A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the importance of choosing the right machinery which stated how our sports turf industry has changed in the last forty years regarding the choice and range of machinery we now have available.
Most if not all, high-profile sports facilities and particularly golf courses, now rely heavily on having quality machinery to deliver the expectations of their customers / clients.
With regards to golf clubs, they more than any other sports facility, require a large fleet of machinery to maintain their playing areas. In recent weeks, I have seen at first hand the huge investments both Gleneagles and Wentworth have made in machinery purchases, ensuring they are able to deliver the playing surfaces and environment that they are striving to produce at their respective sites.
A recent trip to Enville Golf Club enabled me to meet up with their course manager, Andy Wood, who along with club officials, had negotiated a fantastic deal with John Deere to provide them with an array of maintenance equipment and machinery supplies from local dealer Farols.
Andy was keen to point out the decision to invest in John Deere equipment was based on several commercial benefits the club will gain from their partnership.
Andy has had a long relationship with John Deere, having worked closely with them at his three previous clubs, Robin Hood, Cosby and The Belfry. It's all about the relationships with the dealer and manufacturer, the ability of that machine to perform the task, value for money, backup, and servicing of the machinery they are investing in. Like all golf clubs, they go through machinery cycles, and when these cycles come to an end, it's often time for the club to reflect and look at new opportunities.
In Andy's case, a large part of their previous main supplier deal with Toro, was coming to an end. So The club took the opportunity last year to start the process of looking at what the three leading main suppliers (Jacobson, Toro and John Deere ) could offer, as well as looking at ways to finance the equipment in a more planned way reducing the up and down capital spends. This creates a much more balanced leasing cost over a long period making it much easier to budget and plan future changes.
A range of demos took place. After a long debate, the club decided to go with John Deere. It was not necessarily about price, but more about the backup, warranty and service John Deere offered along with the support given by Jacob Shellis from Farols.
In total, the club has invested in twenty-eight John Deere machines that include mowers, gators, trailers and tractors.
This was coupled with the fact that Farol were able to supply additional required equipment such as the Sisis Veemo MK2, Trilo BL400, Fleming 4 tonne trailer and the ever-popular Ventrac 4500 with five attachments.
Andy took on the role of course manager at Enville in June 2017 and since his appointment has worked tirelessly with his fifteen staff to improve the condition of the course by improving the playing surfaces, opening areas up for regenerating heather and improving the golfing experience.
Founded in 1935, Enville is one of the finest examples of heathland golf in the UK. The facilities were gradually extended over a period of years until 1983 when two eighteen hole courses were completed. 2010 saw the addition of their exclusive, all grass, practice facility that is considered by many to be the best of its kind within the UK. There is a six-acre short game area with three full-size chipping and pitching greens open all year round and maintained to golf course conditions. The main long game area covers twenty-two acres and is over 360 yards long. The main grass tee is 220 yards long, which ensures perfect practice conditions from real turf all year round.
Click here to watch a fly-by of Enville.
The Highgate and Lodge courses are a mixture of picturesque heathland and majestic woodland. From 2007 to 2011 the Highgate course was used by the R & A for Regional Open Qualifying. In 2014 Enville hosted the EGU Boys Under 14's Reid Trophy.
In August 2017 they hosted the Girls' British Open Amateur Championship which involved some of the best young amateurs in the game from around the world and in 2019 the Club hosted the English Senior Women's Amateur Championships and the Armed forces Inter service championships. In 2021 the R&A return with the Girls U16 Amateur Championship and hopefully further prestigious events will come to Enville.
Andy's vision is to establish Enville into one of the top 100 golf courses. To achieve this, the club needs to continually work on improving their golfing experience and facilities.
In the short time Andy has been there he has overseen a lot of changes. Firstly, paying attention to the quality of the playing surfaces and improving the aesthetics of the course. However, to help achieve this the club has needed to invest in a new irrigation system as the old one had become unreliable. Unable to deliver effective watering to many parts of the course, the system was unsafe and many hours were being spent patching it up week after week.
