Growing Grass & Knowledge

Parks Supervisor puts a priority on educating his superiors and employees about healthy turf

City of Mississauga At-A-Glance

Parks Supervisor: John D’Ovidio
Location: Mississauga, Ontario
Turf: Mix of Kentucky Blue and perennial ryegrass
Equipment: Jacobsen® HR-6010 large area rotary mowers (25); Jacobsen HR-9016 large area rotary mowers (10)
City of Mississauga Parks Supervisor John D'Ovidio

City of Mississauga Parks Supervisor John D’Ovidio

A Canadian city of almost 800,000, Mississauga boasts some of the most picturesque green spaces in Ontario. Parks Supervisor John D’Ovidio has been tasked with maintaining some of the most visible of these areas.

Beginning as a student 27 years ago, D’Ovidio worked his way up through the city until reaching his current role. He presently serves as the Parks Supervisor of the Core Parks Operations, which includes City Hall, 20 sports fields, 57 parks, 4 school fields, high-end horticultural beds, irrigation, playgrounds and more.

“I was in the architectural trade, but completed my horticultural diploma and the turf manager’s short course,” says D’Ovidio. “My favorite areas of turf to maintain are sports fields because I love seeing the impact of the equipment on the field, especially the striping after mowing.”

D’Ovidio manages over 70 employees including 18 full-time staff, 18 temporary and 32 students during the peak season.

“During the growing season, I am constantly going from place to place checking on the turf,” says D’Ovidio. “The most challenging part is the upkeep of the sports fields during peak season. The fields need to be playable every day beginning in May until the end of September. There are usually about three sports games per night and weekends can be even more.”

Ten years ago, Ontario became the first province in Canada to ban all pesticide use. This requires D’Ovidio to maintain vigorous cultural practices to keep the turf safe and healthy enough to keep out pests and weeds.

Because of these challenges, D’Ovidio places a high value on staff knowledge of turf health.

“I see a big part of my job as being a mentor to the staff. We often work alongside sports groups, planners, designers and consultants to determine what decisions will be the healthiest for the turf,” says D’Ovidio. “I’ll also send front line staff to trade shows so they can stay up-to-date on turf health.”

Another instance where D’Ovidio often plays the part of a mentor is with city groups and patrons.

“Many people have the misconception that grass just needs to be watered and cut. They don’t understand the intricacies of maintaining healthy turf,” says D’Ovidio.

One of D’Ovidio’s main focuses within Mississauga is City Hall and Celebration Square. Once considered a ghost town, the City Hall complex now entertains more than one million visitors per year. After $41 million in renovations, City Hall has transformed into a venue for over 100 events each year.

John D'Ovidio is also responsible for managing this large splash park, which converts to an ice rink during the winter.

John D’Ovidio is also responsible for managing this large splash park, which converts to an ice rink during the winter.

“In addition to maintaining the turf at City Hall, I am also responsible for managing the synthetic turf area, the ice rink in the winter, the splash pad in the summer and the remaining Celebration Square area,” explains D’Ovidio.

“One of the biggest projects within the renovation was the construction of the ice rink. The rink is 24,000 square feet, making it one of the largest outdoor rinks in Canada,” says D’Ovidio. “In the summer, we transition the ice rink into a splash pad, which can attract up to 400 people on any given weekend.”

Since City Hall and Celebration Square is one of D’Ovidio’s high-profile areas, he has 19 people on his crew designated to keeping it in top shape. This work includes maintaining the turf, shrubs, trees and sanitation areas.

With over 23,000 registrants using the sports fields every year, the turf has high visibility and needs to be healthy and playable at all times.

“When the staff completes their work, they feel great about the look of the turf. We’re able to pass that feeling down to the end-users and get them excited about the condition of the turf. When this happens, it’s much easier for our sports programs to get more funding for turf maintenance because they see the value in it. We can then show them exactly where their money is going and the great results we get from it.”

