Why West Essex GC has been using a contractor for its golf course maintenance since 2010

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 14, 2015 03:52 Updated

West Essex GC has been using a contractor for its golf course maintenance since 2010. What are the differences or advantages to this approach? Tania Longmire takes a look

The company engaged with the maintenance contract for West Essex GC is Martin Guy Developments (MGD). MGD was established in 2006 and founded by Martin Guy, a qualified course manager with 25 years previous golf course management experience at clubs including Trent Park and The Hertfordshire plus multi golf course supervision skills. I caught up with Martin, Paul Copsey, project manager, and Melvyn Cox, chairman of West Essex GC and former greens committee chairman, to gain an insight on the business, methods used and results to date.

48-49 drainage IMG_1653

Drainage at the Marquess course at Woburn GC

What was the reasoning behind the offering of contract maintenance to golf clubs?

Martin: The concept was born following discussions within Crown Golf as to the future viability of offering contract maintenance to other golf clubs and sports grounds as part of a wider internal restructuring of the golf course maintenance provision within the company. Although this did not materialise, I felt the concept had a lot of mileage and I had a desire to take this concept forward. Subsequently I left Crown Golf and I agreed a contract to re-build and then manage a nine-hole course for Renaissance Leisure as well as taking on the contract to manage Briggens Park GC in Ware which we continue to maintain. That was in 2006, we now maintain six golf clubs clubs in Essex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire as well as offering external contract work to clients such as Woburn and Hanbury Manor and various sports grounds, charitable trusts and leisure groups.

What are the benefits a golf club can achieve by putting golf course maintenance out to contract?

Martin: Firstly, professional expertise from experienced personnel and by giving clear direction and fixed costs. Secondly, there is the availability of external resources for work such as drainage, tee building and bunker renovations, plus a variety of other works required to improve the golf course, carried out by skilled operators who move from course to course using modern equipment. These operators back-up the existing, permanent staff at the golf course. We effectively take care of managing the course and leave the club’s membership to enjoy playing golf.

46-47 Braintree Lake Construction and Alterations Holes 6&7 (3)

Braintree lake construction and alterations to holes six and seven

What is it that MGD offers that is different to other established maintenance contractors?

Martin: We are ‘hands-on’ qualified course managers with multi-site experience of member, resort and pay for play courses and with the ability to add a wide variety of equipment. We can bring innovative ideas to the market while focusing on the fundamental aspects of turfgrass management. With a strong and continually expanding level of modern equipment and, with our support, we can tackle agronomic problems or ones requiring capital funding. One of the key differences between us and perhaps other maintenance contractors is our understanding of the golf business as a whole; how course condition and targeted expenditure relate to member and golfing customer satisfaction and then in turn the business and financial success of the operator, or club.

48-49 braintree IMG_1612

Recent lake construction carried out at Braintree GC

How do you ensure that turf quality and course conditioning are maintained at a consistent level which is acceptable to the golf club?

Martin: Our project managers, will be on any golf course within our group at least once per week to monitor progress, whilst working with our course managers / head greenkeepers via our structure of work planning, labour scheduling and monthly course reports. We also meet regularly to discuss and update maintenance programmes in accordance with weather conditions and club requirements. We also include a course evaluation or auditing process to further benchmark course condition.

Is contract maintenance a viable option for most golf clubs?

Martin: No, it is not a ‘one size fits all’ scenario, maintenance requirements will vary from course to course and may not suit everyone, although that said, when the original concept was drawn up we were working for a management company that provided maintenance for almost 30 courses of varying styles and positions within the golf market from European Tour venues to ex-municipal pay for play.

A key advantage for a golf club is to have the golf course maintained, but not to be run by themselves which helps the club to be more financially and management effective.

46-47 MGD's 13 Tonne Digger

MGD’s 13 tonne digger

How is the process of the contract implemented and managed?

