Alresford Golf Club invests in Baroness

Returning to Alresford Golf Club had plenty of attractions for Simon Justice when he took on the Course Manager role at a location he loves. He knew he could count on unstinting support from a greenkeeping team he had grown close to previously, and equally from the members in a club with a reputation for friendliness.

Simon also had the incentive of leading the implementation of a ten-year architect-inspired plan designed to build on the opportunity provided by newly acquired land. And, with machinery contracts coming due for renewal, he welcomed the opportunity to consider bringing a new brand into his mixed armoury. 

He had been impressed by Baroness mowers during his Course Manager initiation at Wellow Golf Club at Romsey and had no hesitation in asking Lister Wilder to organise trials, first for a fairway mower and subsequently for two greens mowers. In both cases, they came through with flying colours against stiff competition.

Set on the western edge of the South Downs as they sweep away across Hampshire towards the sea in Sussex, Alresford is a club that goes all the way back to 1890. It was, in those days, just a small nine-hole course and stayed that way right through to 1993 when it made the transition to 18 holes.

The underlying chalk provides the course with a quality of drainage that allows the club to offer a great playing surface 12 months of the year, making its winter memberships popular amongst those who can’t get a round elsewhere. While some of the greens are of the original clay push-up variety from its nine-hole days, five have a black silty fenn soil as their base, while the most recent are to full USGA specifications. All are in top playing condition thanks to the work done by the greenkeeping team to ensure consistent playing characteristics.

The enlarged course also has modern practice facilities, including a full-size range with ball-dispensing, several putting and chipping greens, a pitching practice area, and a separate 6-hole par 3 short course. All have added to the attractions of a club that has approaching 600 members and an enthusiastic society golf following.

The ten-year architect-inspired course plan revolves around enlarging the teeing areas, adding yardage to previously tight holes and building new eco bunkers using synthetic liners and walls. Simon and his team of five greenkeepers are very much a hands-on crew who have the skills (and enthusiasm) to handle a lot of the construction work. They are two years into the programme and progress is good.

“It is far superior to the stop/start mechanism used by other hand mowers.”

Simon Justice – Course Manager

The team approach similarly applies when it comes to selecting machinery. Each mowing category is considered individually and when it came to a fairway mower the consensus favoured the Baroness LM2700. The five-unit mower is one that Simon demoed during his seven-year stay as Course Manager at Wellow Golf Club at Romsey. 

“I thought it was a fantastic machine that cut brilliantly because of the innovation Baroness have introduced with tungsten carbide blades,” says Simon. “We asked Lister Wilder to demo it for us here and decided as a team that it came out top.”

He adds: “We have been out through the winter in wet and worm casty conditions, and after three or four cuts it needed just a quarter of a turn on the adjuster to get it back on cut. In 26 years of greenkeeping I have never seen any other machine need that minimal adjustment. It is very impressive.”

Close on the heels of the decision on the fairway mower came a need to decide what would do the work on the greens. “I have always loved the idea of hand cutting because of the finish it gives and we agreed we would test to Baroness LM56,” says Simon. “We divided one of the greens in two and did half with the Baroness and half with a triple and the difference was so evident – the quality of the Baroness cut was significantly better. It’s all about appearance and finish and there is nothing better than a hand-cut green.

“I have looked at other hand mowers with fiddly controls but the gear drive on the Baroness LM56 and the resulting facility to feather the clutch makes it so much easier and smoother to operate. It is far superior to the stop / start mechanism used by other hand mowers.”

With Deputy Course Manager Adam Brimson looking after much of the maintenance, the recognised Baroness virtue of simplicity offers real benefits in looking after both the LM2700 and the pair of LM56s. Each has enjoyed minimal downtime with the result that whole-life costs are staying low.

Simon started his greenkeeping career at the Royal Winchester in 1993, working his way up to Deputy Course Manager over his eight years there. He joined Alresford as Deputy in 2002 and jumped at the opportunity to become Course Manager at Wellow in 2011 where he happily stayed until the opportunity arose to return to Alresford as Course Manager a year ago.

“The magic for me in coming back is that the whole place has a friendly nature,” he says. “I have already had nine very happy years and there are ideas bubbling away inside me plus the benefit of the architect’s advice to give our members an even better course.”