I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of meeting a former greenkeeper colleague of mine. This opportunity came when I visited Charleville Golf Club. The head greenkeeper there is Peter Byrne, a man whom I hadn’t met for over fifteen years. It was no surprise therefore that I spent a little more time with him than normal, so that I could catch up on what happened in those intervening fifteen years and recall some of the stories of days gone by.
Charleville Golf Club is situated on the foothills of the Ballyhoura mountains in North County Cork. The timing of my visit could not have been better, as I arrived on the exact day that the club was founded, eighty years earlier, on the 29th of July 1941. However, there were no big celebrations that day as the clubhouse had just opened to members after being closed for the previous nine months, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The clubhouse at Charleville Golf Club
The club is an eighteen hole complex with a chipping green, a putting green, a nursery green and driving range. In the early 1990s it expanded to twenty seven holes but, because of the risk of going bankrupt and in order to survive, in 2010 the club was forced to sell nine of the twenty seven holes. When this happened the remaining eighteen hole course had to be redesigned, as some of the land sold included part of both the old and new course. As a result the present course has a mixture of soil based greens and USGA sand based ones.
Peter Byrne, is a native of County Wicklow, and is a 7th degree Black Belt Taekwon-Do Master. He began his greenkeeping career at Woodenbridge Golf Club. It was during his time at Woodenbridge that I got to know Peter through my involvement with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Ireland (GCSAI but now changed to the Association of Turfgrass Professionals Ireland), where many golf outings took place. After twenty one years at Woodenbridge, Peter moved to Limerick where he worked as a landscaper for ten years. Part of his landscaping work involved travelling to Dublin to maintain a bowling green for Blackrock Bowling Club. Other work included hollow coring the chipping and putting greens each year for golfer Padraig Harrington, the three time Major winner and this year’s Ryder Cup captain.
Head greenkeeper Peter Byrne
In 2017 a job opportunity came for the position of head greenkeeper at Charleville Golf Club. Peter applied and got the job and has been here ever since. He took to the role like a fish to water and enjoys his time working there. There are three full time staff maintaining the course with two seasonal workers taken on during the summer. The longest serving staff member is mechanic, John Gleeson, who has been with the club for twenty one years.
The staff members, back row from left: Mark Collins (Professional), John Gleeson (mechanic), Ian Kelly. Front: Damien Lyons (Assistant), Danial Kennedy, Peter Byrne
Peter and his staff maintain Charleville to a very high standard. The soil underneath the course is very heavy and lots of drains have been installed down through the years. This will be ongoing, as those of you who work on heavy soils will know.
The greens are hollow cored only once each year during Sept/Oct. Some micro tining is carried out during the summer, along with fortnightly slitting (except in dry weather). During autumn coring between 15 – 20 tons of sand is applied to the eighteen greens, which are also overseeded with creeping bentgrass. The greens are sanded twice during the summer when approximately 10 tons is applied, to the 21 greens.
Two golfers make their way up the 11th hole
Very little granular fertilisers are used, mostly liquid feeds. What granular fertiliser is given is in the form of Sulphate of Ammonia, Sulphate of Iron and Potassium. These are applied each month during the winter. In between these applications Peter applies a mix of Proturf, Turfite and liquid turf hardener. When Spring comes this is all changed to a different feeding programme using Solufeed (14:5:28), External (urea), Elevate (liquid iron). In between these applications Peter puts out liquid seaweed and a wetting agent.
There is an irrigation system installed around the greens. The water comes from a well on the course and is stored in an overground storage tank. This tank will provide sufficient water to do a full irrigation cycle to the greens.
In between the trees. Ian Kelly doing some mowing
Having a nursery green is very beneficial. It means that any damage done to any of the greens out on the course can be quickly repaired using sod from the nursery green. Every golf club should have their own nursery green.
Whenever there is extra work to be done some members of the club come in to volunteer, usually on a Thursday, to help with chores such as pruning trees, strimming grass, divot repair and collecting balls from the driving range.
When I arrive at a golf facility one of the questions I always ask is “how did the club manage during the lockdowns?” When I asked Peter this question he said that he was able to do a lot of winter projects. One big project undertaken was the clearing of scrub around and underneath some of the trees on the course. This made these areas look much cleaner. Peter would like to convert some of these areas to wild flora. Because of the success of this project, plans are in place to continue with more clearing to other parts of the course this winter. Other work that Peter did during the lockdown was draining the 3rd and 4th fairways. Another project Peter hopes to do this winter is to clean up the drains and ditches on the 9th hole, along with reducing the size of the lake on the same hole.
One of the areas of the course that was cleared of scrub when the course was closed during lockdown
The Bayer trials
It is funny how things can take a full circle. Earlier this year Peter was asked by a Bayer representative would he be interested in taking part in some fungicide trials. The Bayer representative requesting the trials was Greg Collins who is the Bayer Environmental Science (Turf and Amenity) National Account Manager for Ireland and who happened to be a former head greenkeeper at Charleville Golf Club for eleven years.
Mechanic John Gleeson has been working at Charleville Golf Club for twenty one years
Because the EU keeps banning chemical products, the Irish turf market continues to face increased pressure on disease management due to the loss of a number of active ingredients and chemical groups. With less choice to chemically control diseases Peter agreed to go ahead with the trials. These involve giving monthly applications of fungicide to the greens over a six month period. The fungicides that will be used are Signature Xtra Stressgard, which is a systemic fungicide and will be applied for the first three months of the trial. The second fungicide will be Dedicate. This is a fungicide that is both contact and systemic and will be applied for the last three months. The first two trials have already begun, with the first application applied at the end of June and the second one given at the end of July, leaving one more application at the end of August.
The par three 16th green
I hope that the club enjoy their 80th birthday and that it will prosper for the next eighty years. It was nice to have met Peter and his staff. They had the course looking so well. Hopefully it won’t be another fifteen years before I meet Peter again.
The 5th green with splendid views of the Ballyhoura mountains