One of the nine European Tour Destinations, Golf & Country Club Fleesensee has had a spectacular rise since the resort complex was completed fourteen years ago. Recently installed Course Manager, Stephen Monk, explains how his management style is reaping rewards in this picturesque region of Germany
The Mecklenburg Lake District is the largest connected lake and canal region in Germany and is sometimes called "the land of a thousand lakes". There are several nature parks and lakes with unique flora and fauna in the region, such as the Müritz, the biggest German lake lying entirely within Germany, the Plauer See, the Fleesensee, the Tollensesee, the Schmaler Luzin and the Kölpinsee.
It is in this picturesque region that Golf & Country Club Fleesensee is situated. The resort provides a whole host of leisure pursuits including three eighteen hole golf courses - the Schloss Course, Tui Golf Course and Axel Lange Generali Course- two nine hole courses and the largest golf training facility in Europe. Charged with the overall management of all this grass is Course Manager, Stephen Monk, or to give him his German title, Leiter Greenkeeping.
Stephen is a Welshman who began his career at the age of seventeen on a YTS scheme at his local golf club, Pontypridd in South Wales. "I applied and they gave me a position," he stated. "I worked at the club for around five years whilst also attending college. The club were very good to me and I learned a lot from a construction perspective during my early years there. Since leaving Pontypridd, I have worked not only in the UK but also Ireland, Germany and Austria."
"I have returned to Germany twice to work, each time in different regions. When I first came here, to the Munich area, I got to know a few of the local greenkeepers. They came from everywhere; Britain, Germany, America, it was a real mixed bag."
"We would meet up once a week to play each other's courses," he continued. "It was a great way to discuss our own problems and bounce ideas off each other in a relaxed atmosphere."
"One person who was immensely helpful though, was Andrew Kelly, Course Manager of Golf Club Eichenried in Munich. He is the type of person who will give you the shirt off his back. I could, and still do, ring him about anything and he gives me his honest opinion. He never has a bad word to say about anyone and only wants the best for you and your course. Something very rare to find these days!"
In 2012, the club became Germany's first PGA Premium Golf School, receiving its certification document on 4th June of that year. The certifying DQS GmbH and the PGA of Germany awarded the overall grade of 1.1 to the "Land Fleesensee Golf School by Oliver Heuler".
Stephen explained that, during the course of the certification process, the driving range, practice facilities, short game areas and the course offerings, along with the availability of right-hand and left-hand rental clubs, youth training opportunities, online-booking possibilities, automated ball machines with ball washers, golf club fitting options on-site and many other things were taken into account. "Since we have a total of twenty golf professionals and golf pro-trainees, the golf school, which is led by the Golf & Country Club in cooperation with the former coach of the German national team, Oliver Heuler, easily met the requirements regarding the minimum number of required staff."
Since April 2013, the Golf & Country Club Fleesensee has belonged to the renowned network of European Tour Destinations. It is one of only nine destinations and thirteen member venues with whom the European Tour has entered this exclusive partnership (www.europeantourproperties.com).
The club can now be mentioned in the same breath as the London Golf Club, the French clubs Le Golf National and Terre Blanche, The Dutch in Holland and the German Golf Club St Leon-Rot. All the destinations are situated in key regions for European golf and they all offer a comprehensive range of facilities according to world-class standards. As host to the important golf-events of the European Tour (Main Tour, Senior Tour, Challenge Tour or Qualifying School) the nine destinations will occupy an outstanding position in the future.
Stephen came to the club in April of this year and, asked whether he found the move daunting, he replied; "No, we have a very clear management structure here. It is not overly complicated with too many managers. I am responsible for all the maintenance - golf courses, clubhouse, hotel grounds etc. - and that's it; no one else. During my interview, when I asked how the management of the club worked, it was explained to me that there was no committee or board of management and that I would only need to report to just two people. The structure is based on trust and results. I report directly to my manager and the company CEO and no one else."
"Managers are the oil of any business. It takes a lot of trust, commitment and the support of your staff to help them to achieve what, ultimately, you as a manager want to achieve. And we have that here," commented Stephen proudly.
"I am lucky to have a great management team here who have been brave enough to give me complete control over my department and be fully supportive of my decisions."
"Of course, that hasn't come overnight; trust has had to be built up on both sides first and results need to speak for themselves. I have had to ask them to back me on some tough decisions in the short time that I have been here and they have stood behind me every time and the results have come. We have just been voted into the Top 11 Golfing Venues in the world by Golfzeit Magazine, Germany and the teams are getting constant recognition of their work out on the golf courses."
The resort comprises four hotels, a spa, health club and gym, all set in 5000 acres, with panoramic views over lake Fleesensee.
"Two of our eighteen hole courses - the Tui Golf Course and Axel Lange Generali Course - have an American feel to their design, with the Schloss Course having a more traditional feel to it with deeper bunkers, more rough and trees."
"The training facilities are the largest in Europe. We have a 'Golf Arena'; a circle where people hit into the middle. It is as large as eight football pitches," Stephen confirmed. "Apart from the greens and tees, there is quite a varied soil type throughout the resort. For example, the Tui and Axel Lange courses have a low organic content, which may be seen through growth patterns. The Schloss Course, on the other hand, is a heavier, more peaty soil which holds a lot more moisture and grows more vigorously."