“On the high-end fields, we typically aerate once per month, unless weather or wear of the turf require it more frequently,” says D’Ovidio. “We have a mix of Kentucky blue grass and perennial ryegrass on the fields.”

The City of Mississauga uses 25 Jacobsen HR-6010 and 10 Jacobsen HR9016 large area rotary mowers to maintain a majority of the green spaces in the city.

“We typically mow at about 3 inches once or twice per week on our secondary fields and three times per week on our premier fields,” explains D’Ovidio.

John D'Ovidio and his team use over 35 Jacobsen large area rotary mowers to maintain sports fields, parks and other green spaces.

John D’Ovidio and his team use over 35 Jacobsen large area rotary mowers to maintain sports fields, parks and other green spaces.

“The Jacobsen rough mowers have been great for us. We’ve been able to cut a lot more grass in less time than we were cutting before. Their versatility has also been a huge bonus. The ability to lift up individual decks has given us the ability to work around trees and other tight areas,” explains D’Ovidio.

D’Ovidio values his crew’s opinion when it comes to choosing turf equipment.

“When I demo equipment, I have my operators demo the equipment as well. We will keep the machine temporarily to really test out how the equipment will work with our needs. The Jacobsen mowers we purchased were a hit with everyone. Two-thirds of my labor is part-time and we have over 200 students working throughout the year. The machines are safe and easy-to-use, which is perfect for the work force.”

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Jacobsen Eclipse 322 success on UK’s East Coast

Hunstanton clubhouse

Hunstanton clubhouse

Locals and visitors alike argue over which is the best course on the north Norfolk coast in the east of England. Is it Hunstanton or The Royal West Norfolk (Brancaster as the locals refer to it)?

Take the footballing analogy: Liverpool and Everton; Manchester United and Manchester City; Barcelona and Madrid; Arsenal and Chelsea – are they friends, rivals or sworn enemies?

Royal West Norfolk's clubhouse

Royal West Norfolk’s clubhouse

In the case of these two golf clubs, perhaps a better analogy would be coalition partners, situated just six miles apart and renowned as two of the premier links courses in the country; whichever one you choose for a golfing experience, you won’t be disappointed.

Royal West Norfolk was founded in 1892 and is unusual in that its ‘Royal’ status was conferred at the outset, when the Prince of Wales – later to become King Edward VII – accepted an invitation to become the club’s patron. One of the finest links courses in the area it has another unique feature in that the clubhouse is not accessible at high tide as the North Sea sweeps in around the nearby marshland and cuts it off from the mainland.

Hunstanton 042Hunstanton Golf Club is slightly older, having been established in March 1891. It is a championship links and is one of only two links courses on the East Coast of the UK between Royal St George’s in Kent and Muirfield in Scotland. The most notable feat, never to be repeated, occurred in the Eastern Counties Foursomes in 1974 when Bob Taylor, a Leicestershire County player, holed in one on three successive days at the same hole – the 188 yard, 16th. In 2005 he played the hole again and put his tee shot six feet from the hole!

Both courses are just metres from the North Sea, which in summer can be benign and sometimes, even blue. But come the winter, when seasonal storms batter the east coast of the UK, this force of nature can cause untold damage.

And that’s exactly what happened last winter (December 2013), when low pressure sat over the North Sea causing gale force northerly winds which coincided with that month’s spring tide. The result was a tidal surge, greater than that of infamous 1953 flood which struck the east coast of England, killing over 300 people.

Fortunately, coastal defences have been improved over time and no lives were lost, but it wasn’t enough to stop a disastrous flood devastating part of the clubhouse and the machinery storage facility at The Royal West Norfolk.

The sea sweeps in and cuts off the Royal West Norfolf course from the mainland

The sea sweeps in and cuts off the Royal West Norfolk course from the mainland

Gavin Playford is the head greenkeeper at the club. He joined straight from school back in 1986 and 28 years later is responsible for a team of five full time greenkeepers including a greenkeeper/mechanic. He runs a mixed fleet of turf maintenance machinery preferring to purchase the equipment that does the job for him on his course. He explains what happened on that fateful day.

