Newquay Golf Club in North Cornwall was formed in 1890 with the intent of creating Cornwall's finest golf course alongside the wonderful stretch of Fistral Beach. Lee Williams met with Head Greenkeeper Dan Kendle on a very wet and windy day on the Atlantic coast.
Outside 'The Tower' clubhouse, I'm welcomed by Dan Kendle and taken to the greenkeepers building which overlooks the 18 hole, Par 69 course, from where stunning views from his office greet the eye.
Dan tells me the club has recently invested in a new irrigation system - and he is happy with the extra benefits this brings compared to the old system. "We had an old Tonick irrigation system with Hunter pop-ups, which wouldn't allow us to irrigate overnight as it no longer worked properly. So, we were manually switching pop-ups on in the valve boxes, which was far from ideal. In April 2014, Irritech were asked do an appraisal of the system and, basically, they condemned it! There were big health and safety issues; UPVC piping, joints that were cracking; the list went on. Basically, we needed a new system. The case was put to the club at an AGM, where myself and Roger Davey (from Irritech) gave a presentation on the case for a new irrigation system. It went to a vote - and we snuck through with fifty-one percent."
"Part of the problem was that, when Roger did the initial plan, he did it for everything, and that was what was quoted for, which came in at nearly half a million pounds, So the members were baulking at that. So, once we had trimmed it down and negotiated this, that and the other, we got the final figure down to about £245,000."
"We looked at various systems. The chairman and I visited other courses with Rain Bird and Toro systems and, in the end, decided on a site similar to ours who were using a Toro Lynx layout. It just seemed the most suitable to us. Additionally, with having a Toro fleet of machinery, the club was keen on bringing everything under one manufacturer. Full Circle Irrigation started work at the end of October 2017 and the system was all up and running by the end of March 2018. Everything is now controlled through a PC or my phone. It's a godsend; the difference is just unbelievable. It's improved the surfaces in just one season already. If we hadn't had this system for the heatwave that hit us last year, I probably wouldn't have any greens now!"
Dan began his working career as a public rights of way officer for Lincolnshire County Council, after getting an HND in Countryside Management at Aberystwyth University. He explains how he found his way into greenkeeping. "After four years, I just got sick of turning up at farmyards and unloading stuff to put on a public footpath, and the farmer was putting it back on the truck as fast as I could take it off. I used to play cricket with Sam Rhodes, who is the Courses Manager at Woodhall Spa. One day, I saw him in town and asked him if any jobs were coming up at Woodhall. He said there was and it all sort of slotted into place. Fifteen years later I was still there. I started as an assistant greenkeeper on the Bracken course, which is the newer course there, and after four years I got moved over to the Hotchkin, which is the championship course, where I spent my final years as the first assistant."
"I felt it was dead man's shoes at Woodhall, and I was never going to get the chance to progress any higher. I had lived in Cornwall twenty-five years previously, whilst on my university course, and had always wanted to come back, so I applied for the job here at Newquay Golf Club in 2014 and got it. With a wife and two young kids, I felt it was the right time. I love the lifestyle here; I know it sounds cheesy, but it's somewhere that is close to my heart that I always wanted to come back to."
I asked Dan would he ever consider moving again. "If something big came up I would certainly consider it, I have the ambition to progress, but here I consider from where the course was to where it is now, that it is still a project that I'm working on. Also, it's still early days and a job I enjoy."
Dan shakes hands with Reesink's John Pike
Helping Dan to look after the course is Scott Paterson, Deputy Head Greenkeeper - four years' service, NVQ Level 3, plus PA 1, 2 and 6 - and Trevor Curtis, Assistant Greenkeeper - one month's service, NVQ Level 2, plus PA 1, 2 and 6. Dan is currently finding it hard to attract good new staff, which is a problem I hear about all around the country from both head greenkeepers and head groundsmen. I believe it is an issue that, as an industry, we must address together.
As well as his HND in Countryside Management, Dan has his NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Sports Turf Management, spraying certificates PA 1, 2 and 6, chainsaw licence and various other H&S related certificates.
