I have been at Ramsey since April 2007, where I am Course Manager, previously having held the same position at Worplesdon, Surrey, for seven years.
After leaving Worplesdon, I worked at a country club in Hampshire for a couple of years, but missed the day to day involvement in the management of a golf course and, therefore, started to seek out potential opportunities, finally settling on the Isle of Man.
Ramsey is the oldest golf club on the Isle of Man, founded in 1891. The original course, laid out over 12 holes, was designed by Tom Morris and upgraded in 1927 to 18 holes by James Braid for a fee of twenty guineas.
The challenge of reduced budgets and staffing levels attracted me to Ramsey which, I consider, is a beautiful parkland private members club, set against the backdrop of the northern highlands and situated at the base of a beautiful glen. The club and course, especially, showed real potential and was just in need of some good old fashion TLC.
I have a current course budget of £29,500; this includes fertiliser, sand, parts and vat, but excludes greenkeepers wages - we have a staff of four, including myself. My deputy Ollie is qualified up to NVQ 2, mechanic/greenkeeper Dave has vast experience and Jamie is in the process of studying for his NVQ.
So, although a small staff, we have over forty-five years greenkeeping experience between us to draw from. We discuss and plan everything together. I am a manager who believes that we must all know whatever needs doing without being told and, when asked a question, we should all come out with the same answer. I am the boss and have to make all the decisions but, normally, issues are discussed through and I am happy to change my mind if the team have better ideas.
Since my appointment, I have worked hand in hand with the club trying to create a blueprint for the course, giving priority to establishing a comprehensive course policy, which the club has now adopted.
On my arrival, it was generally accepted that the golf course would almost close down during the winter months, with temporary tees and greens and many holes out of play due to poor drainage. It was clearly a case of 'back to basics' management to allow consistent playing surfaces and conditions.
Initially, the priority was to make the whole golf course playable for 365 days a year, thereby allowing the club to reap the income benefits through improved drainage.
Now, the course remains open all year round and, to the credit of the greenkeeping team, we have never had the need for temporary tees or greens over the past three years.
Height of cut for our surfaces are as follows:
• Greens - summer down to 3mm - winter 5mm
• Tees and approaches - 10mm all year round
• Fairways - 14mm all year round
• Green banks and semi-rough - 50 mm all year round
• Rough -90mm
• Ecology grass/wild flower areas - cut down to about 100mm every 3 years.
Course practices include aeration to the greens throughout the year, with a combination of micro hollow tining and solid tining, the yearly application of an Imants Rotoknife and a twice yearly vertidrain. Tees and approaches are hollow tined yearly and solid tined throughout the year when required. Fairways have been solid tined and hollow tined in parts, this is a massive undertaking for us, and takes time with the resources we have available, but we have started a plan and work towards that. Green banks and semi-rough are also solid tined yearly and, again, areas hollow tined.
Greens and approaches have early season fertiliser with 3:0:3, followed by Premier hg 12:3:24 in March. Four applications from spring, of microflow 12:0:8, with PrimoMaxx. Throughout the year, we apply amino acids, magnet iron, potassium and seaweed. Tees and green banks have three applications of Mascot SS2, also applications of seaweed and iron when required. Fairways have applications of a wetting agent in areas but, due to the small budget, this is restricted.
The fairways have yet to be fertilised since my arrival, and are still responding to the aeration programmes at present.
Wetting agent, Breaker Advance, is applied throughout the year at regular intervals to greens, tees and approaches. Due to the lack of irrigation on the tees and approaches, we try to time the use of applications with rain to maximise the help from Mother Nature!
We top dress the greens twice a year with local sand.
The irrigation system is only on greens, with the storage of water in a small lake behind the 17th green fed naturally from the surrounding hills. Once that has gone (luckily this has only happened once I am told), that's it!
Communication with the members is the key to the successful and enjoyable employment of green staff. The majority of golfers just want to turn up and play without surprises or changes, and a level of consistency on the course that just means they can play and concentrate on enjoying their game. So, if we, as greenkeepers, have the opportunity to put policy and regular reports in place to keep the members aware of any dramatic changes to the condition of the course, then it can only make our position easier.
Also, what we must remember is that the members are proud of their course, so if we can tell them what conditions to expect, and what we are doing on the course, then it keeps them happy.
I know we all know that a little knowledge, in the wrong hands, can be dangerous but, if explained in terms that they can understand, then they will talk amongst themselves and, hopefully, speak to the greenkeeping team. If this happens, then communication and answers must be consistent, with everyone singing off the same hymn sheet. I regularly take members out on the course to talk about our plans and how we are going to achieve them.
The course policy at Ramsey started with the board selecting a committee to put it together. This included myself, as course manager, the club professional, the director of golf, two ladies members and another male member.
The document was then put together after three course walks with the panel, and then the policy was written between the course manager and golf director. This was then passed by the board and then presented to the membership at an open meeting.
The successful communication and consistent policy at Ramsey means that no situations arise that are not foreseen or in the course policy. The greens committee decides what projects from the policy are to be prioritised, and all projects and changes are dependent on available capital. So, all in-house projects can be planned at this present time, when income is slightly lower than it should be and, in a couple of years, when things pick up, then more ambitious projects that require more capital or outside contractors can be undertaken. The policy cannot be changed or amended without permission from the board which, in turn, will then have to be presented to the membership.
Such is the situation at Ramsey over the time since I have been with the club, that I now chair the greens committee and work with the committee and the course director to implement the course policy. I produce two expansive reports every year - one at the start of April, informing the membership of how the course and projects have progressed through the winter and what are the plans for the summer, and one in September telling the members how the season has gone, and what the plans are for winter ahead. I get really positive feedback from the members following these reports, and I generally believe that the information is appreciated. I have often heard the members telling visitors how the course is developing.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 2500B Greens mower
John Deere 2500A Tees/Approaches mower
John Deere 3520 tractor with 1.5m Aercore
John Deere 3232C Fairway mower
John Deere 7400 Terrian cut Semi-rough/green banks mower
John Deere- 1600 Mk2 Rough mower
Ford 1920 Tractor
John Deere Gators x 2
Toro Workman with topdresser/sprayer/slitter