“The tidal flooding on December 5 last winter left £1 million damage in its wake including extensive damage at the clubhouse; the kitchen, Men’s changing room and Pro Shop were all seriously affected, but the real damage was done at our maintenance facility; we literally lost our entire fleet, worth in excess of £600,000.

“Initially, we didn’t know which way to turn, but as the news broke, the response from the industry in the area was fantastic. Everyone rallied around for us and the three major manufacturers, through their local dealers, were very supportive. With their support of loan equipment we were up and running very quickly after such a catastrophic event.

“The insurance company were also very professional and when I told them we had over five feet of water in the maintenance shed, they sent a surveyor out quickly and approved a list of replacement machinery at the double.

“We already had the hybrid Jacobsen Eclipse 322 in our planned capital expenditure schedule following a three-day demo we had about 18 months ago, but with the approval of the insurers we were able to get it as part of the replacement package.

RWN 064

Gavin Playford with his Jacobsen Eclipse 322

“I really like the machine’s ability to change the frequency of cut. We have found that the 2.4 setting (416 cuts per metre) is right for us. In my opinion, the finish is as good as double cutting but in a single pass. It’s very easy to work on; the swing out centre unit is a very good feature and the maintenance information on the display screen leaves you in no doubt about what servicing needs to be done, and when. Yes, a really well thought through piece of design.”

Hunstanton 101Hunstanton Golf Club have been a loyal customer of local Ransomes Jacobsen dealer Bartram Mowers for decades. Back in May this year they requested a demonstration of the Jacobsen Eclipse 322 and they were so impressed with its performance that they brought forward the purchase by a year!

Peter Read has been at the club 28 years and became head greenkeeper three years ago. He heads a team of just six, so there’s always a job to do around the course. In his own words, this is what happened.

“I called Bartram Mowers back in early May and asked for a demonstration of the Eclipse. They got it to me quickly and left it with us for a week, which was fortunate as it was in the run up to a major member and guest competition, which we host every year to raise funds for the local Royal National Lifeboat Institution – RNLI*

Hunstanton 033

After mowing with the Eclipse 322 even a light roll made no difference

“We were so impressed by its performance that, with the backing of the Greens Committee, we brought funding forward and purchased it a year ahead of our planned replacement programme. We took delivery in the first week of July 2014.

“In that week leading up to the RNLI fundraising event, the machine literally sold itself to us! We had the unit with 15-blade cutting cylinders and it made such a difference to the quality of the greens in just the five days that we used it.

“Our normal stimp speed is between 9 feet and 9.5 feet, but mowing at the same height of 4.25 mm, with an FOC setting of 2.4, we were getting a consistent 10.5 feet. Even when we gave the greens a light roll it made no appreciable difference. We’ve always used Jacobsen Greens King IV ride on mowers, since they were introduced some 30 years ago, so it has taken something really special for us to change.”

Gordon irvine.00Golf course consultant Gordon Irvine was contacted by the club some four years ago because the intensive mowing to produce fast greens was causing significant issues to their major asset. A combination of his experience of links courses, a change in cultural practices and the efforts of the greenkeeping team have resulted in their recovery, which has been further enhanced by the Eclipse 322.

“Many years ago, from the early 1980s through to 2000, we regularly mowed at 2 mm,” Peter Read added. “We began raising the height of cut around 10 years ago and now, with the Eclipse at 4.25 mm, we’re more than double the height, but still reasonably quick. Consistency of cut across all 18 greens, significant fuel reductions and a swing out centre unit for easy maintenance are all great features.”

*RNLI – A UK charity of volunteers who provide lifesaving services around the coast of the UK.

