Further accolade for Turf Matters in top awards

Further accolade for Turf Matters in top awards: Turf Matters proved that last year’s triumph in the International Turf and Ornamental Communicators Awards was no fluke by winning big again in the delayed 2020 Awards.

Turf Matters Designer, Tim Moat, won two categories for Best Cover (May-June 2019) and Best Single Page Design, while Editor, Scott MacCallum, also took two Firsts – a first equal in the same category of Best Writing, for Stadium of the Future (NovDecember 2019) and What a Rush! (Sept-Oct 2019).

Further accolade for Turf Matters in top awards

Further accolade for Turf Matters in top awards

In addition, for the second year in a row, Scott was awarded the Gardner Award for the Best Overall International Entry for his Stadium of the Future, article which focussed on the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium and the great work Darren Baldwin and his team carry out.

“Tim and I are absolutely delighted. We always strive to bring our readers the best possible magazine and we feel that by winning awards our work is rubber stamped,” said Scott.

“Having independent industry experts assess our work is a useful exercise whether we win Awards or not. That said, it is much more gratifying to win!” he added.

Turf Matters was joined in the winners’ enclosure by Greenkeeper International Editor, Karl Hansell, and Designer Libbie Waddleton, who also picked up several awards.

Turf Matters’ winning entries can be viewed at turfmatters.co.uk – magazine

Embracing new technology

Embracing new technology: One silver lining among the heartache of the pandemic is an acceleration in the adoption of new – and better – ways of working…

Craig Earnshaw, Course Manager at Harleyford GC, in Buckinghamshire, is a man on a mission and has been fast to embrace the modern approach to managing, communicating and training that today’s advancing technology can offer.

Embracing new technology

Embracing new technology

Communicating daily tasks to the team was always a fundamental activity practised by Craig, but he felt that this could not only be improved but made more relevant in the digital age where everyone has a mobile phone and many have tablets.

Craig’s aim was never to replace the daily verbal brief, however, when looking at digital software systems and what they can offer, the digital whiteboard aspect and the power of reporting and communicating remotely was an area of significant interest.

Having looked at various options, Craig decided TurfKeeper offered exactly what he was looking for and saw that the system offered a major leap forward in complementing what he was doing on a verbal, face-to-face or messaging on a whiteboard basis.

On a more personal note, Craig explained that the system has helped his communication as he is dyslexic and no longer had to rely on his deputy to write up his instructions on the white board.

“This harnessing of digital technology benefits me as a manager, my team and therefore ultimately the club.”

To start with, a large screen TV was installed in the clubs new maintenance facility and with the use of the digital whiteboard feature the day’s preplan activity can be done online and displayed. This is then is keyed into the system and displayed on the TV so the whole team can see what has been assigned; any key notes, machinery and stock to be used is also displayed as well as the weather forecast and such important direction of cut details for any area are to mowed.

A key to success of this system has been the staff ‘buy in’ and them seeing the benefits beyond the traditional whiteboard and pen,” said Craig.

“It also offers the ability to view the tasks out on the course via the phone and this has not just increased efficiency and productivity, but has been a real game changer during the Covid-19 crisis,” he added.

“Using the TurfKeeper system, we have been able to plan and communicate from a far. The team can log onto the system and know what task or activity is required even before they arrive at work, in some cases even before they leave home!”

Avoiding close contact during this pandemic is a must and by utilising modern technology such as this, the team has been able to work around it.

“If I am out on the course and forget to add anything or maybe a new task has cropped up, the web-based TurfKeeper technology allows the inputting of a task via the phone and have it appear on everyone else’s, including also the jobs board.”

Embracing new technology

Embracing new technology

The TurfKeeper ethos is directed towards the modern, digital, web-based way of planning, recording and communicating. There is nothing wrong with a paper diary and handwriting, but when you need quick fire information to fan out the flames, the digital approach delivers with speed and ease.

Take for example the preCovid-19 situation. Seven staff members working 40 hours per week at a total of 280 hours.

In a usual year, bunkers need daily raking, greens rolled 2-3 times per week, empting bins, ball washer and moving tee blocks prior to cutting and all that jazz,” said Craig.

“And oh yes… of course… working around the golf! When all the aforementioned is factored in, this takes a huge amount of time, and hence the good reason why we need all the staff.

“Now cue Furlough… no need to cut daily, certainly minimal to zero rolling or bunker raking. No course furniture to move or service in the way of bins and ball washers, and oh yes… no golfers. Never have courses been easier to maintain in terms of bare minimum and cutting. No golf to work around, so less waiting time and the result… cutting the time in half it usually takes to mow most of the areas.

Cue now to the inquisitions… do we need that many staff members? Course looks good to me and there is only three of you. what did you do with all those labour hours before?

“These are not unreasonable question to be fair. We are lucky in the fact that staff numbers have not been brought into question. I did get asked how come we can get everything cut with only three staff but it was a light hearted comment. Nonetheless, that is where the advent of modern technology plays it part. Unlike a traditional paper diary, I can just enter a date range, click a button and the data instantly; all the labour hours, costs, effort, stock used etc. Looking through the reports, I can balance off last year v this year and communicate to the board exactly where all of the hours go, as the reports detail every last task. It’s very clear to see how long bunkers took this year v last year or even identify work that hasn’t needed to be done. It really helps to hammer home the facts,” he explained.

“So, to sum it all up, it’s quite simple for me. I rely heavily on irrigation software system, digital moisture meters and various other technological tools to monitor surface performance, so why not also other aspect of the job?

“TurfKeeper allows me to extend the technological side of management and communication but in addition, the planning, budgeting, stock control, machinery maintenance and reporting. Such a system is a valuable asset and working example of the technology we should all be embracing in the modern age in which we now operate.”

The greenkeeping team at Harleyford Golf Club in Buckinghamshire won the 2019 BIGGA Championship Greenkeeping Performance of the Year award for its work in preparing the course for The Matchroom Sport Championship.

TurfKeeper is a web-based management system that provides turf industry professionals a fully integrated operations and management solution. Designed by turf industry professionals, the system, in a completely personalised, single environment, provides complete control over and insight into staff management, task planning, machinery management, inventory control, chemical applications planning and recording, and budgeting and expense management.