Budgets for the year are put to a management committee, and within that is a greens chairman who Dan reports to. "I put together my proposed spend for fertilisers, wetting agents etc. and that is given to the finance guy on the committee. We then sit down and juggle things around. It's quite strange how it all works, but they are pretty accommodating. Whatever I need to spend on the course in terms of feed etc. he will work it into a budget which I can control."
The course is a Links, but Dan doesn't class it as a true links. "It's more of a links style. We are not wall to wall fescue; one side of the course is old agricultural land and the soil is quite rich. Through the middle, it is more sand based, but we get a bit of clay and shale at either end, which can cause issues."
An application of Maxwell BioniK 3-3-25 fertiliser
Dan doesn't use agronomists; he tends to work with the people around him. "We used to have one, but I have moved away from that now. It's either myself, input from the local reps or or bouncing ideas off other course managers in the area."
The greens are USPGA spec, and only in the last year has Dan started to buy dressing in. "Before this, we were utilising sand from a car park extension, where around 300 tonnes of sand had been extracted. When I first came in, the machinery side of things was dire, so I had a wish list of machines and, to save money, I used that sand as topdressing, but it wasn't ideal. Now we are buying in a medium coarse sand."
Dan talks me through the maintenance of the greens. "Cutting heights during the winter will go up to 5mm, possibly 6mm, depending on temperatures and growth. During the summer, we won't go any lower than 4mm. At present (May) we are 4.5mm. We just did our maintenance three or four weeks ago, so we have got germination coming through now, so I'm just trying to protect those seedlings a bit. Within the next few weeks, we will go down to 4mm, cutting every day up until December; it's bonkers! And we try to go over with the turf iron three to four times a week."
"We don't tend to do much scarifying. We have a maintenance period at the end of March beginning of April and, last year, we started doing one in August where, traditionally, it would have been October. We've started trying to do it during Boardmasters week when the course is particularly quiet, and we are pretty much guaranteed the temperatures." Boardmasters is a festival that markets itself as 'five epic days of music, surf and beach lifestyle'. This year's event features Florence + The Machine, the Wu-Tang Clan, Lewis Capaldi and Rudimental, amongst others.
"We will do a verti-cut in those two weeks, but we don't do a massive amount because I don't want to stress the fescue out. We will do monthly aeration through the summer using pencil tines on the Toro ProCore. In the spring maintenance period, we used half inch blunt tines to make some pots, overseeded, topdressed with a tonne of sand per green and then went over with 6.5mm tines at a depth of 4 inches to close everything up a bit. In August 2018, we hollow cored, and that was the first time we had done that in my time here and, I believe, the first time in about twenty years. We don't have a problem with thatch, it was more to recycle the soil we had just cored, verti-cut, then brush the soil back in and blow off the debris. It seemed to work quite well, but I don't think I need to do it again any time soon."
Dan tries to educate the members on the benefits of the heavy maintenance on the greens. "For the last few weeks, I have been getting asked 'when are the greens going to be good again?', or 'why are you doing it; the greens were brilliant?'. It's trying to get that message across, that we are making what's good even better. We do a monthly newsletter, and I have an article in that every month. I hold nothing back about what we are doing and why we are doing it. I have now said that I'm going to have a few evenings where I'm going to take the committee and members out on a course walk. I hope this will help them to understand visually why we do what we do, because I don't think they appreciate the time and effort that goes into prepping the course each week."
Dan tells me there were no historical records of fertiliser inputs, and he had no real clue about the kind of inputs the greens required when he first arrived at the club. "In my first year, we ended up putting about 150kg of nitrogen down. The year after I tried to drop it to 90-100kg and they were still screaming for more, it's that old adage of weaning a drug addict off their fix, so we were up at around 120kg. Then, last year, we managed to get it to around 90kg, and this we year are looking at around 75-80kg, so we have nearly halved the amount of nitrogen input. Alongside other products, such as seaweed, it has made a massive difference to the quality of the greens. In conjunction with the irrigation, the sward density has increased and now the species content of the greens is around 70-75% bent/fescue."
The club has a full Toro cutting fleet, with some on an operator's lease; the ProCore, Workman, Multi Pro and ProPass are all on a lease-purchase agreement. "I believe the club has just made its last payments on the purchase agreement this year, so we now own them, and the operator lease on the cutting machinery is all on a rolling replacement. We have a Triflex ready to go out this year and a new one coming in. There is other machinery we need, like a deep aerator and a flail cut and collect, so I have a meeting scheduled this week to see how we are going to fit those into a three-year plan."