Having the ability to apply water efficiently and accurately is essential for maintaining turf quality. Installing a brand-new system takes a lot of time and planning and working around a busy golfing calendar, Enville enlisted the help and support of Roger Davey and his team from Irritech Limited to assist with the project. "From the design going out to tender through to the completion of the project we could not have been in better hands. The level of professionalism was second to none," said Andy.
“After a long and in-depth tender process, it was decided to go with Toro as the support from Robert Jackson of Reesink Turfcare was exceptional,” explained Andy, “especially while we were having issues with our old system.” North Staffs Irrigation were Enville's chosen Installer.
Work started on the first phase in 2018 with a new pumphouse and tank followed by greens, tees and approaches on the Highgate course. This work has been completed and the aim will now be to complete the second phase on the Lodge course as soon as the club can afford it, along with the possibility of being able to irrigate fairways sometime in the future.
As for the ongoing work, a programme of verticutting, hollow coring, aeration, overseeding and topdressing has been implemented to all greens, tees and approaches. Over 200 tonnes of straight sand has gone on each of the courses per year. The seed on greens has been a mix of creeping and browntop bent.
“The fairways suffered severely during the 2018 drought,” said Andy, “and they lost large percentages of fescue. The bents seemed to cope much better as did the rye grasses on 4-12 on the Lodge course. We invested in a Fairway scarifier as the fairways had suffered badly where it was heavily matted, and along with intensive aeration, we overseeded the fairways with a fescue bent mix with a larger % of bent than normal and to aid with germination. We topdressed the fairways lightly with a humus material. “This work, combined with a good year for growth, has meant we have had fantastic recovery - although more work is required before we get them to the standard I want.”
To help maintain and improve Enville's important heathland, Andy and his staff have implemented a robust tree and heather management programme, removing unwanted saplings and restoring heather plantations.
“Managing the heath is very labour intensive,” Andy explained. “We can spend 60-80 hours a week from September through to December, just digging out saplings. Added to that is weeks spent topping off and collecting the heather combined with the separate task of cutting down and collecting the long grass areas to help thin out the sward.
“Selective tree removal and blowing the leaves out of the heather is also an important winter task. Whereas during the growing season, spraying for bracken, bramble and Himalayan Balsam is important. Turf stripping for heather regeneration begins in October. It's not always very pleasing to the eye during the start of the process. However we are already starting to see good results, and hopefully, within 4-5 years the Club will see the benefit of this work.”
Like any golf course, the ability, skill set, and welfare of the staff is crucial in the management of a busy golf complex. Andy cannot praise his staff enough. Enville are very lucky to have a group of staff who have come through some difficult times but are still very much dedicated to the cause. They have a wealth of experience and are passionate about making Enville the best it can possibly be.
Even with fifteen staff, trying to manage and maintain two different styles of golf course and a very large practice area is often quite a challenge. It has only been achievable with the support of the club and their ability to invest funding to improve the infrastructure and mechanisation of the club. This has been further enhanced with the building of a new machinery storage building costing £40,000, and this year a new material storage building for seed and fertiliser has been erected continuing the investment in the facilities.
The mechanics’ workshop has also seen an upgrade, improving the working environment, which is vital as many of the club’s machines cost tens of thousands each and need to be serviced and well maintained. Bernhard Grinders were one of the first purchases by the club when Andy arrived allowing the club to always have sharp units and due to the quick turn around the grinders allow no requirement for spare units. Having the tools to do the job is vital in keeping the machinery in top order so that when they are out on the course they are delivering at their full potential.
The recent acquisition of the John Deere machinery and equipment, the investment in the new irrigation systems and the refurbishment and new buildings will play a part in helping Enville GC to become one of the most attractive and top 100 golfing venues in the country in the coming years.