With detailed reporting on all areas readily available, and a resource library provision, the system becomes the home of all turf management planning, actions, and facility history.

Honour and a privilege

Honour and a privilege: Scott MacCallum talks with Adam King, Head of Grounds at Radley College in Oxford, and learns that while there is competitiveness to do your best, that doesn’t necessarily mean with each other.

I had a pretty normal school education. I got sufficient grades to go on to do the journalism course that I wanted to take, while I also enjoyed the sporting side of things, playing rugby for the school in my early years.

Honour and a privilege

Honour and a privilege

In fact, I enjoy all sports but, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never been very good – the archetypal Jack of all Trades… You know the rest.

But things might have been different. I enjoy golf, but grew up in a town where the golf club had no professional, so my swing was, and still is, hand built – more Heath Robinson than Rolls Royce. At my school our PE staff were more facilitators than coaches, allowing us access to sport but without any genuine coaching, while our playing fields were sloped to such an extent that I could run 100 metres in around 11 seconds in one direction and 22 seconds in the other.

So, while I’ve always been grateful for the education I received, I am, and have always been, envious of those people who benefited from a private education. And even more so, of those who boarded. Nothing to do with Harry Potter, but these guys had access to fabulous sports facilities, plenty of time for sport on the timetables and coaches to ensure that proper foundations are put into technique, whether that be batting, scrummaging or golfing.

Not so sure about quidditching.

I certainly don’t feel underprivileged, but those thoughts did come flooding back when I spoke with Adam King, Head of Grounds at Radley College, in Oxford, and particularly resonated when he talked about two of the newest additions to facilities, neither of which, funnily enough, require input from himself from an agronomic perspective.

We used to include pictures of well presented pitches on our school prospectus. Now we have pictures of our Strength and Conditioning Unit, which cost close to £1 million, and our rowing tank, which enables the boys to train right the way through winter,” explained Adam.

Strength and Conditioning Unit! What I would have given to have had access to that. I went from scrawny to overweight in the blink of an eye.

Radley is one of only four all boarding boys’ schools in the entire country – the others being Eton, Harrow and Winchester. There are currently 737 boys on roll and this will grow to 750 when the latest boarding house becomes fully operational. Among the Old Boys are Peter Cook, Ted Dexter, Andrew Straus, Brough Scott, Nigel Twiston-Davis and Lord Scarman.

“Sports plays a major part of what the boys do here,” said Adam, merely confirming my long-standing jealousy.

Honour and a privilege

Honour and a privilege

“They are out four afternoons a week, plus Saturdays and when we are playing against our big ‘rival’ schools there can be 24 rugby teams out at the same time. It’s a great sight.”

With everyone on site including the teaching staff, who all live in school houses, retaining a school bubble is easier than for some.

“We are a campus school, spread over 800 acres, so we don’t have the same worries that Eton, Harrow and Winchester, for example, have of boys walking around the town. We are in one massive bubble and with so many sports on offer – touch rugby only at the moment; football, cricket, hockey, athletics, tennis, golf and rowing it means that the boys are nicely spaced out and can enjoy what they are doing,” said Adam, who has been at the school since 2000.

During the March to June lockdown Adam’s regular staff of 19 was reduced to four to enable essential work on the gardens and grounds to be carried out, and two greenkeepers to maintain the school’s nine hole golf course, which has its own membership of 350.

“In many ways it took me back to my days back in 1989 at Stowmarket Golf Club, sitting on a tractor pulling a set of Lloyds gangs. Tranquil times, with no phone, no interruptions. It was quite surreal, but quite pleasant at the same time,” he recalled.

“Then it dawned on us that the boys weren’t coming back for the summer term and that we were, therefore, not going to have any cricket, and the mood went the other way. Everyone got a bit down and the implications of what was happening began to hit home. It was a really odd summer.

“At times we were wondering where it was all leading and whether the boys would be coming back in September.

“We are in a much more fortunate position now and, as a school, we are the fullest we have ever been. We only have 10 or 12 of our international students who are currently distance learning.”

Honour and a privilege

Honour and a privilege

Staff gradually began returning and the Grounds Team had a full complement by mid September, when work on cricket pitches began in earnest in preparation for matches later in the year.

“The Old Boys played a Twenty20 last week against another school and there are another few fixtures planned for the next few weeks,” said Adam, speaking the day after the Prime Minister had announced further restrictions which could stretch well into 2021.

“Our plan was to go to play touch rugby until half term in October and then go to rugby after half term at the beginning of November.

What we’ve heard now is that that is probably not going to happen and we will continue to play touch rugby or go to football or hockey.

As a school we are very keen that every boy does something every day – we can’t have them sitting around their boarding houses,” said Adam, whose advice to anyone new to school groundsmanship is to get involved with the school as much as possible. He himself coaches cricket and football.

The pandemic came on the back of a period of weather which had had Adam bemoaning the wet weather of last winter and spring.

“We are always in the hands of Mother Nature and she was working against us but ironically she then worked with us for a long time. We had a hot dry spell in April to May. It was a Godsend. If there had been a flush we would have been in all sorts of trouble trying to keep on top of things with our reduced numbers. Then there was a flush in August which was brilliant which got everything up and running.”

It is possible to give the weather credit for doing its best to assist there are many more elements which have gone towards the improved standards that can be seen at schools up and down the country.

I do wonder what Jim Arthur would be thinking now, with all the technology that is available. Things have move on massively in the last 20 years and we are lucky to have all the tools in the tool box that we need to create the top sports surfaces we want for the boys to play sport on,” said Adam, who name checked the Koro and Primo Maxx as two of the significant developments in recent years.

That ability to produce surfaces across a range of sports is one of the things which marks a top school and university groundsman out from the crowd. Radley is just completing a five year deal with Toro for machinery while what can’t be done with the machinery in house – Koroing is carried out by ALS, who have been working at the school as long as Adam has been there.

“Being multi skilled is what keeps us all in the job but you grow into some of those skills. For example, cricket and rugby pitches were easy, but I didn’t know much about astro pitches when I started. You grow into those roles.

