Wet winter at Carden Park
With the turn in the weather, we could be a couple of weeks away from re-opening the Jack Nicklaus Course.
Through the winter months we have run quite a lot of drainage across the fairway of the fifteenth hole and if conditions continue to dry out we will be gravel banding over the top of the drains to further improve the hole. We have already improved the drainage on the approaches to the green using a similar material to 'Lytag', which has proved fairly successful.
The topsoil was originally stripped off and the clay underneath moulded to contours. The three to four inches of topsoil was then returned, but we have lost the soil structure since so the water now doesn't run across the surface to the gully pots as well as we would hope. The topsoil is a heavy loam anyway and we have to find ways of easing the pressure in those top few inches. Gravel and 'Lytag-type' banding seem to be the most effective and least disruptive way although they will probably only be useful for seven to ten years.
Because the Nicklaus course is so wet in the winter we can only flymo the fairways on a rota basis to try to keep the worst of the growth down, but in the next few weeks we will be back to fine fescue on the fairways again.
The rest of the work has involved strimming around the 80,000 trees and shrubs planted on the Nicklaus course, we have a lot of native rough land grasses so once we have the grass cut down we will spray around the trees and shrubs with a contact total weed
The majority of our winter work on this course are compressed into a few weeks in the spring because of the waterlogged conditions, the course closes mid to late October at best and then re-opens beginning of April weather permitting.
We are trying to achieve a good drainage infrastructure that will enable use to continue to the end of November, reopening early March. With the estimated costs associated with a full scale drainage project on a property this large, the club have to consider whether they would get a return on the outlay. All the greens are full USGA specification with a population of Providence creeping bent on both the tees and greens. The tees have a similar specification with the exception of the gravel layer. Instead the water drains to a centre tile down the middle of each tee.
The two reasons for this were one, cost, but then also the fact that we may not have the water resources to irrigate if we had full drainage capability. In the summer the course tends to dry out quickly, but in the winter they tend to hold a bit wet which is why there is so much moss about at the moment.
We suffer from a lot of rabbit damage, there seems to be a large population concentrated near the old dairy so we protect our fine turf with barriers to keep the rabbits at bay.
I would say that the hardest thing about the course closing over the winter is that when we do re-open, the expectation from employers and the public is the course be perfect and that expectation is maintained throughout the playing season, which is not easy. We are not over staffed here; the budgets are run on very sound commercial lines where we are expected to make profit. We are not in an open chequebook situation and neither do I think we should be!
In total there are 25 full time staff here presently and that will rise to 30 with HND placements and casual labour in the summer.
We work on an annualised pay system averaged out at 39 hours per week. The staff can work 50-60 hours a week in the growing season and then take time off in the winter. If additional work is required then we pay overtime, but I have to account for any additional payments so I try to keep this to a minimum.
The golf course is of pure design, there is little wrong with its finishing details, but in the winter it's a battle. The nice thing this year is that we have a little bit longer to prepare for the PGA Seniors Championship, last year it was held at the end of May, and because the course was so wet, most of the fairways didn't have their first cut until three weeks before.
This year the Championship doesn't start until the end of July, when the course should be at its peak. Nevertheless we still need to get the course open to the public in April, the Jack Nicklaus course is a 'pay per round' course and it is imperative that we open as soon as possible to start earning money.
I always find that following the Masters in Augusta, golfers tend to switch back onto the game and the course suddenly becomes busier. The Nicklaus course is challenging, but with room for manoeuvre, we get a lot of corporate business, and the course certainly suits the golfer who likes resort style courses. The Cheshire course on the other hand is renowned for being a tough course with little room for error. I shall talk about that course next time.