The amazing story of Dale Hill’s courses manager Neil Durrant

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu January 30, 2018 07:03 Updated

Neil details what happened when he woke up one morning and found he was paralysed from the neck down

Located in the rural ‘1066 countryside’ near Hastings, with breathtaking views across the ridges and valleys of High Weald, Dale Hill Hotel and Golf Club has two magnificent 18-hole golf courses: the Ian Woosnam course, which opened in 1997, and the Old Course, the original course at the venue. Both are uniquely positioned in over 350 acres of undulating hills and historic woodland with stunning panoramic views, and both have been designed to test amateur golfers while still being a challenge for professionals.

It’s two courses are managed by Neil Durrant, who has been at the club for 23 years, plus a golf maintenance team of 14 and a half greens’ staff, which includes one full-time fitter and a part-time fitter.

While Neil has interesting advice on resolving drainage issues, especially for bunkers, it is the extraordinary story of what happened to him just five years ago that will probably intrigue his peers the most.

“In May 2013 I was struck down with a rare viral infection of the brain and spinal cord [Acute Dissemintaed Encephalomyelitis]. I spent three months in hospital paralysed from the neck down unable to talk, eat and struggled to see,” he said.

“After three months of speech therapy, learning to eat again, daily physio and working hard on my core strength, I eventually was able to sit in a wheelchair. After convincing the doctors I was all right they eventually let me go home to be with my wife Lisa and my children Finley, three, and my new born child Phoebe, as my wife was eight and a half months’ pregnant when this happened to us.

“After nine months at home, lots of physio and hard work between my mum and Lisa, they brought me into work, where my work colleagues put me in a golf buggy and off I went around the course – a real milestone after where I was 10 months earlier. After a few more months the physio said I can apply to get my car licence back. I went for a driving test and passed – even though I couldn’t walk very well I could drive fine, so the next day after passing my car test I came to work and have never looked back!

“I still can’t walk great but I am improving year on year and have always been very positive for my future.

“Obviously it has had a massive impact on my family life as I have two small children but they both realise my limitations at the moment and, as kids, they both adapt very well. I am very lucky it never affected my character – just me physically.

“As for Dale Hill, they have played a massive role in my rehabilitation and recovery, from supporting me with everything in need to David Collier, the director of Leaderboard, coming to the hospital to see me, which at the time was a massive comfort to me and my family.”

Back to the golf courses.

Dale Hill has invested heavily over the years on drainage including a huge investment in 2002 when it had a drainage system put in on all the fairways on the Ian Woosnam course and over the years have followed up with secondary drainage to pick up any acute areas. However, the club still experienced bunker drainage issues.

“When we have around 20mm of rain in a night the bunkers are washing out and flooding,” said Neil.

“We have 82 bunkers here on both courses and regular maintenance is proving difficult. It would take us a long time to pump the water out from the bunker and we’d leave it almost for a day to dry out and then spend a lot of time and hard work to pushing back up steep faces.

“We also have two problems with the bunkers: 1. The faces are steep and when we had a lot of rain they washed out and exposed the clay base and the silt from the base contaminated the sand. 2. After heavy rain the drainage was blocked up with sand and silt and the bunkers were flooding.

“To tackle the issue with washout I looked into revetting the bunker walls – so lowering the steep faces and having a revetted edge would stop a lot of washout and keep the sand cleaner from silt after heavy rain, hence prolonging the life of the sand. So I got hold of a company called EcoBunker, I then had a long chat with Richard Allen who came down and explained all the benefits to having synthetic turf edging and very quickly this was the look and practicalities I was looking for, so I arranged for Richard and his team to come down and install the synthetic edging in three of our bunkers.

“The second problem was to solve the issue of the bunkers flooding, how to stop the drainage in the bunker from getting blocked up with sand and silt after a few years. I was talking to someone one day and they happened to mention a product called Capillary Concrete which straight away interested me, so I looked online and I came across a company named Boarder Sports. I then spoke to Neil Thompson who was very helpful and talked to me about how the product works and how it allows the water through yet keeps the drainage clean from sand and silt which I was very impressed with. I arranged for Neil to come down and install the Capillary Concrete in the three bunkers we had done with the new synthetic edging.”

Dale Hill has found three benefits with this system.

“One. No weeding around the edges, which saves time and the weeds around the edges of the bunkers always looks untidy,” said Neil.

“Two. No washouts. This saves a huge amount of time not having to constantly push up sand back up the face and also keeps the sand cleaner from silt.

“Three. The bunkers now never flood. This is the main advantage, since we have done our 16th bunker, which always flooded because of where it is situated. In two years and two winters it has never flooded, once even after 37mm of rain in one night. It still amazes me that I drive to work in the morning going through massive puddles and floods and I get to work, look at the 16th bunker and I can rake it that morning!

“We are planning to complete around six to eight bunkers a year depending on size, we are looking to complete all our greenside bunkers which is around 50. So a long term plan, but we have done 11 already. I feel EcoBunker and Capillary Concrete work well together as you have an edge and a base which fit nicely together and both products tick a lot of boxes.”

Durrant has more advice about overcoming drainage problems.

“The Old Course has traditional push-up greens which is a challenge to keep them open all year round as they were designed to hold water when built in 1973,” he said.

“Three years ago I thought ‘how are we going to make these greens more playable in the winter without huge disruption?’ I heard of a company called Ecosolve – I looked on their website and did some research on the Drill n’ Fill machine, after speaking to Bretton King I was convinced this would help the push-up greens a lot; we now have done nine greens on the Old Course two years running and already there is a vast difference on how they are performing though the winter months.

“Also, over the past 10 years or so we have had two greens’ maintenance weeks. In March we used to hollow core greens 12 to 15mm diameter tines, deep fill with sand two to three inches and then sand injection with the Graden in August 20mm deep using 2mm blades, but, as the weather recently has changed in 2015 and 2016 the hollow coring didn’t seem to grow in until around middle of May as the springs were so cold we had no growth. It took around eight or more weeks to recover back to a decent putting surface – which didn’t go down well with most members and guests.

 

“In 2017 I decided to do both operations in one week per course in August – hollow core with 10mm tines and sand injection Graden with around 30 tonnes of sand per course and straight behind topped up with around 20 tonnes of sand; a massive task to do as we have 38 greens here.

“A huge benefit is I know I am removing a lot of organic matter just before the autumn winter sets in.”

 

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu January 30, 2018 07:03 Updated
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