“The nice thing about the groundsmen on the circuit is that there is competitiveness to do our best but not with each other. Some do great jobs on much smaller budgets than I have, and probably do a better job but ultimately everyone is always judged on the cricket season,” said Adam, who added that he and his Deputy would visit other grounds two or three times a season to watch games and share thoughts and ideas with fellow groundsmen.

All the guys are pulling hard to produce the best surfaces they can and it is fantastic for the industry.”

Honour and a privilege

Honour and a privilege

It is an industry, however, that Adam feels is not supported as well as it should be.

“We’ve never been well supported by the organisations and we’ve always had to fend for ourselves, but I could talk about that for two weeks,” said Adam, who added that a notable exception was ICL who host an annual Schools’ Seminar.

As an explanation, Adam points to the fact that other sectors have a much higher profile with the top football and rugby groundsmen having their work seen on television on a weekly basis during the season.

“Whereas here, nobody sees our work apart from the boys, their parents and ourselves. That said we don’t crave that sort of exposure.”

Adam considers himself extremely privileged to be working at such an extraordinary place, a place where work on the sports surfaces has to be combined with maintaining the grounds of the numerous properties in the Radley portfolio.

The summer is the time when many staff come and go and we have to ensure that their gardens are neat and tidy, so it is a major project for the gardening team. We’ve just finished laying 3,000 square metres of turf around the new Boarding House.”

Variety is very much the spice of life and Adam is grateful to his superb team – many sportsmen in their own right – who, in addition to being skilled gardeners, greenkeepers and groundsmen, contribute to a great team spirit.

Looking ahead Adam see the industry flattening out over the next five year.

“I can’t see companies investing millions in producing a new machine at the moment because they are not going to sell too many,” said Adam, while acknowledging that the move towards hybrid and electric will be maintained.

Despite the pandemic, and the uncertainty caused, Adam sees a great future ahead for the school, while I’m hoping to do some sort of Benjamin Button so I can go back and enjoy all the benefits of being a boarding school boy.

The men who made it happen

The men who made it happen: When Malcolm Campbell struck the official first drive to open Dumbarnie Links in early summer it was a proud moment and one that he sometimes felt he wouldn’t be around to see.

Malcolm, a respected golf writer, who had the dubious pleasure of being my boss in the mid 80s, had been the driving force behind the golf course and the man who had experienced first-hand the highs and lows of turning a dream into reality.

The men who made it happen

The men who made it happen

“We moved to Lower Largo in 1993 and had a disused railway line at the bottom of the garden. One day we walked about a mile along it towards Elie and I came across land that I thought was just waiting to have a golf course built on it. It was all fescue bent on pure sand and you could see where sheep had dug out what could have been old fashioned bunkers,” recalled Malcolm.

In many ways, however, having identified the land for a potentially world class golf course was the easy bit. Who owned the land? Could they be persuaded to turn it over to a golf course? Who would invest the type of money required to build such a course? Would it get through planning? Will the various pressure groups be appeased? Who could design a golf course to fulfil the potential of the land?

That last question was the only one with a straight-forward answer.

Malcolm had long been friends with Clive Clark, the former Ryder Cup player, BBC commentator and award winning golf course architect.

“I visit Clive every year at his home in Palm Springs, California and one evening we were sitting having a gin and tonic and I started telling him about this piece of land. I told him that he’d make a great job of it but that we’d need to find a developer, investors and convince the owner,” explained Malcolm, who had by this stage found out that Lord Balniel, the owner of Balcarnes Estate, was the man who would need to be persuaded.

One might have thought that dangling the carrot of a new Fife links course in front of potential investors would have drawn quite a crowd but Malcolm and Clive found it harder than they had hoped and the initial investor actually pulled out when the project was well into the planning process.

“It then took another year for Clive to put together another group of private investors and we had to start the planning process again from the very beginning.”

Having been persuaded that his land would make a world class golf course, Lord Balniel was on board, even agreeing to free up more land when Malcolm showed him what moving the original site up to some higher ground could offer.

“It was a huge site and from the escarpment the views were incredible stretching all the way from Elie across the Firth to Edinburgh. When I visited it with Lord Balniel he said we could take what we needed. So I went back to Clive and we reappraised the plans and he did a fantastic job on the newly agreed land, with 13 holes looking out to sea and only two holes, the 7th and 17th playing uphill,” explained Malcolm, who had ladled more pressure on his old friend by saying that it needed to be a course ranked in the world’s top 100.

“There was no use just building another golf course. It needs to be ranked in the top 100 to tap into the American market and, let’s face it, if you are going to build a links golf course near St Andrews it would have to be in the top 100 worldwide.”

But judging by the now completed and opened course, neither Malcolm nor Clive need worry. It is stunning and there is one other course somewhere out there, which is going to drop out of that elite listing.

Due to Covid, Clive couldn’t make it over to the grand opening so it was left to Malcolm to play the opening shot but while he was disappointed not to have his old friend there doing the honours Malcolm revealed that they had played many rounds the previous summer, with only minor tweaks being made by Clive along the way.

Malcolm can rest happy that golf course he “discovered” is now being shared by golfers and will be for as long as golf continues to be played.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait: Scott MacCallum celebrates the opening – at last – of a fine addition to the long list of magnificent Scottish golf courses, uncovering American connections along the way…

There is a beach in Fife which is only really known by locals. Shell Bay, on the East Neuk of the Kingdom, doesn’t have the iconic status of the West Sands at St Andrews, but it does have all you would ever want from a beach.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

I know this because I was brought up not 15 miles away and spent the occasional sunny Sunday afternoon enjoying the delights of the beach.

But just between Shell Bay and the village of Lower Largo is a stretch of land, at one time unassuming fields occupied by cattle and sheep, which has just been turned into Scotland’s newest and most talked about golf course – a wonderful addition to the unbeatable stable of courses the Home of Golf has to offer.

Dumbarnie Links opened to the public in May and there can be noone prouder than Grahame Taylor, who has been with the project from the turning of the first sod. He was appointed Course Manager, initially being in charge of the “Seed in the Ground” contract, before taking on the day-to-day maintenance.

