Meet the course manager: Derek Mason, Highgate Golf Club

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 2, 2017 08:31 Updated

Derek Mason has been course manager of Highgate GC since the year Charles married Diana, and his team have been at the club for an average of more than 16 years each. Here he talks about the benefits of this longevity and the work put in to its 54 bunkers to ensure they have uniformity in sand depth

Highgate Golf Club, near Hampstead Heath, is the closest 18-hole golf course to central London. Opened in 1904, this hilly, tree-lined parkland course, originally designed by C.S. Butchart, has retained many of its original features. The course layout was fundamentally changed when in 1928 the Metropolitan Water Board built the Bishopswood Reservoir around the area that is now the 10th and 13th holes. This reservoir currently stores 40 million litres of water to supply London with drinking water. The course currently measures 6,015 yards with a par and standard scratch of 69, with the ladies at just over 5,400 yards.

We caught up with the man who has been its course manager for the last 36 years, Derek Mason, to find out more about the venue – as well as his approach to managing it.

Your team has been working together for some time now. What is the average length of service and how does this benefit the course?

We have a combined length of service between the seven of us of 115 years, which means the average length of service at present is 16.5 years per man. This is quite exceptional and reflects on how good an employer the club has been. The knowledge that everyone has gained on the site is invaluable in keeping the course in good condition and understanding the methodology used in achieving results. When you have a large turnover of staff, a lot of time is used up in recruitment, induction and training.

A good deal of bunker refurbishment has been undertaken. What results have you achieved?

Being a clay-based course, the old problem of soil contamination and flooded bunker bases required some radical intervention. In 2013 the club experimented with the installation of bunker blinder into four bunkers as a trial. It proved so successful with limited contamination and sand washout that the course committee commissioned for a further 17 bunkers to be completed in October 2016.

We have a total of 54 bunkers at Highgate and it is our aim to complete all bunkers to the same specification over the next two years. Uniformity in sand depth and playability being the aim to enhance the golfers’ experience of playing from bunkers. Bunkers are a regular topic of conversation at many clubs and getting them to be in the best condition has its challenges but we are committed to getting it right.

The course has a reservoir situated under the 9th, 10th and 13th holes. What challenges does this present to you?

The reservoir roof is covered with just 16 inches of topsoil, which means that it dries out incredibly quickly during dry spells. There is also a weight limit for equipment working on the roof section, which prevents the use of heavy mechanical operations such as deep Verti-draining. The water authorities prohibit the use of automatic irrigation systems, we therefore have to use a hosepipe and sprinkler on one green and a set of tees, which can be time consuming.

What gives you the greatest satisfaction from the job?

There is nothing better than seeing the course presented in top condition as a result of hard work from all the team. One achievement for me has been the adjustment required into modern golf course management and keeping up with new equipment and techniques. I am always willing to try something new and more importantly willing to learn. When I started greenkeeping 41 years ago we certainly didn’t have stimpmeters, moisture meters, clegg hammers, turf irons and so on!

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir July 2, 2017 08:31 Updated
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