Profile: scratch golfer, football coach and Caddington’s course manager, Dale Housden

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 18, 2012 14:16

Profile: scratch golfer, football coach and Caddington’s course manager, Dale Housden

Caddington Golf Club, located in the Chiltern Hills, is officially designated as an ‘area of outstanding natural beauty’ on either side of a shallow valley in south Bedfordshire.

The golf course, originally nine holes in 1985 when it opened, is set within 132 acres of countryside, and was extended to an 18-hole 6,226 yard, par 71 venue in 1995.

Six holes are located on flat terrain and 12 on undulating ground, while the course, sited on one of the highest points in windy Bedfordshire, features three large ponds meaning that water comes into play on five holes on what is a parkland setting.

We caught up with 31-year-old Dale Housden, the course manager at the club for the last nine months, who also happens to be player manager of Leighton and District Sunday League Division One football team Dunstable Athletic, to find out about the work he and his team put into maintaining this special course.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

Dale Housden: Apart from the everlasting battle against the clay sub-soil, I would have to say the constant task of keeping the members happy. Agreed, it is never going to be a task that any individual will fulfil 100 per cent every year, but I hope that now with our ever-improving greens and fairways – gradually becoming some of the best in the area, the members feel that Caddington Golf Club is definitely value for money and a lovely course to visit.

Tell us more about this battle with the sub-soil. What drainage issues are you faced with?

Dale Housden: Our 8th and 12th fairways are a total nightmare for us. Severe flooding to either of these fairways can shut the course so, to battle against this, we are progressively and simply installing trenches lined with piping and smaller stones to try and channel the lying water away to needless areas. This seems to make an instant affect, so more drains will be installed in 2012 and 2013, for sure.

What irrigation system does the club have? In light of rising costs of water, will you be investigating water storage?

Dale Housden: All of our greens are run on an old Toro SC3000 irrigation system. Yes, it could do with an upgrade, but at this current time it serves us well and has minimal breakages. Forty per cent of our tees have computerised irrigation which leaves us with 60 per cent to hand water. Considering the rising costs of water, we are currently looking into our own bore hole.

Caddington has been undertaking a lot of work on its pathways. Can you tell us more about what you have done?

Dale Housden: For most courses in our position, having the course open in ‘challenging’ conditions is vital in our battle against rival clubs. Yet you need to have the course as prime consideration. The installation of pathways has been key when keeping the course open for play for, rather than continue staking and roping off areas to avoid the wear, I personally think that these ropes and stakes are literally telling you where you actually need a path. We have installed four pathways this season and these have been a huge factor in keeping the course playable and clear of extensive areas of wear. Although the pathways we are building in-house are not particularly costly, they are hugely affective for us. The pathways are basic with wood edging filled with a 10mm stone base layer, crushed and flattened and finally topped off with 4mm stone. Alongside these pathways we have created a barrier, post and rail style, with a natural effect which ensures all golfers remain on the newly-constructed pathway.

The course has three new medal tees, how are these working out?

Dale Housden: The three new medal tees transform those three holes dramatically. These change each from an easy, straight par four to a par four where you have to carefully decide which line through the fairway you need to take. They certainly give the golfers a different challenge on the hole, whilst giving variety to the current tee of the day, from which existing medals are played, and a well-deserved rest from play.

Alongside your daily role, you are currently working with Jonathan Gaunt on the development of the new nine-hole academy course to be completed over four phases and are coming to the end of phase one. What is your role in this development, how are things progressing and are you enjoying the experience?

Dale Housden: My role working alongside Jonathan Gaunt is to make sure that the new contours continue with the current landscape and design of the course. Also, I have to ensure that all areas are maintainable with our current equipment. This, I am thoroughly enjoying. Yes, as a scratch handicapper golfer, I do understand the choices that golfers are faced with on the course, yet as a course manager I certainly see the perspective from the other side of the coin. Jonathan is a great guy to work alongside, one who is hugely respected and experienced. The upcoming design and development of the nine-hole course is very exciting for all involved. Jonathan has a fine reputation and seeing how his course is shaping up, we are confident of attracting many new golfers to Caddington Golf Club.

The course has suffered outbreaks of fusarium, red thread and you have experienced an abundance of worms. What products have you found most beneficial in dealing with these problems and challenges?

Dale Housden: To confront our battle against fusarium, during summer months we have been using Heritage. The result we have achieved has been brilliant and it has made me feel very at ease that it will withstand any sudden outbreak that we may receive. The longevity of this product seems to stand head above shoulders on others on the market too, which makes it near impossible to move away from. In colder periods, in combination with our aeration programme, we apply Chipco Green to our greens to withstand any attack over the winter months. Against the worms casting we use Ringer and this seems to have provided quick response against worms as expected.