Dan's next project, now the irrigation system is up and running, is to look at the bunkers and tees. "We didn't really do a lot this winter, because Scott was off sick, so it was down to just two of us! And, at times with holidays, there was just one of us on site - it was a nightmare! Generally though, through winter, we will do bunker construction and revetting. We have seventy-six bunkers on the course, and we have now put an appraisal together for the ones we think we can get rid of and ones that maybe could go in. It's just a matter of planning out how many we can get done per year. We are also looking at relevelling and turfing some of the worst tees."
Royal visits, the Headland Riots and a Harry Colt's design. These events have shaped the course and club into what it is today; one of Cornwall's finest. A revered Harry Colt designed course built in 1890.
Not only a landmark of natural beauty, Newquay's iconic Links also possesses a colourful and exciting history that has made it the prestigious club that it is today. The location of Newquay's Golf Links is perhaps one of the finest in the world, along the whole length of the wonderful stretch of sand known as Fistral Beach.
© SCOPE Surveying and Aerial Imagery
The Headland Riots
One man had a vision to make Cornwall the rival of the south coast resorts. The plan began at Newquay and the man was Silvanus Trevail.
In 1890, Trevail, once Mayor of Truro, formed the Cornish Hotels Company, with the aim to create a chain of first class hotels whose guests could move between them at a whim. His vision was to turn them into an upmarket estate, the pinnacle being a luxury hotel called the Headland. The scheme was not without enemies and the discontent of Newquay locals finally erupted into the now infamous Headland Riots.
The proposed site of the hotel had previously been used as land on which farmers grazed livestock and local fishermen dried their nets.
It is little wonder that their hackles rose as Trevail's proposals threatened to ruin their livelihoods. Despite local opposition, work on the Headland Hotel began in August 1897. Outraged farmers and fishermen rushed to the site, where they tore down the wooden works office. Valuable tools and planks of wood were hurled off the cliff.
When Trevail returned to the site the following day, the mob were waiting. Missiles, including eggs and apples were hurled at him, before he was pinned to the railing and subjected, as the press reported, to a "very fierce outpouring of contempt and insolent abuse."
Although hundreds took part in the demonstration, only twenty-two men were charged. The men were fined £2 each, a large sum in those days, for committing malicious damage to goods. Construction continued, although unemployed miners from Redruth had to be employed as local workers were reluctant to return.
Today the Headland is as grand a hotel as Trevail could have wished, although it got off to a shaky start.
The original plans for the land were to build a housing estate where the golf club now lies, with three parallel roads running between Tower Road and the sea. The Headland Riots of 1887 prevented this, meaning the planned development came to a halt, and the Links were spared.
Since the election of the club's first president, Mr H F Whitefield in 1890, the club has seen considerable developments. In 1908, it obtained a new lease from the Treffry Estate, expanding the club's grounds further to the 6,000 yards that it is today and introducing the 11th and 12th fairways. Thanks to Colt's revolutionary designs, the club has always prided itself on its modern course planning techniques. Over the years, no expense has been spared to make the course the best it can possibly be.
A mansion called 'The Tower' was built for the Molesworth family in 1835. It included a castellated tower and a private chapel as the family were devout Roman Catholics. The home was often rented to wealthy families when the Molesworth family were in their inland home. The Tower was eventually sold to the Treffry estate in 1906, and the club purchased the property freehold. The Tower is now used as the clubhouse.
The Royal Seal of Approval
Newquay Golf Club has also been graced with its fair share of Royal visits. Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert (later to become King George VI) spent many enjoyable golfing holidays at Newquay from 1911 onwards and were honorary life members of the club.
What's in the shed
Toro Greensmaster 3400 Triflex x 2
Toro Groundsmaster 4300
Toro Reelmaster 5410
Toro Workman HDX
Toro Multi Pro WM sprayer
Toro ProPass 200 wireless topdresser
Toro ProCore 648
John Deere Gator HPX
EZ-GO ST400 electric buggy
Woodbay 3900 greens iron
Kubota L5040 tractor
John Deere 1550 tractor with loader
Greentek Dyna-seeder units