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Taking the smooth to the rough at Malton & Norton Golf Club

The Groundkeeper 1800 Drive has already started to work its magic on the long rough at Malton & Norton G.C.

“Maybe sometimes we forget that we are preparing a golf course for the benefit of our members,” muses Richard Jacques, Head Greenkeeper at Malton & Norton Golf Club, Welham Park, Malton, N. Yorks.

Covering around 300 acres of parkland, this immaculately-presented, 27 hole private member’s club is kept looking at its best by Richard and his team of 5 full-time and 2 part-time greens staff. Having 27 holes, however, comes with both pros and cons, as the additional 9 hole Derwent course makes for more work on a daily basis for the limited number of staff, but the plus side is that a third of the course can be shut for a day or two throughout August each year to enable its yearly ‘maintenance week’ to be carried out in rotation. Those weeks of toil include coring, collecting and sanding the greens, edging bunkers and verti-draining any areas with a drainage issue as well as decompacting the tees and worn areas. “Being able to shut holes 1-9 one week, and then 10-18 another, and so on means we can blitz the jobs without any impact on the players,” says Richard as he explains the reasoning behind the initiative. Around 200 tonnes of sand are put on to the course annually, this attention to detail helps keep greens and tees more playable throughout the year, especially during the winter months.

With the Malton & Norton club being described as a parkland course, it means that not only does the layout tend to be quite tight with minimal space between holes but also there are trees in abundance and so, when it comes to the autumn, the team are normally out there every day for three months solid - hoovering up leaves using the Billy Goat, blowing them into piles, loading them by hand into trailers and then carting them off to be composted. And these three months of leaf-collecting have come on the back of eight weeks of hacking the long rough down with a tractor mounted rotary mower, blowing it into windrows and then man-handling the huge grass piles created into trailers. “Mulching grass over and over again as well as allowing leaves to drop and breakdown leads to even more grass as the nutrients are being returned to the ground and we end up chasing our tails having to cut more grass, I sometimes wonder if we are little more than a grass factory,” gripes Richard. And so, this year a new weapon has been brought into the armoury at Welham Park with an AMAZONE Groundkeeper 1800 Drive from Russell’s Ground Care joining the machinery fleet.

The SmartCut mowing system found in the Groundkeeper 1800 Drive is designed to handle grass of any length from an amenity cut on sports fields and verges through to brush, heather or scrub clearance. The high-speed, horizontal-axis flail rotor, with its tool-less, multipurpose quick change blade set-up, is designed to cut and chop grass into short lengths, enabling the full capacity of the 3,000 litre high-tip collection hopper to be used to its maximum. This negates the need to trot endlessly back and forth to one of the 8 composting sites around the course. The high-tip system means that it can also tip into a trailer for added flexibility. The mowing blades can also be interspersed with scarifying knives or fitted solely with scarifying knives depending on the task in hand top offer both horizontal and vertical cutting.

“We have got stuck into the long rough this year throughout June and July with the Groundkeeper thinning out the grass and taking it away and, I have to say, that our members are over the moon with the difference so far. We have sped up play, as less time is wasted looking for balls, the rough is now thinner and we have started to see more finer grasses appearing, even at this early stage,” comments Richard. The resulting ‘Big Clean’ saw around 100 trailer loads of grass being carted away that will make some good top dressing material in the years to come. Another session is planned at the end of this month and throughout October to do it all over again, with the thoughts that continual cutting and dethatching will, in the long term see more Bents and Fescues starting to appear and the development of a natural tendency to hinder the lush regrowth of the Yorkshire fogs and Rye grasses. The new mode of operation will see the job slashed in time from 480 man hours down to a mere 80 hours as the greens staff get on top of the job.

Of course, the Groundkeeper is a multi-tasker and, as such, is able to handle a range of jobs and this means that it will come into its own this autumn when carrying out leaf collection and scarifying. “We may have to remove a few of the lower branches from some of our trees to gain access with the 65 horsepower John Deere 4066 that is on the front of the Groundkeeper, but the benefits of being able to mechanically collect the leaves rather than use a vast amount of hand labour with be a big bonus,” Richard goes on to say. The use of the scarifying knives when leaf collecting make sure that the leaves are shredded and so the hopper goes further before it is full - plus the composting process will take place much more quickly to create leaf mould. And not having had the option really up to now of being able to scarify the fairways on a regular basis, Richard is looking forward to getting the 3mm scarifying knives on with the wing blades and starting to work on the build-up of thatch in the finer cut areas, concentrating specifically on the greens approaches and the worst fairways, “We now have the option of carrying out remedial work on the areas of semis and the intermediate roughs as well as what we have been doing with the longer areas,” enthuses Richard about his new purchase.

And he is not the first greenkeeper to comment on the fact that no golf course should be without a Ground-keeper in the fleet, so maybe you should give one a try and find out how you can please your members; remember that’s what the course is there for.

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