You have circa 60 bunkers over the course. How have they been designed and what maintenance programme do you have for these?

Dale Housden: The original and larger bunkers were constructed by Elys, whereas the smaller and more recent bunkers were constructed in-house. We are happy that the majority of these bunkers seem to fit the landscape and shape of the hole, yet provide a stiff task and are welcoming for any wayward shots.

The majority of our bunkers seem to be rainfall free and are rarely positioned in a place where the water will lie. General maintenance involves daily raking and weeding. Where weekly, they are stone picked and trimmed to retain their shape.

What aeration programme and methods do you prefer to use for the course, when and how often do you undertake this and what equipment do you use? 

Dale Housden: On the advice of our course agronomist, Bruce Jamieson, this term we now have a more efficient and regimental aeration programme. Yes it’s easy to say that we solid tine / verti-drain our greens every four weeks, but as you know – we can’t predict the weather that far in advance, so I’d like to say that once the previous scars or holes have dispersed, weather permitting, we will then repeat the process or implement another aeration procedure on the greens. The current results from this constant aeration we are having are fantastic and our greens are virtually scar free. Undertaking the majority of our aeration is a Charterhouse 7215 Verti-Drain. This machine is reliable, compact and more than suitable for the kind of work we undertake and serves us well.

How often do you feed your greens, what with and how?

Dale Housden: To avoid specialist areas of our course becoming reliant on certain fertilisers, we are currently trying to reduce the amount of fertiliser that we have been using in the past. This is a slow process but one we are confident will give best results. The majority of our fertiliser stock is supplied through Everris via our regional supplier, Collier Turf Care. The aftercare from these two companies has been second to none which makes me feel that I have their full support in any sticky situation that may occur.

What height of cut do you use across the course? 

Dale Housden: In summer our greens are rarely lower than 4mm due to the shape and size of them. These are raised to 5.5mm in the winter. Tees are cut at 10mm and then at a height of 13mm in the winter. Fairways are at 14mm in the summer and then at a 17mm in the winter. Rough areas are cut at 55mm all year round.

In terms of your course furniture, flags and tools, what do you use?

Dale Housden: The majority of our course furniture is purchased through BMS Products, who are true British manufacturers and suppliers of turf care tools, golf course accessories and signage. Based in Luton, BMS are very local to our golf course with an extremely reliable service. All our flags are swivel tubed mounted on black and white 7.2 feet tournament flag pins. Hole cutters, course signage and our hardwood tee signs are all purchased from BMS. BMS Products are highly skilled within the course management and graphic design field.

What machinery fleet are you currently using? 

Dale Housden: Toro is a common brand you will see around Caddington and the majority of our finer cutting ride-ons are Toro. The rough mower that we use is the Groundsmaster 4500d which is a tough bit of kit. The only Cylinder mower we have that is not Toro is the John Deere 3225c fairway mower. It is now, like two others, due for replacement however, it still provides a superb cut and is in splendid condition. All of our agricultural / maintenance machines are Kubota which seems to suit our course and terrain well. The general hand tools we own are Stihl and these vary from leaf blowers to hedgecutters.

Has there been any particular machinery manufacturer innovations or solutions that have grabbed your eye or impressed you recently?

Dale Housden: The Graden has impressed me with its aggressiveness against thatch. With the make-up of our greens being so varied, the thatch content is quite extensive, so when the Graden first came on the market it was unpredictable how our greens would cope with such a vicious implement. It came out with flying colours, hence our continued use of it. Apart from the obvious work it carries out on the thatch, the recovery time is rapid with the disruption to everyday golfers is minimal.

What are your views on sustainability?

Dale Housden: Since the change of ownership to McGee’s almost four years ago, the golf club has enjoyed a new lease of life. A huge financial injection by the owners has allowed for numerous items of machinery to be purchased thus allowing my team to not only sustain the course to a higher standard than ever previously reached, but also enhancing the quality of the golf course available to the ever increasing membership numbers. This fresh input to Caddington has encouraged a proactive team who are highly motivated as one single unit striving to improve to the best of our ability. The fresh ideas and goals recently implemented at Caddington, that is the installation of new pathways, equipment and practice facilities, has helped us enormously through obviously what has been a difficult time for all golf clubs. We are certainly a golf club that thinks ahead progressively and strives for the best.

How many greenkeepers are in your team and how is work shared?

