As a desperately wet winter drew to a close, Course Manager Chris Ball looked back with satisfaction on Newbury & Crookham Golf Club’s decision to invest in a Charterhouse Tool Carrier. Through those long rainy months, his team at the Berkshire golf club was able to punch much needed aeration into greens and tees while applying only a light footprint to the course surface.
But as spring runs through to summer and the surfaces become firm, he knows he can shift the Verti-Drain 1513 attachment from the pedestrian driven Tool Carrier onto a compact tractor to implement a more intensive programme of solid needle tining.
After just a few months with the Carrier – purchased via Lister Wilder in Reading – Chris says he has already seen an improvement in the health of the turf and fully expects that to show itself progressively in the playing surfaces over the coming months.
One of the oldest clubs in the country, Newbury and Crookham has origins going all the way back to 1873. A club doesn’t exist that long without facing some practical challenges, and in this case it came when the Greenham Common part of its territory was requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence in 1940, leaving golf to be played mainly on the downland sweep towards the town of Newbury.
The US Air Force extended its wartime presence through into the Cold War that followed, and in those years the golfers had heavy aircraft, nuclear weapons and peace activists. Only with the designation of the common as public parkland in 1997 did a true rural idyll return to the course.
Today, it exists as a comfortable mix of undulating heath and parkland fringed by belts of graceful mature trees. Plateaus, ridges and gullies provide a varied and sometimes testing golfing experience. A par 69 circuit of just under 6,000 yards, it is known for its challenging par 4s – notably the 8th with its uphill dog-leg, rated by Peter Alliss as one of the toughest holes in Berkshire.
The job of managing the course is one that Chris took on six years ago, having built his experience as deputy at Bearwood Lakes, Wokingham for nine years and previously at Walton Heath, Guildford and Woking. At Newbury, he leads a team of six.
“[Lister Wilder] have been fantastic. They are one of our key suppliers and are always there with sound guidance and solid back up.”Chris Ball – Course Manager
“We have soil types varying from gravel on the slopes through to clay on the lower parts,” says Chris. “Our push-up greens were designed to hold onto their moisture and nutrients in the drier months, so one of our key jobs is to ensure that they continue to play well in an era when 365-day-a-year golf has become the norm.”
Drainage has been enhanced through the installation of DJuke’s PCD rope system on five greens. Routine aeration nonetheless has an essential role to play and the decision to invest in the Charterhouse Tool Carrier was a key one which recognised the benefits of keeping tractors off the greens in the wetter periods of the year.
“We previously used a fairway aerator which doubled up as a greens machine,” says Chris. “Due to its size, it had to be powered by quite a large tractor and we found that during the winter months we were unable to get it onto the greens so had to use other methods such as slitting, which didn’t give us the progress we required.”
“So we looked at the pedestrian machine option and liked the flexibility it gave us to detach the Verti-Drain and put it onto a compact tractor for the summer months. That means we can maintain a light footprint across the greens but be more proactive in the area of ground we cover.”
“The other benefits of the Charterhouse machine are that we can put some ‘heave’ into the process and also get an inch or two deeper. We vary the depths at different times of year in response to the conditions – from 12mm tines in winter to 8mm or smaller needle tines in summer to minimise the impact on the playing surface.”
So is it working? “It has been brilliant,” enthuses Chris. “We got it in September and have been right the way around the course on a weekly basis covering greens, approaches and tees. Members like seeing the Tool Carrier around the course because they recognise the value of what it does for us. We are already seeing healthier swards and I think they will see a continuing improvement in the playing surface as we go forward.”
The arrival of the Tool Carrier has had the additional benefit of freeing up the loader tractor which was previously needed for aeration, and means that top dressing can follow close behind. The greenkeepers now aerate fortnightly and reckon on getting the top dressing down the same day, with a big resulting saving in time.
Lister Wilder’s contribution has, says Chris, been an important one. “They have been fantastic. They are one of our key suppliers and are always there with sound guidance and solid back up.”