Wakefield Golf Club is an undulating parkland course in West Yorkshire. It comprises two loops of nine holes, both of which start and finish at the clubhouse. This is where Lee Williams met with Matt Booth, the club’s Head Greenkeeper.
Matt Booth has been Head Greenkeeper at Wakefield Golf Club for the last four years, after leaving Howley Hall Golf Club where his career in greenkeeping first started twenty-six years ago. “I just fell into greenkeeping really; I was doing bits of all sorts beforehand. Then a job for a trainee came up at Howley. Over the years, I gained my NVQ Levels 2 & 3 in Sports Turf (studying through Askham Bryan College), chainsaw certificate and spraying licenses PA1, 2 and 3. After working my way up the ladder, I eventually became head greenkeeper; a role I performed for seven years before coming to Wakefield. Whilst I have been here, I have taken out a tree surveying course with Lantra.”
One of Matt’s first priorities was to get the team back up to speed with their qualifications and training. “Most of them had their NVQ Level 2 but, for one reason or another, had stopped any further education. One of them has been here for the last twenty-five years and not taken out any further training or qualifications for the last eighteen years. So, we have just got him through his Level 3, alongside one of the other lads, through Myerscough College. Most of them now hold their chainsaw licences, and one of them has been on a mole course, as you must be qualified now in the safe use of aluminium phosphide for vertebrate pest control. The club has been very supportive and not turned down any requests so far. All we ask is they put a letter of interest in, stating why they would like to take the course.”
Helping look after the course is James Heaton, Deputy Head – four years’ service, NVQ Level 3 in Sports Turf, spraying certificates PA1, PA2 & PA6 and CS30, 31/ 38. John Hampton, First Assistant/Mechanic, eight years’ service, NVQ Level 2 (currently working towards Level 3), PA1, PA2 & PA6 and CS30 and 31. Dean Ward, twenty-six years served, NVQ Level 3, PA1, PA2 & PA6, CS30, 31 /48, and first aid. Andy Smith, seven months, NVQ Level 4, PA1, PA2 and PA6.
Matt works with the STRI who collect data once a year from the greens and carry out a general overview of the course. “Our last visit was in January with Gwynn Davies to discuss sustainability. Once the results came back, Mike Brear and I put a preventative fungicide and fertility programme together, which seems to have done the job so far this year, after having a big outbreak of anthracnose last year. It is good to have the STRI’s support and, if there’s anything we are unsure about, I can pick up the phone and speak to them. The club had Jonathan Gaunt from Gaunt Golf Design come in before I joined. He provided an architectural report on the course, which mainly looked at bunker reshaping on the course.”
Matt tells me they aim to apply two hundred tonnes of sand on the old push up greens per year. “The last soil sample came back at ninety-two percent sand, but that is just in the top four inches. Below that is blue clay and pockets of sandstone; this gives us a few issues on some of the greens that flood quicker than others. But the nature of the beast is that they were built to retain moisture. We don’t do too bad and manage to stay on the greens all year. We are looking to do some drainage work on some of the problem greens we have identified – the worst being the fourth and the seventeenth – once funds are available.”
“The club has a policy of no temporary greens, so the thing we do now, rather than the course be closed, is to cut a hole in the fairway, so when the frost is in the green, and it is starting to come out, golfers have an option to go out, whereas normally we would have shut. To say we don’t shut would be a lie; if there is snow on the ground, it shuts itself. We do strive to keep them on the greens where possible. Winter-wise, we will place two holes, one in a normal position and the other on the perimeter cut. We call it the winter hole rather than frost hole so as not to confuse the golfers.”
Grass coverage on the greens consists of sixty percent annual meadow grass and forty percent bent, with a little Yorkshire Fog in places. “We overseed every year with a bentgrass seed mix and try to encourage as much as that through as we can. It’s a matter of trying to keep a percentage of bentgrass in the greens, so they don’t go more in favour of the meadow grass. I’m not one of those who believes that poa is all evil; we must work with it.”
“To try and put the greens back to finer grasses would see our budgets go up massively and our maintenance schedule increase. We have done a lot of work to try and refine the meadow grass and, if you look at it now, you would think it was a fine grass species. Obviously, the seed heads are an issue, but we use Primo Maxx to stop it reproducing as quickly as it wants to. As well as this, we will go out every fortnight and verti-cut using our Greentek Thatch-Away units, varying that between two and three millimetres depending on what we are trying to do. We recently invested in a set of sarrel rollers so we can just open the top up a little. This is followed by topdressing with a quarter tonne of sand a green and brushed in using our new Charterhouse speed brush. Like any parkland course, we are governed by the seasons. Sometimes, there can be a lot of seed heads no matter how we try and control it.”