Dale Housden: Currently we run on six full-time greenkeepers with one part-time worker who generally sticks to the upkeep of the bunkers. There is myself, Paul Bray, Murray Rawson, Adam Henderson, Rob Stillie and Liam Harris, and I have tried to make each member of staff and their personal qualities vital. From the most senior to the least experienced, all of my staff are more than capable of completing the tasks set for them to a more than satisfactory standard. Three of us have our spraying licence which obviously dictates who can apply chemicals.

How do you maintain this high performance from your staff?

Dale Housden: For me, team morale, trust and respect are three key parts to a successful greenkeeping team and these qualities can be proved to me, and to each other, both inside the workplace and outside. Team morale is kept at a high level thanks to sharing responsibility with tasks and enjoying nights out on a quarterly schedule. This can vary from a bowling night out (of which I am the current champion!) to a meal with our partners. This provides the lads with a relaxed atmosphere where they can let their hair down away from the day-to-day hard grafting at Caddington. The staff have learnt to trust and respect each other and have learnt how to benefit from each other’s personal experiences in the industry. This provides a tight-knit team who I know I can definitely rely on. Individual training is undertaken by myself, usually on cold mornings whenever it is impossible to work on the course, and includes individual machinery usage from pre-start checks on to the usage and aftercare of that machine.

I encourage outside work hobbies to allow time to refresh their minds away from the working day. Within the team this varies from playable football to playing in a band and then onto enjoying a round of golf.

All staff are pushed academically to achieve their highest possible personal results so that Caddington Golf Club can benefit from their skills and also so that each individual can gain further knowledge for his future, either at Caddington or elsewhere. If someone was to leave because he / she had gained knowledge / experience from myself and the club and a higher position was calling, I would feel very proud that I had completed my job correctly and achieved a good result with them.

How did you and your team find Harrogate Week this year?

Dale Housden: Definitely the best year of BTME thus far. It was extremely busy and full of friendly fellow workers from our industry. Four of us undertook a workshop with Howard Swan, which was informative and very relevant to the projects we have ongoing at Caddington concerning the build of the new nine-hole academy course. I would hope that, thanks to our trip toHarrogate, myself and my team are up-to-date with all the latest equipment and methods available – therefore ready for the year’s graft ahead. Oh – and obviously it was great because the trip to BTME 2012 included meeting the Greenkeeping magazine team!

What investments / projects will you be undertaking for the coming year for the 18-hole course?

Dale Housden: We are looking to extend our irrigation system onto our improving practice area which means tapping into the current system which, although it should not be a difficult task, when considering the age of our system I have little doubt it will not be straight forward.

On the purchasing side, I will hopefully be sitting here this time next year with two new Toro hand mowers that would benefit our greens hugely. I just have to be a good boy for 2012 and ask Santa nicely.

What do you see as the hot topics of the moment in greenkeeping?

Dale Housden: Considering that it dictates our everyday working life, I think the ever-changing weather is the biggest topic in greenkeeping at this moment of time. The variation of weather has affected our region heavily. For instance, this was the first year in my 15 years of greenkeeping that I have witnessed greens being cut in the Christmas–to-New-Year period. Before Christmas 2011, this was unheard of. Usually there is a heavy coverage of snow or frost or we are simply under water, but this winter we have had a mixture of 14°c mixed with some snow, heavy rainfall and extremely hard frosts. So, basically, I have no idea where the constant change of climate is going to lead. All that I know is that it’s definitely keeping my team and me on the ball!

What changes do you think need to be made to benefit the industry sector and profession of the greenkeeper?

Dale Housden: I would like to see more events or training courses aimed at the qualified greenkeeper. I say that because I notice that once a competent greenkeeper reaches level three (which nowadays can be within four years) they seem to hit a brick wall and unless they take the degree route, they cannot progress any further academically without becoming a course manager or head greenkeeper, which may not be their aspiration.

What advice would you give to young greenkeepers wanting to advance?

Dale Housden: I would definitely say: ‘’Listen to and learn from your boss. Believe it or not, he / she was once in your position and thought exactly the same of their boss. He / she knows what they are talking about and has your best interests at heart. Greenkeeping can be a fabulous job, so stick with it’.

What is your dream for Caddington Golf Club?

Dale Housden: With the new development aside, realistically my dream is for Caddington to be the best it possibly can be, and hold regular county and regional events.

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 18, 2012 14:16
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  1. (@GCM_mag) (@GCM_mag) March 18, 14:18

    Profile: Scratch golfer, football coach and Caddington Golf Club’s course manager, Dale Housden

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