So, it's a different type of greenkeeping. As we are a resort complex, it is difficult to be flexible with regard to our maintenance plans. We have four hotels around the courses and packages/rooms are booked up months in advance. If we plan to do any extra work, or even aerate on any chosen week, for example, then there is no putting it off. It has to happen. This is where a good course manager will make decisions based on variables, such as weather conditions and equipment problems. For us, it is as simple as a green light or a red light. The associated stress involved in knowing that if something falls out of the plan, which could mean that we won't get another chance in the season, can be difficult to take at times and a few deep breaths are needed."
"Presentation is everything in this job and it's where we make the biggest impact with regard to our customers," continued Stephen. "As we are a European Tour Destinations course there is a definite standard to be met. Golfers come here because of that."
"A lot of work needs to be done to our greens. There has been a build up of a thatch layer over the years. Returfing is not an option, so ongoing aeration, sanding and deep verticutting will play important roles. We have already started to make inroads into the problem and the members and guests have noticed, which is great for motivation, but we know what needs to be done and we are seeing constant improvements. Next year will be so much better than this year and so on."
"Like all clubs, budgets are budgets. The important thing is recognising where money needs to be spent and taking the time to plan is so important. But, as the venue is only fourteen years old, there are not many major changes needing to be done. Of course, having said that, there is always room for improvement."
"Changing weather patterns are having an affect on what we do. Seasons have been rolling into one another for some time now. We get swings of high rainfall and dry conditions. This year has been 'a bit crazy' so far; we are getting plenty of rain and lots of heat, which is great for growth but also great for disease."
"I'm not a great believer in soil sampling. You can send two different samples to two different labs and both can come back different and, theoretically, both can be right. Tell most reps in the middle of the season that you need fertiliser and they will run off a list of different types that they can deliver next week, never once looking at or asking you for a soil test. But each to their own, it's just my humble opinion."
Stephen explains that he is very keen on training and education. "We have a consultant that comes in a few times a year to keep us on our toes. He spends a day with the staff, training and refreshing them, and then a day with me going through our paperwork etc."
"Anyone can write a list, but it's the person driving the machine or applying the fertiliser that produces the finish. I send staff to events like the PGA Opens here in Germany, before and during their tournament week, and that includes our mechanics."
"We have a great opportunity here to train and prepare greenkeepers for the industry. People who might be looking at taking that next step, but are lacking in the real life experience that college hasn't given them."
"This year, we have two greenkeepers from the UK who have just finished college. One is running his own course and the other is an assistant, but both are under supervision. It gives them an insight into how it feels to be a manager/head greenkeeper whilst in a safe environment, before moving on to positions of their own at other clubs. Running your own course and dealing with staff and problems day to day is something that college just can't give you. For anyone that is interested, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org."
"In addition, we are introducing a course maintenance page to our website and are in the process of making a number of videos on course maintenance, which will be played through the clubhouse televisions."
"Every year, each of the golf professionals do a week with us in the course maintenance department, which has brought a number of benefits. The pros have a better understanding of the amount of work and commitment involved, which they then communicate back to other departments, members and guests. It certainly allows for better understanding."
In such an environmentally sensitive area, does this present challenges? "It's very important to me personally to do what we can for the local flora and fauna," Stephen stressed. "We have a Gold rating in the German 'Golf and the Nature' section and it's important that we hold onto that. It shows that the golf industry is not all about chemicals and fertiliser. We work very closely with them and they come to visit and give us out rating annually."
"Every building has bird and bat boxes but, to be honest, we are surrounded by so much wildlife you'd have a job not to come across a deer, fox or stag when out on the courses. The other day a North American Raccoon ran across the cart path in front of my buggy. Nice to see, but they don't belong here! It's a shame in some respects, but I guess that's humans for you."
With chemicals now banned in Germany, how does Stephen cope with pests and diseases? "We just try to work with things as best we can. We get the local hunter to walk around the courses with his dogs. Their scent is normally enough to keep most things away for a while. Geese also use the numerous lakes as a stop off point on their migration north, which causes us a few problems."
"Chafer grubs are a bit of an issue as we can't treat for them, and we occasionally suffer a bit of fusarium at the start and end of the year and dollar spot in summer."
Outside of the daily maintenance, what other work is being undertaken? "We have lost some of the lakes features that were put in to enhance the optical aspect of each course in the original designs. Trees have taken over in the past fourteen years, so we are working on a plan to clear some of those areas out to enhance things once again and get back to what the architect's vision was. We also maintain the hotel grounds, spa grounds and a woodland park located at one of the hotels, but our main project remains to get our greens in order."
Stephen concludes by stating; "the pressure is on all of us to stand out from one another. The wandering golfer is here to stay and, if things do not surpass our customers' expectations, then people will simply go elsewhere. There was a time when the greenkeeping profession was undervalued, but times have changed and are still changing. Now we are seeing more respect from management for the job we do. But, how often do you hear a player who has just won a tournament say what a great job the course maintenance team has done? It happens now and then, but not often enough. More recognition from them is our next challenge as greenkeepers."
Was ist in der Halle?
Toro Greensmaster 3250 D x 9. Five are used on greens, four on tees
Toro Pedestrian Greens Mowers x 4
Greens Rollers x 2
Toro Reelmaster 3100D x 2
Toro Reelmaster 5610 x 5
Toro Groundsmaster 4000D x 4
Toro Sandpro x 4
Toro Workman x 12 - one fitted with a Toro Propass Sander and one with a sprayer
Toro Groundsmaster 4700D x 2
Redexim Verti-Drain x 2 - one used on greens, one for fairways
Iseki Tractor x 2
Two workshop technicians are employed and all work is carried out in-house