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Golf in the Brandenburg forest

logo_motzen 300dpiBerliner Golf and Country Club Motzener See e. V. celebrated its 20th anniversary in June 2013, which coincided with the opening of a new 9-hole loop created out of virgin Brandenburg forest. Our Public Relations Manager, Peter Driver, visited the club earlier this year to speak to long serving head greenkeeper Bodo Bredow about the 27-hole golf complex situated just 30 minutes from the centre of Berlin.

Golf in the Brandenburg forest, just 30 minutes from central Berlin

The course was designed by Kurt Rossknecht, one of Germany’s most prolific golf course architects with more than 40 courses to his name constructed across Austria, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. His portfolio includes the three 18-hole courses at Arabella Golf on the island of Mallorca and five 18-hole, three 9-hole and two 6-hole courses at Golf Resort Bad Griesbach in Bavaria.

Construction work began in May 1991 with the 9-hole
executive course open for play in Berliner ClubhausAugust 1992. The 18-hole championship course opened three months later and the official opening took place in the newly completed clubhouse in June 1993. It has hosted four German Masters events, in 1994 and 1995, when the competition was sponsored by Mercedes and in 1996 and 1997, when Linde were the sponsors. Today the club boasts 850 members of which 60 are juniors.

Berliner Golf and Country Club is operated by the CCA group. CCA, through its global club network ‘International Associate Clubs’, has an involvement with 250 exclusive clubs worldwide. CCA properties include city business clubs, city athletic clubs, country clubs, golf and country clubs, health spas and resort clubs.

Founded in 1982 by Dieter R. Klostermann, CCA’s current Chairman and CEO, the group has sold more than 70,000 club memberships and has raised over US$800 million in membership funds and over US$600 million in real estate sale. It operates in 15 countries including England, where it owns the prestigious London Capital Club and Brocket Hall, an exclusive 36-hole private golf club and conference centre in addition to the acclaimed Auberge du Lac restaurant.

Bodo Bredow 160The head greenkeeper and his course
Bodo Bredow joined Berliner Golf and Country Club during the grow-in period in 1992 and was promoted to head greenkeeper in 1996. He leads a team of 14 including a mechanic during the golfing season, which reduces to four in the winter months.

The course sits within a 160 hectare grass and forested estate with 60 hectares of managed turf plus 30 hectares of rough ground. The greens are sown with Penncross agrostis with the tees and fairways a mix of fescue and agrostis.

Motzen_Panorama8With the opening of the new 9 holes in 2013, the facility now consists of three 9-hole sections imaginatively titled A, B and C. Loop A consists entirely of old holes on the former 18-hole course; loop B utilises four holes on the old course and five new holes with loop C using four new holes and five old holes on the back nine of the old course. The new 9 holes have been created out of 45 hectares of virgin forest, with just 17 hectares devoted to golf course.

“We seeded the new holes in 2012 and opened in June 2013,” said Bodo “but I accept that it was a little too early. We closed during the mild spring of 2014 to help the density of grass cover and that has worked for us.

Berliner wood piles 130New nine-hole loop
“When we were planning the new holes I worked very closely with Kurt Rossknecht and I had professional input into the finally accepted design. The greens have enough light due to the extensive removal and thinning of trees in areas related to the passage of the sun. This has removed any possibly agronomic issues associated with shade.

“Brandenburg is the most forested area of Germany and tree removal was a major part of the construction process. On average we removed 10,000 trees per hectare; that’s 170,000 in total. We sold the timber and this was re-invested in the construction of the golf course. We have no rough in this forest loop, the trees form the natural boundary to the fairways.”

Berliner Hole C4 134I asked Bodo what his favourite hole on the course was and his reply came instantly. “C4 is my favourite,” he said, “because it goes from the highest to lowest point in the forest; it looks narrow but is deceptively wide as you get closer. We have strategically placed bunkers, which also come into play and the green is guarded by a large pond.”