A born and bred Fifer, Grahame already had a stellar CV, containing the names Leven Links, Polaris WorldSpain, Gleneagles and The Old Course St Andrews. Then came along the amazing opportunity to be involved in a fantastic new project that could not be overlooked at Dumbarnie Links.

It was while at Leven that the jungle drums about a new course near Shell Bay started to beat a little louder, reaffirming a plan which had its origins back in the 1920s, and which had it come to fruition would have changed the landscape of Scotland’s hospitality and golfing sector.

The story goes that the Directors of Caledonian Railways were travelling through Scotland looking to identify a location for a fabulous new hotel they hoped to add to their property portfolio. They came up with two places, Dumbarnie and Gleneagles. It was the Perthshire site that was chosen and the iconic Gleneagles Hotel, with its wonderful Scottish Open, Ryder and Solheim Cup courses, was the result.

It may have taken a full century to do so but Dumbarnie is now fulfilling that potential.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

“I first learned that a golf course was being planned over 10 years ago when I heard that the land had potential for golf,” explained Grahame, as we spoke in his superb new maintenance facility, full of brand new John Deere kit, supplied by Double A, based not far away in Cupar.

What had put the spark back in the plan was down to an old boss of mine. Malcolm Campbell, a former Editor of Golf Monthly magazine and a highly respected golf writer, lives close by and had, like Caledonian Railways, known for some time of the golfing potential of the land. Close friends with former Ryder Cup player, Clive Clark, now golf course architect, based in the United States, Malcolm tipped Clive off about the site, and he became equally enamoured.

A consortium was put together and the land, part of the 5,000 acre Balcarres Estate, was purchased from Lord Balniel. Planning for the new course was approved in 2017.

Remarkably, the construction and overall management was and is conducted by American companies – Nebraska-based Landscapes Unlimited constructed the course and it is operated by OB Sports Golf Management, which is based in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was designed by Clive Clark who was on site for the construction phase and had Paul Kimber also on site throughout as Project Manager.

“I think they wanted someone with a lot of Links golf experience and ideally a local guy to manage the course and I’d been at Leven for 10 years, had Open and Ryder Cup experience and was also very experienced in irrigation,” explained Grahame.

His boss is Luke Beardmore, Senior Vice President of Agronomy, Construction and Landscape with OB Sports Golf Management.

“Luke interviewed me on site, and we have built a great working relationship, even though he is 5,000 miles away. We speak every day, either by phone, Zoom or Facetime.

I feel really privileged to have such a great working relationship. Luke is an agronomist and has grown-in around 30 golf courses. OB Sports have been a fantastic support for me on site.”

Turning bland fields into a characterful golf course is no mean feat but in the case of Dumbarnie, in part due to the dry summer of 2018, it was constructed in a remarkable 12 weeks – the first sod was turned on June 1, 2018 with the final green seeded on October 8th.

“Shapers, four of them, were brought in from the States and the site was swarming with 30 tonne dumper trucks and dozers. They moved 600,000 cubic tones of dirt and in doing so created a dune-scape indistinguishable from the land which previously existed,” revealed Grahame.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

With the construction moving at such a pace it would have been easy for Grahame to lose focus, however taking one day at a time and staying organised was key to a successful day.

“To be on site from day one was very important to see where everything from drainage to irrigation is going in the ground.

Working as one team with Clive and Paul was a good opportunity to put forward my views on any contours that would affect the maintenance of the course moving forward, Clive would sometimes ask me ‘Is it maintainable?’” said Grahame.

“If they perhaps needed a slight tweak they could be softened off a little. It was quite straightforward and the consultation worked well.”

The areas in which Grahame’s views were considered most valuable where in ensuring there were sufficient pin positions on greens and would fairway mowers cope with some of the undulations the shapers had created.

When it came to the seeding of the greens and surrounds Grahame and his team took it upon themselves to complete the job and were delighted with the results.

“It is important that you get it right the first time as you get one shot at it.” Barenbrug supplied the seed. The greens and surrounds were fescue – chewings and slender with a very small percentage of Charles bent.

“I asked for some bent as it gives us a little more scope as there would otherwise be a greater risk of balls oscillating in high winds. In terms of wear having a bit of bent in there gives you more options.”

Those winds were such that they did cause issues during the grow in, a problem caused by the fact that the dunes were brand new and initially didn’t have anything to bind them together.

“The dunes were all hydro seeded but had no irrigation, so you were left hoping that nature would provide some rain to germinate the seed before the winds arrive in the spring,” revealed Grahame, adding that the course had wall-to-wall Toro irrigation, which offers him excellent control.

Unfortunately some winds did prove to be an issue in the spring of 2019 and, despite miles of fences, and piles of pallets, acting as wind breaks, Grahame and the team would come in and discover entire fairways were buried in up to four inches of sand.

In his own words, “It was a like a war zone out there at times” sums up the scene after the winds had done their damage.

“The fescue was at a young stage and any amount of brushing the sand off was not ideal.”

This was the toughest spell during the grow-in phase for the agronomy team. “I have a fantastic team who I work alongside with who gave everything to the course during that difficult spell.”

“Take one day at a time and feel like you have won the battle when you head home. The next day is a new set of challenges to overcome. There is always a solution, you just have to find it.” His philosophy during the growin period was to be aggressive from the start in terms of agronomy.

“There is no point in pussy-footing around. You have to take control right from the beginning, or you will get beaten up. I always went with my gut instinct and stuck to that, if you are second guessing yourself you are not going to win the battle.”

The course itself is stunning. Designed to be an enjoyable round for most standards of golfer the length is a spread from 5,334 yards, off the front tees, to an eye-watering 7,620 yards from the Championship tips. That would even have Bryson DeChambeau reaching for a mid-iron occasionally and perhaps hints at longer term ambitions for the course.

One of the features of the course, which is already adding to the flora and fauna on the site, is the bunkers. Half of them are beautifully revetted, while the other half are described as natural. “The revetted bunkers, 72 of them, are actually Eco Bunker, with layers of astroturf. You’d never know and they have turned out magnificently and Richard Allen has told us that they will stand for 25 years.

