couldn't just leave and do nothing or end up in a dead-end job. So, I visited Harrogate College and asked them to point me in the right direction for being able to work outside - I always knew I wasn't an office type person! It just so happened that the tutor knew Richard and that he was on the lookout for an apprentice, so he put me in touch."
Left: Head Greenkeeper, Richard Hollingworth Right: Deputy Head Greenkeeper, Danny Millar
"Whilst still at school, I did a day's trial and really enjoyed it, so they agreed to take me on. I wanted to be working straight away, so I completed my last school exam on a Friday and started at Rudding Park the following Monday. Over the next two years, I completed my NVQ level 2 in Sports Turf and I've never looked back. I've gone on to gain a further nineteen work-related qualifications and became Deputy Head in 2009. I'd like to be a head man someday, but Rudding never sits still and there is always something new on the horizon, so I'm more than happy right where I am!"
Helping Richard and Dan look after the facilities are Jonathan Jubb (33) - ten years' service, John Meredith (38) - eight years, Geraint Sims (36) - seven years, Gareth Buttler (36) - six years, Jason Norwood (30) - three years, Jakob Schur (23) - eighteen months and Matt Milligan (22) with six months' service.
The club support Dan and Richard with offering training to all their groundstaff. "We like the guys to be fully trained and competent in all aspects of the job. One lad started with us last year and, within six months, we put him on a tree climbing course and now he does all the tree climbing and felling. Similarly, Jason Norwood has just finished his NVQ Level 2 in Sports Turf and will start his Level 3 in the new year - he's only been with us three years, so it's good progression. However, Jason's biggest achievement to date has to be winning the Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year 2019 award.
Left to right: Danny Millar, Richard Hollingworth, John Meredith, Gareth Butler, Geraint Sims, Jonathan Jubb, Jason Norwood, Matt Milligan and Jacob Schur
Jason (pictured with his award below) commented: "I first entered in 2018, but only got as far as the regional finals. I received a letter to say where I needed to improve and used that as the catalyst to go again. I was so delighted to make the 2019 final, which consisted of two days being judged - with many factors affecting the outcome of who would win the title. In the build-up, I felt very privileged to have a large support network - both at home and at work. The club gave me time off to attend seminars and shows throughout the year and also gave me more than enough time to maximise my college tutor visits, whilst my wife supported everything I did, including helping to fine-tune my finals presentation. It took a good week for me to get over the shock of winning and the realisation of what I'd achieved. I'm looking forward to my visit to America and continuing my learning whilst there."
This extensive site covers three hundred and twenty acres and includes a full-size Par 72 course, a six-hole Par 3 short course with four academy holes on the side and an eighteen-bay floodlit driving range covering 270 acres, which the greens staff are also responsible for. The rest is covered by the holiday park, hotel and spa which is looked after by a separate grounds and gardening team.
The course is built on clay and Dan tells me it used to have the nickname 'Pudding Park'. "The course used to be stupidly wet but, over the last fifteen years, we have purchased our own Kubota mini digger that has enabled us to install over five thousand metres of drainage, comprising both piped and French drains, depending on whether they are in play. Drainage work is ongoing, with us installing approximately four to five hundred metres of drains per year, concentrating on walk-offs, tees and greens as these get the most wear. We are now open every day of the year, which is unusual around Harrogate and we never close the doors now, unless you literally can't get on the course."
Jason Norwood, winner of the Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year 2019 award
The greens are USGA spec with a 80/20 rootzone mix and we generally suffer from heavy thatch levels, which has seen the team undertake some significant maintenance over the last five years. "There is a requirement to play on the greens all year round, as we have too many hotel guests to be using temporaries or closing the course, therefore, we had to put a programme in place to improve the drainage. Starting in March each year, we hollow core using 12mm tines at a depth of 4 inches - taking out around three tonnes of soil per green. Then, we topdress using 60 tonnes of kiln-dried sand. In May and August, we hire in the Air2G2, and the work is carried at 3.30am to avoid any disruption in play. In October, we will do a big verti-drain, and that normally sees us through the winter. Like most clubs, we used to have a renovation week in August, but the greens would take too long to recover, so we stopped that."
The work on the greens over the last five years has worked so well that they now feel they may have gone too far. "Perhaps our greens might just be a bit too porous now. We currently use a liquid feed programme, as opposed to granular, and we think it is tailing off too soon. We're losing feed as it's getting through the profile too quickly because of the sand columns; however, the thatch levels have dropped massively and are far better than they ever were. STRI are happy with our progress but, potentially, we are victims of our own success with nothing staying on the plant. Any rain after we have fed the greens is gone."
Dan may feel that they are the victims of their success, but this work enables them to keep the course open 365 days a year. They now average around 40,000 rounds of golf a year, which is double the average of most member clubs around the country. "I do sometimes wonder how we get anything done. By no means is this a negative thing. Being so busy is why we can afford decent machinery, chemicals and anything we need - we are very fortunate."
Repton short course 5th
Dan talks me through the general maintenance of the greens. "During summer, we cut with the Toro 3250s at a height of 3.5mm then, in winter, we cut with the
Toro Greensmaster Flex hand-mowers at a cutting height of 4mm. We verti-cut, star slit and carry out pencil tining as often as possible, using our Toro ProCore. We think we have found the right balance with this work, combined with what we do in March and August. At the start of April, we will overseed with a mixture of bents and fescues; we are not committed to any one supplier for our seed as Richard likes to shop around for the best price."