Paul: By co-operation and working as team to give training, support and supervision that will ensure that the agreed standards are being achieved. It is a process we are familiar with based upon our experience of multi-site management. We will introduce various policies and procedures ranging from work planning and recording of information to the implementation of health and safety and staff training. There is a clear vision from our side and on the part of the course operator, proprietor or club as to what can be achieved and is required of the course. A very detailed ‘specification document’ is agreed, but it is the delivery and communication of the vision to the team that is important.

46-47 MGD's Fairway & Sports Ground Verti-Drain & Tractor

MGD’s fairway and sports ground verti-drain and tractor

What do you regard as the main challenges when starting a new contract?

Paul: Often it is the club and personnel becoming familiar with our management structures, administration, reporting processes and our product purchasing strategies with our preferred supplier agreements. There can be a fear of change from staff who may view the process with a degree of uncertainty. Within the club, not every member may be supportive of external maintenance. By implementing basic work practices along with effective communication and working closely as team, we can gain everyone’s confidence as the condition of the course improves.

46-47 Prep works for rubber crumb bunker lining at Boyce Hill

Prep works for rubber crumb bunker lining at Boyce Hill

How are projects, course alterations and improvements handled?

Paul: For improvement projects, these are a combination of requirements and recommendations made with the club. Once these are identified and agreed, they become part of a rolling programme. Most tasks such as drainage, tee extensions and bunker renovations are completed using our own professional development team which is a cost effective solution for the golf club. To date there are numerous completed examples ranging from a reservoir and bunkering at Braintree GC to tee construction at West Essex.

46-47 Railway Sleeper Retaining Wall Construction

Construction of a railway sleeper retaining wall

What projects are you currently working on and how do you see the business progressing?

Martin: Our contracting teams and our machinery have had a very busy autumn and winter work schedule. We have started extensive drainage works for various golf clubs, completed another stage of drainage works at Braintree Golf Club and completed landscaping and re-turfing works at Old Fold Manor Golf Club. We have also been making landscaping alterations to the practice facilities at Woburn and we are currently engaged in various bunker reconstruction projects. Our large Verti-Drain has been employed at many golf clubs and sports grounds through the winter for deep tine aerifying.

We have further drainage and construction projects scheduled during 2015 for golf courses, clubs and local authorities. The golf course maintenance side continues to be busy at our existing sites, plus further enquiries from other clubs and operators.

46-47 6.5m Flail Hire cw John Deere 6125R Tractor On Turf-Road Tyres MGD

Flail Hire John Deere 6125R Tractor on turf-road tyres

What were the key issues at West Essex prior to MGD and what led to the change in direction and the employment of a contractor?

Melvyn: The greens were successfully rebuilt to USGA spec and then re-turfed using the existing greens turf several years ago. We then suffered from substantial fusarium patch disease attacks each year and in spite of recommendations from various agronomists and advisors, we were continually left with severe scarring well into the playing season. This was having a negative impact on both membership and visitors. A different approach was needed and we were aware of the good work and improved course conditions at another club being maintained by MGD.

What have been the main improvements in regards to management and course conditioning?

Melvyn: Largely effective disease control through improved prevention management. The golf course is also better presented along with improved greens performance and consistency. As a result playing quality is now extended throughout the season. We are also benefitting from a bunker renovation programme carried out by MGD which is about one third complete. In terms of course progression, we are currently reviewing drainage options with the aim of further improvement.

What feedback have you received from within the club and from visiting societies?

Melvyn: Very positive and pleased with the recent course improvements. Members have also commented on improved communication and available information since they like to be kept informed on what is happening on their course.

Has your or the club’s opinion changed on contract maintenance?

Melvyn: I guess so in that for us it has been a favourable route to embark upon. The benefits for our club have been that funds are better targeted and spent more wisely on products and techniques while leading to better playing conditions. This has resulted in an increase in visitor play and membership has risen by around 25 percent since the days of disease scarring on the greens. We have also noted that since the course has improved, the annual turnover of members has become less.

For more information, visit www.martinguydevelopments.com


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 14, 2015 03:52 Updated
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