“We keep the natural bunkers clear by hand weeding them,” explained Grahame, whose team has grown from 11 during the grow-in to 18 now, including South African Deputy Course Manager, Era van Zyl, who joined Grahame from the Castle Course, in St Andrews.

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Dumbarnie: It’s worth the wait

Covid-19 has had an impact on Dumbarnie, although the opening only slid by a fortnight from the original date of May 16.

“At that point we were still aiming to have the course ready and, while we knew it was struggle for some of our suppliers, we were working towards that date without easing off.

“The thing that sticks in my mind about lockdown was that we were on a hectic schedule to get the clubhouse finished and we thought it was achievable. There were 40 to 50 people working on the clubhouse pushing hard… and the next day everyone left. It was a very eerie feeling. All my guys had cut back on their hours and it was just Era and myself sometimes. I cannot thank Era enough for his dedication. It was a very strange feeling. We just did not know what was going to happen,” recalled Grahame.

“My main concern was the guys’ health. You have to look after your team. When we started to come back, I split them into smaller groups and they were doing essential maintenance and then going home for the day.”

Speaking in September with a temporary car park packed, a clubhouse, which has been designed to look like two converted barns due for completion within a few weeks, and rave reviews for the course, Grahame could not be more pleased.

“I’m incredibly proud. Our international bookings have understandably been cancelled but many have rescheduled, while we have been full with Scottish residents playing, many of them coming back two three or even four times.

“I am honoured to be Course Manager at Dumbarnie Links. It has been a joy to be involved here from the start and I haven’t looked back. I never planned out my career. If a chance comes along you just have to have the courage to take it.”

And take it he has. You can be sure that now that Shell Bay shares its space with a world class golf course it will no longer be just the guilty secret of the Fife locals.

Keeping safe through the pandemic

Keeping safe through the pandemic: Mark Tomlinson, Head of Environmental Stadia Projects, for Bio Circle, provides a specialist’s view on what is required to ensure that stadia are clean and safe to operate.

What is a virus? Have we ever stopped to think about it? SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has changed the world for everyone, including our industry, with dramatic effects.

Keeping safe through the pandemic

Keeping safe through the pandemic

The return to a “New Normal” has begun, with sport slowly seeing players and athletes return to training and facilities opening up to host various football matches and test cricket returning.

But what is next? When will fans return? Who is responsible for the assurance of safety and a COVID-free stadium? Is there a single answer?

The actual size of a COVID-19 cell is 100 nanometres. If you blew it up to the size of a common flea (1.5mm) it would be 15,000 times bigger.

We have all become experts in viral control, or have we? The Government directive was to wash your hands with soap and water following guidance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control. But do we know why? Why have huge manufacturers flooded the market with a treasure trove of different chemicals? “Let’s blast the virus to pieces,” one shop assistant told me.

An ex-colleague of mine proclaimed with great joy he was selling alcohol-based hand gels for an over inflated price and making “loads of money”. But stop for a minute! This express train of products and advice has just confused the market and, more importantly, our industry.

To be honest I would not know how to maintain a football pitch, a test wicket, or a golf course – that is for the experts. My experience of 32 years is environmental chemistry, surface technology. That’s understanding viral activity on a surface. If I want advice on an area of technology, I ask the experts.

Karren Brady, vice chairman of West Ham and Apprentice star, came out with a statement in May: “How do we clean goals posts, corner flags, pitches and make them viral free”?

I was kicking and screaming at this stage because I had the answer.

“The safe and environmental way, that’s how you do it, Karren!”

I have encouraged clubs to simplify the process of viral protection. What are you trying to achieve? Have you been worried about bacteria or viral control on surfaces before COVID-19?

When was the last time you thoroughly cleaned your stadium seats?

Keeping safe through the pandemic

Keeping safe through the pandemic

What has shocked me is the lack of guidance or slow response from the No disrespect to Head Groundsmen and grounds teams, but I have found the vast majority of you have enough on your plate just maintaining stadium and training facilities – let alone becoming viral experts to ensure multimillion pound athletes don’t catch COVID-19 from surface contamination! That’s my job.

How do we simplify the understanding and process of keeping surfaces hygienically clean from COVID-19? The best way to describe the situation is: If you go to the doctors and you have a viral condition you get sent away and told to rest and take paracetamol, but if you went to the doctors with a bacterial infection he will give you the antibiotics to “blast” the bacteria away.

COVID -19 is an envelope virus. We do not need to “blast” it to pieces. We do not need strong chemicals with fancy titles, sold by inexperienced salesman who know very little about viral control.

Think again and rewind. Soap and water why? Answer – to degrease the virus! The outer shell of the virus consists of a fatty membrane in which viral glycoproteins are embedded. These glycoproteins have a crown-like structure and they bind the virus to the surfaces. The virus is also protected by this fat layer.

Our environmental product VIRAL CLEANER 100 works by dissolving and destroying the fatty membranes surrounding and protecting the virus, in order to make the virus inactive, but at the same time protecting the surface being treated. Using V100 means there is no need for high powered disinfectants or alcohol-based solutions which are highly flammable and contain high levels of VOCs.

Viral Cleaner 100 (V100) is turf and plant safe, non haz chem, non-flammable, non-VOCs and environmentally sustainable. But deals with our issue – an Envelope Virus such as SARS-CoV-2.

I am proud to be involved in the guidance of making our industry safer, The FA sites, WFA, Formula 1, Championship, EFL 1 & 2, Non-League, Devonshire Park, Legoland, schools, have all adopted to simplify their processes with V100. A single spray application of V100 with a dwell time of 60 seconds ensures surface cleanliness.

Once fans return to stadiums, how will the process of hygienically clean seats change? We at Bio Circle Surface Technology can help. But remember Karren Brady’s words “How do we make goals post, corner flags etc COVID-19 free.” My advice is to simplify the process and look at the environmental option.

Bio Circle Surface Technology are present in 64 countries worldwide. The UK operation is based in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Mark Tomlinson can be contacting on 07712 426122/ mark.tomlinson@bio-circle.co.uk

How to develop and create great teams

How to develop and create great teams: Master Greenkeeper Phil Helmn’s book ‘The Power of People’ looks at the strengths of effective leadership. Here’s an exclusive extract.