The course has a twenty-five year old, fully automatic irrigation system on all the tees and greens, with three tanks fed via a borehole. "Last year, we spent £20,000 on a new control system for it, and we regularly replace our heads using Hunter i20s and i30s. We recently dug a 600 metre pipeline from our shed to the hotel, to supply water for the new award-winning spa and this has seen us get an extension on our extraction licence."
I asked Dan if they have regular soil samples taken and a fertiliser programme in place. "The STRI take soil samples annually, then they will advise what fertilisers and inputs we should be using. But, Richard has got his own methods and techniques so we don't have a set programme in place - much of it depends on the weather and the upcoming forecast. Also, we can't always apply when we want, or do everything we want to, as the vast amount of golf dictates this. When we spray, we go out at six o'clock in the morning to get in front of the golfers to reduce any disruption to play."
I posed the question 'why do you keep away from the use of granular fertilisers?' "It's peaks and troughs and we do use them if we feel the need, but we feel granulars give us a flush of growth and then we lose so much speed. We sit comfortably at about nine and a half on the stimp and our greens are massively undulating; any faster and it's just not fair to an average golfer. If we put a granular on, we are disrupting play. Therefore, through summer, we like to stick to liquid feeds with other nutritional products. Plus, we are big advocates of Primo Maxx which is applied every four weeks at 400ml a hectare."
As a rule, the club like to buy all their machinery outright through Cheshire Turf Machinery, but occasionally they have obtained the odd machine elsewhere if it's been at the right price. For example, the club recently purchased a contra-rotating brush for brushing in the topdressing. "We get excellent service from CTM if something goes down; they can be here at 5.00am the next day if required, which is fantastic."
Nearly all the machinery maintenance is carried out in-house, except sharpening of blades and cylinders. Having said that, they are looking at a cylinder grinder which would give a lot more flexibility.
Dan and Richard communicate to the 700 strong active members through the weekly newsletter and via email. "After the March renovations this year, we had a real cold spell and the greens were taking longer and longer to recover which meant the members were not happy. So, I wrote a large piece that went out to all the members through email and put up on the notice board to explain why the greens were struggling like they were. We have tried Q&A evenings to get interactive with members and these started with over twenty members, but then, after just four meetings, this dropped down to three members. We have done everything we can to try and communicate, but sometimes it's hard to get our point across."
Ten years ago, the club was given planning permission to build another nine holes. With only having that permission stand for two years, they built two new holes in the middle of the course which would keep the planning open. "The holes have continually been looked after but never used. Our Managing Director decided there is approximately £120,000 tied up in the holes so, in April 2019, we decided to put them in the main loop. Although they were ready to play golf on, they weren't ready to be included in a set of eighteen. There is a lot of remedial work to do around the woods etc., so we're currently working on making them more playable. We have realised the tees are too small, so we are going to close them again in the winter and build a whole new tee complex for both holes."
Whilst on the phone with Richard I asked his opinion on the industry. "I think internally the industry is doing well with lots going on for aspiring greenkeepers. If you want it enough, there are many roads you can take within our profession - but it's not a given, and you have to work hard for it."
"Where I see the issue is how we are thought of. People often think that we sit on our backsides for twelve months a year and suddenly we have a golf course. Members aren't interested in what we do or why we do it, as long as their £1000 gets them as much golf as possible. I feel we need more exposure and people need to be made more aware of the technicalities of our profession. Image is massive nowadays; so much so that people make an actual career out of it. Our image needs bringing into the 21st century."
Are greenkeepers and groundsmen valued? "Yes, by our fellow turfcare professionals. No, by management in a lot of places, although we feel very valued here. For anyone outside the industry, they just don't understand what we do and the labour involved."
Originally farmland adjoined to a country house until 1972, the estate was acquired by the Mackaness family who remain the owners to the present day. In recent times, the family have slowly developed the estate - first with the opening of Rudding Holiday Park in 1973, alongside the renovation of the grade I listed Georgian hall for use as a conference and banqueting centre in 1987.
In the early 18th century Rudding was owned, in turn, by Messrs Williamson of Wetherby, Craddock, James Collins (who enlarged the house and planted avenues in the park) and Thomas Wilson. In 1788 Alexander Wedderburn, Lord Loughborough, the future Lord Chancellor, acquired the estate and called in the garden designer Humphry Repton to remodel the landscape.
In 1805 the estate was purchased by the Hon. William Gordon, who demolished the original house and commissioned the building of the present house in a new location. In 1824 the estate was sold to Sir Joseph Radcliffe, Bt. with the new house still unfinished and he secured architect Robert Chantrell to oversee its completion. London architect A.E. Purdie designed a Gothic Revival chapel which was added in 1879. Several generations of the Ratcliffe family then occupied the house.
The Granada television series which screened in 1971 called Seasons of the Year was filmed here. This consisted of six plays involving the various occupants of the house over a 150-year period from the Napoleonic wars to the 1970s. In some ways, this series was almost a precursor to the later TV series Brideshead Revisited, where the house was almost a character in its own right.
In May 2017 a new spa building was completed with rooftop spa and gardens designed by Matthew Wilson. A gym was also added to the spa in October 2017.
What's in the shed
Toro 3250 x 5
Toro 3100 Sidewinder
Toro 3500 Sidewinder
Toro Groundsmaster 4500
Toro Reelmaster 5610 x 2
Toro 7200 zero turn mower
Toro Greensmaster Flex 21 x 4
Rotomec Cyclone Flex 450 gang mowers
Wiedenmann Terra Spike
Toro GTX buggy
ISEKI compact tractors x 3
Kubota 5030 tractors x 2
ISEKI SF450 collector
Kubota KX 71 mini digger