Meet the course manager: Simon Osborne

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu October 25, 2017 10:09 Updated

Osborne, from Cuddington Golf Club, explains how he has removed 99 per cent of the leylandi planted after the Great Storm of 1987, what his team has done to reduce disease and what maintaining a golf course with very high footfall involves

Designed by Harry Colt and established in 1929, Cuddington Golf Club in Surrey is said to be ‘deceptively close to the centre of London but still manages to have the feel of somewhere altogether more remote and tranquil’. The chalk subsoil and USGA specification greens ensure that the course dries out quickly in wet weather, meaning it plays on main tees and greens all year round.

We caught up with the club’s course manager, Simon Osborne, to find out the challenges involved in maintaining the course.

The course is built on a chalk base. How do you find this affects its maintenance?

In my opinion chalk is the best growing medium for a golf course. We have very few drains on the course due to the natural drainage characteristics. We never close the course for rain! Being on chalk downland, natural fescues are the dominant grasses on fairways and roughs so therefore require very little maintenance with no nutritional inputs required. I’m struggling to think of anything negative to say about maintaining a golf course on a chalk base!

What is your tree maintenance programme?

Unfortunately, after the big storm in the 1980s, the club decided to plant hundreds of trees. I think someone fancied the idea of a parkland course instead! A lot of non-indigenous trees were planted, including ghastly leylandi. The saplings are now mature and give us some shade and air flow issues around tees and greens. Not to mention the leaf fall issue in the autumn which is a major clear up problem.

Any tree that I want to cut down or even prune back has to be authorised by the club committee. I guess it’s just a case of communicating to the members the benefits of selective tree removal. I think I’m gradually winning the battle on this one. I have never removed a tree and regretted it as the benefits to the course has always been evident. We have now removed 99 per cent of the leylandi and are working our way through other non-indigenous / problem trees. Also the course is bordered by houses, and the phone doesn’t stop ringing from neighbours who think they have a dangerous tree or branch over hanging their property.

The course has USGA-spec greens which are some of the best in the area. How have you achieved such a high standard?

My philosophy with the greens is ‘do the basic things well and you won’t go far wrong’ and that’s exactly what we do at Cuddington.

In the growing season the greens are fed with little inputs fortnightly. I use liquid feeds all the time. The main nutrition comes from Rigby Taylor’s Microflo. I apply about 150kg of nitrogen a year. But this will depend on rainfall. The leaching of N on USGA greens is high in wet periods. I also add trace elements, leaf cell hardeners and both amino and humic acids. This is combined with the use of plant growth regulators.

 

Then it’s just a case of regular aeration and top-dressing monthly. I apply 140 tonnes of USGA dressing sand from March until October. Wetting agents mixed with seaweed are applied monthly from March until August. During the growing season I look at the moisture content of the greens simply by taking a small core of the root zone out and having a look and a feel. I don’t use moisture meters, I don’t even know what one looks like! This enables me to adjust the irrigation inputs daily on each green.

The volume of golf at Cuddington is high. How many rounds annually are played and how do you fit in the maintenance against such a volume of play?

Cuddington certainly is a busy course with around 750 members along with weekly society days that are always booked out. Around 35,000 rounds of golf are played annually.

It’s a constant battle to get even daily tasks carried out and inevitably you always get in someone’s way!

We can’t start work before 7am due to the close proximity of our residential neighbours. Golf starts at 8am off the first and 10th tees every day, so it’s always a race to get the greens cut, bunkers raked and so on before the golf interferes.

The course was suffering a few years ago when you first arrived and you’ve worked hard to almost eradicate this. What products have you found most beneficial in dealing with these challenges?

That’s quite right, I soon realised in the first autumn of my employment the extent of the disease problem. Cuddington was the king of fusarium and pretty much every other disease you could think of. We had already started a vigorous aeration programme, as the greens were thatchy with weak root growth. In fact on my very first day of work at Cuddington I hollow tined the greens which, with hindsight, was a bit brave!

In my opinion, aeration along with sensible watering and feeding is the basic way forward for disease control. However, waiting several years for the benefits of the new aeration programme wasn’t acceptable. Most fungicides I applied had very little or no effect.

I turned to Mark Hunt and Andrew Ward from Headland Amenity who offered to do some research for me. Samples of the disease were sent away to be tested to find out which fungicide would be the most effective. Our unique fusarium had built up a resistance to pretty much all the usual fungicides of the time, including iprodione.

We came up with a programme that would suppress disease for 12 months of the year. During the spring and summer we strengthened the leaf cells and improved the sward’s natural defence system with the regular use of Turfite, TE Mag Elite and liquid turf hardener all through the year. From late summer until spring we also added Seamac ProTurf to the tonic.

We decided to go down the preventative route and started to apply alternate applications of Throttle and Instrata monthly, starting from early September until Christmas. Of course Throttle has been withdrawn now, so I use Dedicate and Exteris.

All the products I have named above all come from Headland Amenity and I have been most impressed with them all.

They are so easy to use and do exactly what they’re supposed to do for your turf. Fortunately, from following the programme suggested from Andy and Mark, I would say our disease problem is now under control.

Do you work with the PGA pros?

In the first instance I answer to Paul Shunter, the director of golf, who is the club manager and pro. We have a very good working relationship. If Paul sees anything that he thinks can be improved we argue about it for a bit and come to a sensible conclusion. However I’m most fortunate that he respects my knowledge and experience, and I can freely tell him if his expectations are unrealistic! Preparing the course for both amateur and professional tournaments are left entirely to me, apart from the hole positions as he likes to choose those.

 

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu October 25, 2017 10:09 Updated
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