Talking about leadership strategies and styles can quickly become a bit ambiguous. It’s difficult to say exactly how each different strategy effect individuals or teams, however, it’s widely recognised that the old authoritative or draconian leadership styles have become understandably less popular in today’s modern world.

How to develop and create great teams

How to develop and create great teams

The important thing to keep in mind is that your role as leader is to influence, engage, and encourage people into action around a common goal. As a human being, leaders are just like everyone else, the same as any team member on the ‘coal face’. The initial thing to remember, as a leader, is that everyone has different personalities and as such, communication must be different. By adapting your message delivery style, fine tuning your communication, and using tried and tested management processes you will significantly increase your chances of helping lead your team to greater success. Team management and leadership focusses on the ability to administer and coordinate a group of individuals to perform a task. Team management involves teamwork, communication, objective setting, and performance appraisals. Moreover, team management is the capability to identify problems and resolve conflicts within a team. The method and style I have used to great effect and one which, if adopted, can increase productivity, improve efficiency and create strength and dynamics to your team is to build a strong foundation based around four key pillars.


Define and communicate the team vision. Understanding the vision brings teams together under a common goal. They’re not simply working but performing together toward something. Something that is big and exciting!


Commit to continued education which develops continued growth and refinement through continued learning, practical application of skills, and networking both internally and externally.


Speak from the heart when communicating. Teams are motivated when leaders are passionately engaged in the team’s vision, mission, and goals.


Perhaps the best culture strategy and engagement tool for your team is to empower them by delegating greater responsibility. Finding areas which can be delegated creates responsibility and, importantly, creates the authority to get things done which builds an enormous sense of self-worth.

Leaders aim to practically manage teams in a multitude of ways by focusing on the following:

How to develop and create great teams

How to develop and create great teams

Standardise operating procedures, keeping them consistent and simple. This is maintained by regular team meetings, with standard agendas and keeping open lines of communication from top to bottom and equally important bottom to top!

Be present at key times in the team’s schedule. Be visible at breaks, lunches, team meetings and social gatherings to maintain contact with everyone.

Know your team and tackle problems quickly. Even though our managerial challenges are important you must value the individual’s issues and appreciate no matter how trivial they may appear they are especially important to them. It’s also of the utmost importance to never promise on something you cannot deliver.

Encourage feedback. Feedback is one of the cornerstones of improvement. You must nurture an environment where feedback is encouraged and is accepted as a means to progress.

Delegate. With multi-functional team’s, it’s vital to delegate. Having a good culture means delegation is possible born through empowerment at all levels.

Make communication and sharing of information a priority. The communication pillar can be the biggest influence on team culture and success. Individuals at all levels appreciate communication and by making time within the working environment to facilitate conversations is vital to sharing information.


Champion Cheltenham

Champion Cheltenham: Scott MacCallum enjoys an extended socially distanced interview with Christian Brain, Grounds Manager at the prestigious Cheltenham College.

Writing articles while in lockdown is a different way of operating.

Champion Cheltenham

Champion Cheltenham

You do find yourself with more time to pull together the information you require, but, confined to barracks, you are a little more reliant on the likes of Wikipedia for background info.

So, I am particularly trepidatious to start this piece on the great work that Christian Brain and his team do at Cheltenham College by saying that the Cheltenham Cricket Festival, hosted at the school, is one of a huge number of Festivals carrying the Cheltenham name. Among the others are the world famous Cheltenham National Hunt Festival; the Cheltenham Literary Festival; the Cheltenham Jazz Festival; the Cheltenham Paranormal Festival and the Cheltenham True Believers Comic Festival.

Now, I hope that I haven’t given aficionados of the paranormal or True Believer Comic books any false encouragement, or opportunity, to share their passions with the likeminded but, if so, I can only apologise.

Oh yes. This may be revealing state secrets, but Cheltenham is also the home of the country’s spies – GCHQ!

I mention this merely to show how much a town of population 116,000 (another Wiki info grab) impacts on the country and beyond. It surely punches above its weight.

Champion Cheltenham

Champion Cheltenham

Ironically, I hooked up with Christian on what is undoubtedly the strangest year of his professional life and at exactly the time he should have been watching the pitches, he’d so lovingly prepared, in action for the benefit of some of the country’s finest cricketers.

But the Cricket Festival, which brings visitors to the College from all over the world, was understandably cancelled.

Cancelled in just the same manner as every major sporting event in this country since March and, ironically, since the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, which controversially went ahead when many had wished it hadn’t.

But despite this Christian was in fine form. The reason? He was just back at work having spent the previous three months on furlough.

“During the Coronavirus period the school took the decision to furlough some of the grounds staff, retaining a few members of the team to keep the grass cut and manage any urgent jobs,” explained Christian.

At the beginning of a time which was frightening for so many people on so many fronts Christian was understandably worried for what the future had in store.

“I don’t mind admitting that I did suffer from a bit of anxiety in the first three weeks of April. We were watching the death rates rising, the infection rates climbing and I was wondering when we would get back to working on the pitches. All those things were rushing through my head, and I did have sleepless nights over it.

“But thankfully thanks to family and close friends I was able to talk things through, agreeing that it was like a bad dream and that hopefully we’d all come out the other side.”

Champion Cheltenham

Champion Cheltenham

Christian used his time in furlough as productively as he could, talking to other Grounds Managers on their WhatsApp group and progressing the HND Level 5 he had been working through.

“I was able to work on my HND and actually took an exam while on furlough. You do three modules then an exam and then three modules and an exam and work your way through the levels,” he explained.

When Christian’s restart date arrived, he was chomping at the bit, but it wasn’t a case of back to normal.

“I was brought back slightly early so that my two lads could basically have some holiday as they’d been working solidly since March. The whole team will be back together at the beginning of August. By then we will hopefully have confirmed what we are going to be doing as at this point we don’t know for certain if it will be cricket when the pupils come back, or if we will be back into rugby.”

Cheltenham College is a school from the Victorian age having been founded in 1841 and caters for over 1,000 pupils spread over three schools – the PrePrep, Cheltenham College Preparatory School and Cheltenham College itself, while Christian and his team look after 10 hectares split over three different sites.

