Meet the head greenkeeper: Burford’s Stuart Richens

Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu April 26, 2018 06:43

Burford GC in Oxfordshire still has a waiting list and charges a joining fee. We speak to Stuart Richens, the head greenkeeper, to find out what his team has done to the course

Designed by J.H. Turner, Burford Golf Club, near Oxford, opened in two phases in 1936 and 1937 – just in time for World War Two, during which the fairways of the second nine were ploughed-up for cereal production, and were only restored for play in 1949. To this day there is an annual competition called the Harvest Cup which honours the farmer who cultivated the land during the lean wartime. In 1963 the club was bought out by the membership and was registered as a private members’ club and, while early aerial photographs clearly show a course devoid of trees, visitors today see a course with tree-lined fairways that are always in good condition and a delight to play.

We caught up with the man tasked with ensuring the fairways are in such pristine condition, Stuart Richens, to find out about his career and how he maintains a golf course so popular that there is both a waiting list and a joining fee to be a member of the club.

What are the biggest challenges you currently face?

We have a very busy course all year round. Our new pro, Duncan Moore, who has arrived from up north in October, cannot believe how busy we are. We don’t have any starting time restrictions in winter or summer and even on a cold winter’s day it’s no surprise to have 50 cars in the car park by 8.30am and a steady stream following, so to get out to check conditions can be challenging. Gone are the days when I first started here in 1986 when nobody played in the winter.

Secondary – damage caused by rooks, and once they start they just do not stop pulling the ground about. We try to scare them off but of course they are very clever and just keep flying around and if any of your readers have any advice, I am ready to listen.

Also, recent weather patterns. It seems to me that now we regularly receive far higher rainfall totals. The Met Office will tell you from 1980 to 2010 the average annual rainfall for our area is between 600 and 650mm but over the last four years in Burford we have received between 950 and 1,200mm per year and coupled with this we seem to get frosts / thaw / rain in close succession and this will always be problematic and challenging.

The greens are built on pure clay, what drainage issues has this caused?

Generally, the course drains well and we haven’t had any restrictions on buggies, ride-on trikes or trolleys.

Yes the greens are built of pure clay, and it’s fair to say when they were constructed they did a good job in retaining the water as back in those days there were no irrigation systems.

As a club I have been networking with Nigel Thompson at Lilly Brook GC and Steve Lloyd at The Worcestershire GC, who are themselves heavily involved with greens’ drainage and doing a great job doing with this in-house. We have had a go at vertical drainage on a couple of greens and whilst improvement has been seen, the club took the plunge in employing an external contractor to plough in PCD [Passive Capillary Drainage] into three of our greens last September, and our initial thoughts are that it has improved the situation without doubt.

Whereas these greens would have just laid wet through this winter and it would be fair to say we’d have been on temporary greens for much of the time, this is not the case, and, yes, they still flood but become playable far quicker than if it had not been done. The installation was first class and very quick. We only had a small window of two days for groundwork contractors to dig out a take-away drain and create a sump on each of the greens to deposit the water as we have no lakes, streams, ditches and so on to tap into, and then a further two days to install the PCD and get the greens back in play for the weekend.

This was done within our greens’ working week when we don’t have any society golf so as well as all of the above we were verti-draining greens, doing Graden sand injection (this was done by Kim Blake from Fulford Heath GC), sand-dressing the greens, brushing, rolling and feeding, as well as employing a tree contractor to remove dozens of unwanted poplar trees as well as the other tasks which just have to be done. Quite a week!

What aeration and top-dressing programmes do you use across the course?  

Basically the greens are aerated as often as we can get on them.

Through the playing season we solid tine aerate with a Toro ProCore 648 on a three to four week basis, and Sarel roll aeration in between to prevent the top from sealing up too much. Through October, November and December we revert to slit tine aeration with eight inch tines and this really is done as often as we can but sometimes due to frost or prolonged wet conditions it is a problem getting it done as much as we would like. Deep aeration is achieved with our own Wiedenmann Terra Spike XP a minimum of two occasions in March and September, and if we can, we will try and get a third aerate done. In addition to this we hire in an Air2G2 aeration injection machine through the cool season, usually on a couple of occasions. To date hollow coring is only usually done in September and that’s if we don’t Graden sand inject, however providing the weather is with us, we will hollow core the greens where PCD drainage has been installed.

It would be great to hollow core twice a year but the problem we have is one of our pro-ams is always mid to end of April and if we receive cold spring weather with little or no recovery I wont be a popular person. Following all and any greens’ aeration, we roll to smooth surfaces as best we can so that the hindrance to members is kept to a minimum.


Jenny Yu
By Jenny Yu April 26, 2018 06:43
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