Grass Clippings

The weather continues to vex all in the department of Course and Grounds as we struggle to keep on top of the amount of unseasonal growth caused by the current wet and warm conditions. Despite golfers’ perception that we have forgotten to take the rough mower out of the warehouse for fear of getting it dirty this year, this poor beast of a machine has been putting in the hours trying to keep up with the growth. I am seriously thinking of investing in a flock of Welsh Black Face sheep, on my next visit to Hereford this summer. As most golfers will know, sheep were the original mowers on many a links course and can be seen north of the border on some of the more remote courses within the West Highlands of Scotland. Also closer to home, sheep are on the payroll at Aberdovey GC, Minchinhampton Old course and down in the New Forest also. At least two closed and empty English golf clubs have been taken over by sheep during the pandemic – where the ruminants have been taking on the grass cutting duties when the greenkeeping staff were socially distancing during the lockdown periods.

There have been many complimentary comments made about the landscaping across the golf course in the last few years. Here are some of the questions that have been asked along with the answers …

Why are there more planting areas on the course now?

The initiative for the planting areas has been a structured process evolved from the decision in 2014 to compost waste on site. A cost analysis of the charges for removal of green waste from the grounds department (tennis, golf croquet and gardens), to transport the material to go to landfill would be greater than the cost per year we spend on average on recycling material to compost and use this material in creating planting areas. Dumping the material would be more expensive than the whole landscaping budget assigned for the purpose.

We are living a time of environmental change and it is almost certain that in the next several decades, trees and shrubs we call British Natives will be in decline or not part of our generic landscape of the south eastern region of England. In a similar vein Elm have been wiped out of existence since the 70s and 80’s by Dutch Elm Disease in the UK and Box (Buxus sempervirens) are being depleted by box blight and box caterpillar. These are just two examples of where introduced pests and disease are finding hosts in plants being stressed by large shifts in climate. Ash, Horse Chestnut, Oak and many others are host to many issues with no simple solution but to replant with alterative species now to compensate for losses in the future. We are planting areas now with a greater variety of species of trees and shrubs so that the transition period is not as dramatic in the future.

Finally, we have a commitment to be stewards of the estate and we made a commitment in various policy documents since the early 2000’s to put conservation as part of the estate-management attributes. The Club’s location is key between Richmond Park and the Barnes / Putney Common conservation land. As such, the areas are a feeding ground for insect life, bird and mammals such as bats that rely on this area as a pathway. The more diverse mix of plant life we place in areas outside the play target zones, the more we encourage the wildlife to exist within the city perimeters the better we are filling the criteria that we made as our policy.

Is planting these areas taking greenkeepers off the golf course instead of looking after the greens?

The planting areas are so designed to be as maintenance free as possible. All the beds are covered with a weed barrier to reduce the time required for removing unwanted weed and then dressed in gravel or bark chippings so that they are aesthetically pleasing. Only the planting hole where the plant is dug into the ground is exposed.  Most of the areas are fitted with drip line irrigation where required to water to the plant and not waste this resource.

The mass planting exercise is undertaken by the whole team, course, grounds and gardens during the winter season. Winter projects are undertaken when other takes cannot be completed due to wet weather or frozen ground. During the season, the gardens crew periodically pick over and remove any minor weeds which develop and the greenkeeping team will only devote hours when they have been asked to vacate the course (with noisy machinery) for a competition days.

There seems to be a lot of different planting styles on the course, is this co-ordinated?

We collaborate with a professional landscape designer who aids us by producing professionally created CAD illustrations to show the golf committee and inform the membership. These updates are posted on the course on the side of the half-way hut and on the Clubhouse notice boards at the time they are evolved. We have developed certain areas to maximize the effect of the planting when they are viewed from several different vantage points or holes on the course. Some of the planting is on the perimeter of the holes and under tree canopy so will require planting that can cope with shade and dry conditions. While other areas are in full sun and need a different planting strategy, such as the dry garden near to hole number seven. These different approaches to planting consider the soil conditions and aspects as already mentioned which affect what planting will succeed in the designated areas. Many of these ideas can be adopted by Members for their own domestic garden settings and give rise to enable them to be bold with planting ideas.

Why not just seed areas with wildflowers?

Due to the soil type at the Club, wildflower areas are more difficult to cultivate and maintain than the current perennial and shrub planting initiatives which we have adopted. Due to the rich nature of the soils – a fertile loam soil, wildflowers do not thrive in these environments, and we have found that they will after one or two years become overcome with grass types so look unkempt. British wildflower species thrive in poor soils such as chalk downland or sandy soils which have little nutrient value. The added compost material which we generate would not assist the growth of meadow planting. The regular upkeep of flower meadows, threshing cutting and turning the soils annually is also labour intensive and time sensitive which needs to be done under the right soil conditions etc. This can conflict with other work on the course which could potentially draw staff away from the task of maintaining the course.

Why the rockery behind the 18th? Wasn’t that expensive feature to produce?

The rockery idea was born out of the Padel Tennis court development programme. The stone had been utilized to create the low wall behind the junior courts and was surplus to requirements when the area was redeveloped for the padel courts. It had originally been purchased by the Miller family during the formation of the Club. Originally the stone was purchased as part of the Oriental Garden features which were demolished in the 1980’s and has an intrinsic value as York Stone limestone pavements are now protected areas within National Parks. It was too good an opportunity to miss to recreate this feature as a backdrop to the final hole by planting up an area which lacked character and gave a new home to the stone which would have been originally purchased for the Club over a century ago. Being a rockery, it met our objectives of being an aesthetically pleasing attribute to the course as well as a low maintenance item which needs little attention compared to our features.

So, what next?

This year we are devising a plan to restock the woodland between the holes 6 and 15, which currently has a number of trees in decline. As this will be an event will also merge with the current calls to plant trees to mark the 70th anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II, it would be fitting to call this area Platinum Wood as a mark of Her Majesty’s achievement as longest serving monarch in the history of the United Kingdom. We shall use the talents of Fisher Tomlin and Bower to plan the project and create a design which we shall distribute to the golf committee when it has been devised. We are looking to plant the area with trees that can cope with climate change, to ensure that they will be part of the course well into the next century. We will also be looking to replant areas out of play near to Priory Lane and Clarence Lane (hole 12 and hole 13) to replace trees which have been lost this year to Acute Oak Decline and other diseases on the estate over the past year.

Peter Bradburn, Course and Grounds Manager –