The issue of determining which sport to work on is particularly important at Cheltenham as the ground “doubles up”, working as cricket in the summer and rugby union in the winter – two of the main sports played at the school.

Champion Cheltenham

Champion Cheltenham

“We had a really difficult winter last year with so much rain. We are free draining, as we are built on sandy loam, but I had to call off some rugby sessions as well as some matches last year which is unheard of here.

We just couldn’t get the water away quickly enough and we did have a lot of damage. With the lockdown we haven’t had a change to repair it yet but are now looking to get some Limagrain seed in the ground, some sand dressing and some fertiliser on.”

The school rents out the cricket field to Gloucestershire County Cricket Club for the festival for a month to give time for stands, the marquees and the rest of the infrastructure to be erected and Christian is able to indulge his first love and prepare a first class cricket pitch.

Unlike most boys with a cricket interest, Christian’s dream wasn’t to open the batting for England, nor to become the country’s dashing all rounder, in the mould of Botham, Flintoff or Stokes. Christian’s dream as a boy was to be the Head Groundsman at Lords!

But Karl McDermot needn’t be too worried as Christian now believes he has the very best job, ironically as his own version of an “all rounder”, combining the variety of different sports surfaces, but also gives him an annual (not this year admittedly) opportunity to prepare a top class cricket pitch.

It was this that attracted him to Cheltenham College, originally as Deputy, seven and a half years ago, having previously been at Radley College. He had attended the Festival as a youngster, mixing with the likes of Courtney Walsh and Jack Russell, and playing on the outfield during lunch and tea intervals.

“I like the school environment and with the annual first class cricket as well it combines both for me. Cricket is my passion and, I would say, my forte.”

This year’s postponement would have been the Festival’s 148th year, an event which attracts fabulous crowds of up to 6,000 a day and 30,000 over the fortnight from all over the world. It is basically Gloucestershire’s home ground for two weeks each year hosting two four day matches and various other matches too.

“Gloucestershire’s home is Bristol, in the south of the county and coming here brings cricket to the north. The county is spread out and a lot of people don’t get down to Bristol to watch cricket.”

Christian is in full charge of the pitch for the Festival and he works closely with the Gloucestershire Operations team, who this year were planning more of an on-site presence to take charge of the build-up, which previously had the propensity to drag Christian away from pitch preparation work.

“The lads sometimes get called away to help now and again but I’m in sole charge of the playing surfaces and that’s my role during the Festival,” he said.

Such is the close knit nature of cricket groundsmanship, Christian has a phone full of the numbers of some of the best in the business. He is particularly close to Vic Demain, at Durham, whom he knew from before Vic moved into first class and then Test cricket. Having had an extended time away from work Christian and the team are very much looking forward to getting back into the pace of school groundsmanship.

Champion Cheltenham

Champion Cheltenham

“Moving from cricket into rugby and into football means that there is always something happening, and there is always something coming up. So it makes time fly so very quickly. Added to this everything is split into terms and half terms. Before you know it, Christmas has arrived and another year has gone.”

As well as the natural turf pitches Cheltenham has astro pitches too which are used for hockey and tennis. The astro pitch is relatively new and regularly maintained by S&C Slatter.

“It’s great to have to have the variety of sport and our goal is always to improve on our surfaces each year and learn from what we have done the previous year,” said Christian, who has extended this drive for constant improvement by ensuring that his team – often the public face of the school when working on the grounds or attending weekend fixtures – have uniform which is befitting the professional approach they take to their work.

“Previously we had uniform from the local safety warehouse with a Cheltenham College badge added to it and it faded within a couple of washes. I persuaded the school that we needed to look more presentable and we have upgraded our uniform. We do take pride in our appearance and feel smart coming into work.”

As I mentioned at the beginning of his piece the town Cheltenham very much punches above its weight. I think, having spent some “virtual” time in the company of Christian, that we can pay that very same compliment to the Cheltenham College grounds team.

Can I just ask the “fact checkers” to be kind to me!

It’s time for tee

It’s time for tee: On the vast majority of golf courses, it is the greens on which course managers spend a high proportion of their time and available course budget to ensure they are in pristine condition. It is also the surface where invariably, a game of golf is either won or lost. 

Irrigation requirements, uniformity and greens coverage is carefully evaluated, however, on most courses I have visited, but few have their tees irrigation sorted to the same degree.

It's time for tee

It’s time for tee

Golf courses’ tees come in all shapes and sizes, even being controlled on the same solenoid station.

When you have almost always got a different sized ladies, men’s and championship tee on the same hole, it’s no wonder then that people get a bit confused when it comes to their irrigation requirements.

Maintaining the best turf cover on these areas can only be achieved if your tees irrigation system is up to the task.

So, let’s talk about proper tees irrigation. To start with, we should only use a greens sprinkler to irrigate a tee block if the block is greater than 15 metres wide. For all narrow tee blocks, we need a sprinkler that is specifically designed for the throw it needs to make.

Luckily all the golf irrigation manufacturers have pop-up sprinklers available that will irrigate much smaller areas.

Here are some examples. If your tee block is six metres wide (regardless of its length) then we need to install a pop-up sprinkler designed to throw six metres radius. This is likely to be a ¾” BSP sprinkler and by choosing the correct nozzle you’ll be able to get roughly the right throw naturally. As a case in point, when you’re looking at the nozzle chart, most these days also have a column that shows you the expected precipitation rate (i.e. mm of water per hour).

If another tee is 10 metres wide you can probably use the same model sprinkler (the Rain Bird 5004 is the ‘gotoo’ tee sprinkler of choice) with a bigger nozzle in it.

It's time for tee

It’s time for tee

You just need to consult your sprinkler’s nozzle chart (which can be found online). This will increase the flow rate, but then we’re covering a bigger surface area and you will probably find that the precipitation rate is roughly the same for both areas. This means that although you have different nozzles throwing different distances and covering dissimilar sized areas, your application rates are much the same. This is called “matched precipitation”.

Incidentally, smaller sprinklers have lower flow rates so, even if you have twice as many sprinklers irrigating the tee area, you’ll often be applying less water with less wastage. More importantly you will be applying the correct amount of water to your tee blocks, regardless of how big or small each tee is.

