Investing for the future
There’s ambition in the air at Gillingham Golf Club. You can sense it from the quality of the popular clubhouse and the growing waiting list for membership. But you can also see it very tangibly as a fleet of new machinery goes about the task of making the course the best it can be.
Over recent months, the Kent club has invested heavily in new Baroness and Kubota mowers, Kubota tractor and Sisis leaf sweeper from Lister Wilder’s Ashford depot as it pushes the boundaries for its 700 private members. Word has quickly spread and membership applications actually accelerated in 2020 despite all the challenges posed by the pandemic.
The club has a history stretching back to 1905 and was formally designed by James Braid in 1919 and constructed by the army. It was updated by Donald Steel in the 1990s and remains a challenge with its tree-lined fairways and small fast greens – nine of them original push-ups and the rest built to latest SGA specifications. Sited within an urban area, it nonetheless enjoys views to the River Medway and is within ten minutes of the M2.
Deputy Head Greenkeeper Mark Jaques says that the response to recent progress has been very positive. “Golfers who came here to play while they were furloughed from work liked what they saw, and they talked to others who then came to give the course a try,” he says. “The challenge has been to keep it playing well at a time when we have had only three of us working.”
While sheer hard work was the key factor in maintaining the standards, Mark also gives credit to his new Baroness mowers, which he estimates are typically saving 30% of the previous cutting time through the simple virtue of having cylinders that stay on-cut. It is particularly the case with the Baroness LM2700 five-cylinder fairway mower, which eats up the ground much more quickly than the previous three-cylinder machine.
“When the time came to replace the old fairway mower I was thinking of buying the same brand, but then someone mentioned Baroness as being particularly good so we asked Oliver Gerrish (Area Sales Manager) at Lister Wilder for his advice and to arrange some demonstrations. Oli told me the units were renowned for staying on-cut for much longer periods then other brands, but I needed to see this for myself. He was right though, I found that they really do, and we were no longer continually stopping to adjust the cylinders as we had to with our existing machines – It’s one of those things that you don’t truly believe until you see it for yourself.
“I don’t know how we have coped with so few hands to do the work but we did, and part of that is down to the Baroness staying on-cut. Once you are out there you know you won’t have to come back because it needs adjusting.”
He adds: “I also like the fact that it’s very straightforward and that you don’t need an IT degree to operate it. It is a quality machine but it’s not over engineered, and that means we can handle the basic jobs ourselves which saves us both time and money.”
It’s a similar story with the pair of three-cylinder Baroness LM331s supplied by Lister Wilder for the tees and surrounds plus the first cut around the greens. “Our old machines were cutting fine for the first two or three tees but then weren’t doing the job properly,” says Mark. “With the LM331s, all 18 tees end up looking great.”
As with the LM2700, the precision engineered Baroness cutting cylinders o the LM331s are individually balanced before being installed and have bedknives made using a heat treatment process that keeps them sharp and true. Of particular note is the machine’s simple contour-hugging capability. The mower arms are equipped with two types of mechanisms: the first absorbs the bouncing of the mowers to keep consistent down pressure; the second enables it to follow the most severe undulations accurately while creating a beautiful finish.
Completing the Baroness team at Gillingham are a pair of LM315 greens mowers (which arrived in January 2021) with the same world leading cutting units and the advantages of a hybrid drive plus the reliability of mechanical drive to the cutting units. They also have a choice of reel speeds and operator comfort benefits such as tilt steering, a suspension seat with multiple adjustments and a cup holder.
Meanwhile, the semi-rough and rough are tackled by a Kubota Zero turn ZD1211. Its three-blade, 140 mm deep deck has a flat design and a unique baffling system that forces grass to be discharged evenly onto the ground to ensure even cutting and fine mulching.
Mark describes is as “one of the most comfortable machines I have ever driven” which could be down to its adjustable armrests, higher backrest, lumbar support and a fully padded and adjustable seat. “Our rough and semi-rough is a three-and-a-half to four-day job so you need to be comfortable,” adds Mark.
“The machine was really impressive on demo – we liked the fact that the change of height is done with a dial, so you don’t need to go back into the garage to adjust it and that saves a lot of time. There isn’t much to go wrong and it’s very quick and easy to maintain.”
While on one hand creating the course’s parkland character, Gillingham’s trees also pose a challenge in terms of autumn leaves. The introduction from Lister Wilder of a Sisis Littermiser 1200 leaf sweeper has, therefore, make a useful contribution and brought positive comments from members. “The leaves come down daily in the autumn but an hour-and-a-half with the Sisis quickly clears them,” says Mark. “It also, of course, lets the light in, which helps the grass and also lifts it to produce a better cut.”
Mark gives credit to Lister Wilder for its contribution. “It’s not just the service we get,” he says. “The advice from Oli has been excellent, and the prices have also been very competitive. Their help with the way the deals was structured with their finance broker (Buckingham Leasing) also helped greatly in terms of the way we have been able to fund the machinery in what has been a difficult period.”