Building a golf course on a factory site in the middle of Ipswich may seem like a crazy idea, but not when the client is Ransomes Jacobsen. This unusual course construction opportunity fell to Essex based Grassform Ltd., who built the three-hole course on the site during 2007. Known unofficially within Ransomes Jacobsen as the 'RJ National', the course features a challenging set of holes, bunkers and water hazard just yards from the company's manufacturing facility and offices.
A variety of challenges in designing, constructing and implementing a course in such close proximity to a working factory site were in evidence, but Ransomes Jacobsen were adamant that the project had little impact on the environment as well as giving an aesthetically pleasing sight to both staff and visitors alike.
The course is available for use on open days and for demonstrations of Ransomes Jacobsen's range of fine turf mowers.
The design of the course was carried out by Swan Golf Designs, who were required to incorporate best practices and principles in environmental sustainability into their concepts and final plans. It was built on a piece of bare wasteland from a level site and is a testament to the skill of the contractor in landscape creation and shaping as well as interpreting the ideas of the architects.
Also part of the project was a noise testing area, situated to the side of the course. This is part of Ransomes Jacobsen's machine testing policy and allows machines to be checked for peripheral working noise in a grass based environment, as would be found on a golf course or sports field. This area also doubles as two 5-a-side football pitches for staff use.
A bespoke multi-purpose decking area was also built between the car park and course, adding to the aesthetics and providing a raised platform, overlooking the course, for hosting events. The decking and hardwood furniture around the course, are all FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified.
The landscape and planting plan was carefully designed by Swan's Mike Wood to complement the existing native vegetation and to further enhance the landscape character and ecology of the site. Only native species were used in scrub and tree planting. Close attention to detail was particularly important in species selection, woodland edge enhancements and methods to increase habitat diversity without damage to areas of the existing ecology.
Interesting areas of natural vegetation and individual trees were retained. This careful planning of vegetation was matched in other areas.
Part of the remit was to remove a vast area of heather to be stored and utilised later on the finished site, giving a natural feel close to the predominantly heathland area to the east of Ipswich.
Although the site is fairly free draining, due to the sand based heathland soil, the RJ National still required a basic drainage scheme. A system that included gentle slopes and open swales to shed water was built with pipe drainage installed as and where required.
The course drains into the centrepiece of the site, the lake, which includes a fountain. The introduction of the lake not only allows for drainage outflow and water harvesting but also increases biodiversity, a key part of the course's existence. 5,000 cubic metres of material were removed to form and shape the lake to its final design. All earthworks were contained in the site to help create the course's topography. Little material was imported to the site, with recycling an important aspect to keep in with the environmental theme.
Once the main shaping and drainage had been completed the site was seeded. A variety of different grass types were utilised on both the tee and green areas to not only show the latest in breeding developments but also to give differing sward types to test out Ransomes Jacobsen's mower range.
The grassing plan, although small in scale, shows how habitat patches can be maximised and well connected, in a golf context. The grass seed mixes were selected to benefit from the latest advances in breeding for adaptation to changing climate, disease resistance and modern playing demands. Cultivars of fescue, bent, ryegrass and meadow-grass species were chosen, as well as native wild flowers appropriate to the free-draining soil conditions.
Barenbrug were the suppliers of choice for the grass seed on the playing surfaces with each hole featuring different types as follows:
Hole 1: Tee - Bar 10 RTF. Green - Bar 2
Hole 2: Tee - Bar Platinum. Green - Bar Fescue
Hole 3: Tee - Bar 4. Green - Bar All Bent
All fairways and rough areas were seeded with Bar 5 and the noise test area with Bar 8.
These species were specifically selected to reduce irrigation requirements and to facilitate the adoption of a no fungicide and insecticide policy for the long term management of the course. This includes minimal water usage, utilising recycled resources from the factory to irrigate the course via a Rainbird system.
Keeping the amenity grassland area small will reduce machinery wear, fuel consumption and emissions, and the machinery used to manage the course will itself have been produced through processes which are ISO 14001 environmentally accredited.
Golf Environment Europe were regularly consulted on the project, and Jonathan Smith, Chief Executive of GEE said, on visiting the site, "Ransomes Jacobsen's commitment to environmental sustainability is without doubt. The achievement of ISO 14001 for their manufacturing practices shows that. It is quite natural that they would wish to showcase environmental sustainability in the development of this short course. We commend them on their efforts."
David Withers, Managing Director of Ransomes Jacobsen said "This has been a great project, and we are so pleased with the result, which reflects the quality of the team we put together. We have about 1,000 visitors a year come through our Ipswich facility and we will now be able to demonstrate our machines as well as our acknowledged environmental leadership."
Upkeep of the course will be undertaken by Rory Ferguson, son of Ipswich Town FC's Head Groundsman, Alan Ferguson (see over).
A Chip of the Old Block!
Many of you will know my dad, Alan Ferguson, Head Groundsman at Ipswich Town FC. I have been working alongside him for a number of years and couldn't have had a better tutor. The club has a good corporate relationship with Ransomes Jacobsen and, when the company were looking for someone to look after the new three hole golf course, my dad put my name forward to be included for interview.
I was interviewed by Carol Mellelieu, the HR Director, and David Withers, the Managing Director, during which we discussed the course and how I thought it could be developed. I got a call a week later offering me the position.
The maintenance regime for the course is still being built up as it is still very young. I cut the course at least twice a week, or more if there is a visit or demonstration planned. The greens are cut with a Jacobsen Eclipse 122, set at 6mm.
The tees are cut with a Jacobsen 526A, which is set at 11mm, and the fairways and football pitch are cut with a Jacobsen Tri King set at 30mm.
The cutting regime was set up to take into account the many different types of grasses that are on this course. Each green and tee is a slightly different seed mix, two of the greens being a monoculture, one bent and the other fescue, and the third is a mix of both. The tees are all mixtures of perennial ryegrass and meadow grass.
This was done to see what affect each mower would have on certain grass types and how they have to be managed differently.
The fertiliser regime is made up from mainly organic fertilisers called Sustain; from this range we use the 5:2:10 for the greens and tees and the 18:1:8 for the fairways. We chose to go this way as we are trying to make an environmentally friendly and sustainable golf course, and Sustain helps us do that.
For irrigation we use a Rain Bird system which is fully automated. This gives us the control to put programmes on during the night when it is cooler and, as a result, not as much water is lost, which helps to cut down our water consumption. We also use recycled water from some of the processes
For the topdressing we use a C1 dressing from a local aggregates company, Colchester Sand and Gravel. We apply this in the spring/summer seasons with a Turfco WideSpin 1530 Truck Mounted top dresser on a Cushman Turf Truckster.
This is our current regime, but we are adding to it as the course grows and develops.
I work from 8.30 am to 5.00 pm Monday to Friday with an hour for lunch. Some days it's slightly longer! And I still help out my dad on match days!