These days it is all about ‘the intelligent use of water’. Preferably sprinklers should be installed around the perimeter of any given area: for a square tee block of eight metres x eight metres, plan to install a sprinkler in each of the four corners. Each sprinkler would throw eight metres radius (choosing the same sprinkler as above but with a nozzle designed for eight metres throw). If the tee block is eight metres wide x 24 metres long have one on each corner and then two spaced equally down each side (each of them therefore eight metres apart) adding up to eight sprinklers in total (four each side of the tee). This method of choosing the radius of throw to be the same as the tee’s width isn’t new; when the sprinklers are spaced the same distance apart as their expected throw it’s called “head-to-head coverage” and this method will generally maximise your uniformity. It’s important to have sprinklers on both sides of the tee if possible, again to maximise uniformity. This might seem like overkill but it will provide good coverage, which will allow you to grow a uniform surface of turf. If they are just down one side, then the side with the sprinklers will receive a load more water than the other side.

In a perfect world the course would have all the different tee blocks (championship, men’s, ladies’) on separate solenoid valves, but generally this just isn’t the case. When different blocks have significantly different characteristics, such as shading from trees, drainage and prevailing winds, you might want to consider changing your pipework to divide the blocks into two or more solenoid stations.

This can usually be achieved relatively easily if you have a decoder control system. If you don’t currently have your tees automated, then this is something you could consider as you incorporate them into your automatic system in the future. Divide your tees into blocks with different environmental or soil factors. For tees that are less than 15 metres wide there are smaller pop-up sprinklers (often with ¾” inlets) that are designed for these smaller areas. They will save you water and offer a greater level of accuracy than a bigger greens-irrigation style pop-up sprinkler.

Once the block is greater than around 15 metres wide you can use a 1” inlet pop-up sprinkler (or bigger), like your greens sprinklers, and just choose the right nozzle for the required throw. All this information should be available on the internet if you look up your sprinkler model’s specifications.

The same, incidentally, applies if you have other areas on the course you need irrigating, such as pathways you want to wet down (dust suppression is big business these days and has been highlighted this year in areas that have experienced unusually hot, dry conditions), ornamental area and gardens and bunkers that you want to irrigate.

There are even pop-up sprinklers with ½” bases that will accurately throw the water four to six metres radius, saving even more water and maximising your accuracy of coverage. For the edges of your bunkers you can use driplines, which can be buried under the surface of the turf around the perimeter of the bunker. It will supply that six inches of turf on the edges of you bunkers with some water, preventing burn-off and dieback, while nobody needs to even know it’s there. This can be installed having its own solenoid valve (you must include a pressure regulator) and added into your irrigation system.

Robotic mower top tips

Robotic mower top tips: Looking to buy a robotic mower? If it’s your first time dipping your toes into this gadget world, here’s ten tips on what you need to know:

1 – You will need to measure out the area you are looking to cut as most mowers are chosen according to the upper limit on the size they can cut over a period i.e. 2000 square metres over five days, a total of approximately ten hours a week. Ideally you want a mower to cover the area quickly and most efficiently. This usually means choosing a mower that doesn’t waste time by stopping a lot, and turns instead of reversing, stopping, then moving off. This stop and starting makes the mower less efficient.

Robotic mower top tips

Robotic mower top tips

2 – What about the edges? The closer the robotic mower can cut up to the edge of any lawn, the less time you have to spend in cutting that edge. The best robotic mowers on the market are the ones that have side trim technology. This means they can leave the smallest possible edge to trim or none at all, depending on layout.

3 – Garden zones and complexity also makes a difference to which mower you choose. If you have both a back and a front lawn, you need a mower which you can set up in zones to cover more than one area. You also need to have a mower that can move between these zones easily. If, for example, you have a narrow passage or strip of grass between zones, look out for a robotic mower that can traverse a narrow passage without getting stuck and one that will still cut that strip of grass as it travels between the zones.

4 – What about the weather? It is a good idea to choose a robotic mower that has a weather sensor on board as cutting wet lawn is bad for the grass and can damage it if the mower’s wheels slip in the mud. A rain sensor means your mower will automatically decide whether to go out and cut the lawn and cease cutting when it begins raining, going out again once it’s stopped, after a time to allow the lawn to dry.

5 – Does it have slopes and how steep are they? If you have sloping lawns or hills within the area you are looking to cut, make sure the robotic mower can handle these gradients without slippage.

6 – Charging stations are an important consideration. Most robotic mowers have a large flat dock they sit on which can take up a lot of room and look untidy, especially as they reverse and wear the grass around their base. The more advanced mowers on the market have discrete, side-charging docks on a grid-base which allows the lawn to grow through, making it almost hidden and definitely more pleasing to the eye.

7 – Another consideration is maintenance. As the mower will be going out for ten hours a day, five days a week, you ideally want to make sure that the mower has durable blades that can cope with the continuous cutting. Look for a robotic mower that has a deck that rotates both ways while cutting, optimising both sides of the cutting blades and reducing maintenance in half.

8 – Apps and wifi. Some mowers on the market have an app which provides an easy way to set-up your robotic mower and programme it or adjust the schedule from anywhere, at any time. It’s also a great way to keep tabs on how much mowing your mower has done and how many hours the blades have been in use – very useful to know when it’s time for a service.

9 – Modular – to future proof your robotic mower, look out for mowers that you can easily upgrade certain features or add features to later down the line, when technology advances. This also means you are not paying for features you don’t need, but have the option to choose them should you wish to get them in the future.

10 – Obstacle avoidance. Most robotic mowers on the market will hit into objects that are in front of it. This can cause damage to the mower itself or to the object it hits. Most importantly the mower will have to stop, reverse, stop and start over again making it less efficient. Most mowers get around this problem by physically excluding them when you are laying the boundary wire. Currently there are only a few mowers on the market which have solved this problem by having obstacle avoidance sensors on board, allowing the mower to go right up to the object and then curve around it like a slalom skier. This saves time during cutting without needing to stop and reverse, as well as effort on installation, and in the future as for additions to the garden.