Q&A with Ben Burrill, course manager at Rotherham Golf Club

By Alistair December 24, 2020 17:37

Can you give a brief description of your background?

I’m a Master Greenkeeper who’s worked at several golf clubs in the last 20 years, and at major tournaments such as the 2012 Ryder Cup and 2013 US Open. I’ve been at Rotherham since 2014.

What are the major challenges you have faced throughout the pandemic?

With the financial uncertainty of a UK wide lockdown, the club took the action to furlough half of my staff and all but the office manager of the clubhouse staff, leaving just the three of us to manage the 155 acres that Rotherham Golf Club lies in, also including the clubhouse and its biomass boiler. We looked at safety and security with a new eye, an entry and exit code was implemented on the main gate to the club and bulk bags with sand or gravel placed in front of the shed doors for added security including the doors of the buggy shed. Following BIGGA guidance, safety procedures were implemented for staff; washing hands, outdoor meetings, face masks and gloves handed out, break times staggered, hand sanitiser, washing machines and reduced contact. This stage was relatively uncomplicated; less staff to organise and no golfers, looking after the agronomics of the course, all the course furniture was already taken in and there were no rakes, flags or tee markers to move. It was all about efficiency!

In the background there were many Zoom meetings taking place by the board of directors to try and keep up with the changing rules; how the furlough scheme works, how much revenue we might be losing, trying to keep the staff informed with no clue of the next step.

Then golf was back with a new look and not too long after my staff too. Golfers√ expectations were high; surely the course would be perfect with no golf traffic. The reality is that we like many courses didn√t have the staff to do anything fancy to the course so we asked for a little help before we opened to get the bunkers in shape and the strimming that hadn’t been achieved for the whole of lockdown.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Over the years I have always found a real joy in producing the finest surfaces to play golf on, it is an ever changing challenge. The tools that greenkeepers have at their disposal have only got better over time but on the flip side the chemical market is only losing active ingredients year on year. This isn√t to say that greenkeepers like myself aren√t trying our best to continue to produce a surface that the golfer demands but with 50 to 70 years of practices heavily integrated with and back up of chemicals it is very hard to step away.

This is why I also get a pleasure of training up greenkeepers because it is very satisfying to see them also achieve their potential, and the collection of greenkeepers minds also produce many more and better ideas for solving problems. In my time at Rotherham I have seen two of my staff move on to take head greenkeepers positions at other courses, and this is a credit to their hard work.

You’ve recently purchased Tru Turf RB70, what savings have you calculated the 70 inch width roller will deliver, and what will this contribute to the team and overall course maintenance efficiency?

In a full greens roll demo the Tru Turf RB70 saved approximately one hour off the time taken to roll all 18 greens plus two putting greens. For us this equates to around five hours per week saved through the summer playing season. We also believe that there is to be a fuel saving as the engine is running for less time and the Tru Turf RB70 doesn’t seem to use much more fuel for the width of the machine. Tru Turf also states that their machines provide the same surface without having to apply the same ground pressure as some heavier models. This will be beneficial to our clay push-up greens, as even though rolling only causes compaction to the top couple of inches of the green any reduction in this would be beneficial.

What work are you currently undertaking?
– Tree pruning and removal, to make the course more playable but not easier
– Three bunker renovations
– Clearing out ditches
– Plugging out some disease scarring
– Building steps leading onto tees, improving accessibility
– The complete drainage of the 10th green
– Drainage of certain areas of the 15th fairway and the 18th fairway.

The course is surrounded and enclosed by a vast number of trees of a considerable age, how does this affect the course, what woodland management programme are you operating, what√s planned, when and why?

Rotherham Golf Club is situated in Thrybergh Park and has many fantastic tree specimens. There are two sweet chestnuts that are in excess of 500 years old. It is certainly part of the character of the course. It does however come with its difficulties; trees cost a massive amount of time and money to maintain. I once took out a comparison of the cost of cutting the semi rough for the entire year compared to the cost of collecting and blowing the leaves for the three to four months and to no surprise the leaves cost more.

They also have adverse effects on the turf:
– Reduction of airflow
– Shade problems
– Playability problems
– Drought stress / nutrient issues
– Leaves on the playing surface.

Due to some of the negative effects that trees have on the turf the club has been in the process of a thinning programme agreed with the Forestry Commission over five years to begin with but is likely to enter 10 years to counter the negative side effects. This work is mainly carried out in-house as many of our staff have the necessary licences to carry out the work.


By Alistair December 24, 2020 17:37

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