The remainder of the course is built on a sandstone/clay base with only six inches of topsoil in places. This can cause issues with drainage which Matt is trying to address. “Some drainage work has been carried out on the fairways in the past, and we have done some drainage work to try and catch the worst areas. When I first joined the club, I put a vertidrain plan in place, which is carried out by Chappelow Sports Turf twice a year. The beauty of that is they bring in four machines and can be in and out in a day. When we first started, we were probably getting a depth of eight-inch; now we are getting down to twelve inches. This has made a massive difference on the fairways drainage-wise. There was once talk that you couldn’t grow grass on them, but now we have good coverage on all the fairways.”
The irrigation system was put in during 2011 and is a fully automatic Bailoy Gemini system, with Toro heads around the greens and into the aprons, Rainbird and Hunter heads in the tees, and two sprinklers in the first fairway. Matt has a few issues he would like to resolve. “In their wisdom, they decided to put the sprinklers in the middle of some of the tees. This is an issue when undertaking various maintenance tasks, which is a bit frustrating, especially when you go to other tees and they have put them on the edge. We have already done the 18th tee and hope to move more to the edge as we move forward, but the issue is when the club spent big money on the system, they are reluctant to re-invest. There will come a time when they have to look at upgrading or replacing the system, but it did cope well in the summer of 2018.”
Matt talks me through cutting heights, maintaining speeds and aeration on the greens. “We cut every day using the Toro Greenmaster 3250 D’s at a height of 3.5mm, which gives us the scope to go a little lower if we want to. We have been down to 3mm, but we have found that we can maintain the speeds at 3.5mm when combined with using the vibrating rollers. The speeds the club is looking at on the stimpmeter are nine and a half to ten according to the course policy document. We are regularly ten to ten and a half. Sometimes we must rein them in a bit because of the shape of the greens. We will cut as and when required in the winter months at 5mm, and occasionally put the vibrating rollers over if we have done any slitting or ProCoring. Through the summer, we will use 8mm micro-tines at a depth of four inches with two-inch centers using the Toro ProCore 648. To get around the course and minimize disruption, I have a good set of lads that will come in at 2.00 am in the morning to get them done. Chappelow’s come in every March and September to undertake a deep verti-drain, achieving depths of twelve inches using half-inch tines. With all the maintenance practices combined, we have managed to reduce the organic matter massively since I have been here.”
The club has always bought their machinery outright, either new, second-hand or on hire purchase as required. They are currently looking at a replacement deal. “With the amount of cutting we do and the hours we can put on the machines, we are looking at a three or four year deal with either Toro through Yorkshire Turf Machinery, or John Deere through Balmers GM, who are just down the road. We invested in some new Toro kit when I first started in 2016, and now it’s a matter of keeping up to date and adding to it as required. It will be about what best suits the course, and if it can cope with the heavy amount of work we put on them. I have always leaned towards Toro, but I must admit the John Deere machinery has come a long way.”
Matt is lucky to have two of his lads who look after the general servicing on the machinery in-house. “John Hampton has been messing about with engines since he was a little lad. He amazes me with what he can fix and has just been made up to first assistant/mechanic He’s supported by James Heaton aka Shaggy! They both see something once, and they are away; there’s no scratching their heads thinking how do we do that again. The dream would be to invest in our own grinders as, with the amount of sand we put down, the cylinders, are being sent away five times a year to be reground. In the long run, our own grinders would give us more flexibility and, over time, save us money.”
Matt and his team are set to continue with their bunker program this winter, to try and achieve some consistency. “It’s a matter of removing the sand, lining them the best we can with clay to stop stone contamination coming through, drain and refill with sand. We have currently done five holes to that spec, and they have been great, not holding any water with the wet spell we have had so far this year. The plan is to get all the bunkers done in the next five years. We are looking at reshaping some of them further down the line but, with the costs involved, the club will have to decide if that is the way they want to go.”
James Hutchinson from BIGGA was called in to instruct on how best to improve the ecology around the course. “We have cleared some coppices out and grown the grass up in-between, so the birds and the beasties can live in peace. A great site this year, that I have never seen on a golf course before, was a snake near the sixth pond, which made me and Dean Ward jump. It’s great when you see the wildlife; we have been lucky enough to see badgers and deer. Moving forward, we are looking to introduce heather in some areas around the course. I’m led to believe they had it years ago, so it would be nice to reintroduce that. We have put bird boxes up and a feeding station at the side of the sixth pond. The ponds on the course are inhabited by Great crested newts which are a protected species. DEFRA comes in every year to count them, and I believe the population is going up.”