I noticed an electric fence running around the perimeter and asked if that was to keep animals off the course. “Yes,” said Bodo, “the entire perimeter is fenced off to protect from the intrusion by wild boar and deer; the boar are very resourceful and sometimes break through the fence causing extensive damage.”

Berliner lake 139Extensive water features
The original flat landscape had to be transformed back in 1992 to create the character of an inland links.  This was achieved through the construction of a large feature lake, a water course running through the facility and linking several large ponds and the sowing of wild flower meadows. In all, water is pumped 2.5 km to the far side before cascading around the course through streams and small lakes.

The links style has been compromised over the years, with various club managers having had their input and trees have been planted which have altered the character of the course. With the rough growing to 700mm in high summer, it plays entirely differently from spring to autumn. The typical northern European climate is mainly mild; but in winter frosts can go down -25°C.

DCIM100GOPROThe course has irrigation on all greens, tees and fairways with water coming from an on-site bore hole. The large feature lake mentioned earlier comes into play on three holes of loop C; on the first, which is virtually an island green, the 7th and on the final hole of this loop, hole 9. Divers recover in excess of 80,000 lost golf balls a year from the water hazards around the course

Turf maintenance fleet
Ransomes Jacobsen equipment forms the majority of the turf maintenance machinery used by Bodo and his team and has been purchased from Golf Tech, based in Munster.

Berliner Fleet 152He currently has four Jacobsen PGM 22 pedestrian greens mowers, an Eclipse 322 diesel-electric hybrid greens mower with another on order, two LF 570 light fairway mowers and one of its predecessors, the LF 3800. For the semi-rough he uses an AR 522 and a R311T for the higher rough areas. Tees and surrounds are maintained with a Tri-King and he has five utility vehicles, two Cushman Haulers, two E-Z-GO MPTs and a new Cushman Turf Truckster.

Berliner Fleet 149Bodo also has the first Jacobsen AR722 to be sold into Germany; this new contour rotary mower, which was launched into Europe in March this year, features seven 56 cm rotary cutting decks and a 3.2 metre cutting width. Bodo first saw the mower when it was previewed at Demopark last year, before testing it here and eventually purchasing the machine.

Most of the equipment was delivered in autumn 2013 and commenting on his decision to purchase the Eclipse 322, he said, “This is the latest technology for mowing greens; because it uses electric power there is no hydraulic system, so no chance of an oil spill. It’s also much quieter than a standard diesel powered hydraulic mower, which is good because we have a restriction on our mowing times at weekends due to the proximity of local housing and cannot begin maintenance before 8.00 am.

Eclipse 322-7432A-small“The other significant benefit is the ability to change the number of cuts per metre that the machine can do. Once this is programmed into the mower it cuts every green exactly the same, ensuring consistency of the putting surfaces for our members and visitors. At present we have set this to match the frequency of cut (FOC) of our Toro greens mower, but when our second Eclipse is delivered we’ll see what the optimum FOC is and set both Eclipses to the same setting.

“I’m also considering purchasing tees cutting units for both machines; I could then change the FOC to accommodate the reduced number of blades on the tees cylinders and it will give me more flexibility if I lost the use of the Tri-King for some reason. That’s another reason why I made the decision to purchase the Eclipse.”

Completing the machinery fleet is a Turfco top dresser and from Smithco a bunker rake, Tournament Ultra greens roller and a Spray Star 2000 with GPS for highly accurate fertiliser and chemical distribution. The club also operates 12 golf cars; a mix of E-Z-GO RXVs and TXTs.

Berliner 23 year old Cushman 116And finally
As I was saying farewell to Bodo and his team, I noticed what looked like a very ancient Cushman Turf Truckster in the maintenance facility. Quickly extracting my camera from its bag, I took a couple of photos. It was built in 1991, making it 23 years old and had over 10,000 hours on the clock.

“Excellent multi-purpose machine,” said Bodo, “Great turning circle with only one wheel at front and it’s still running!”

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Bent on Success

Superintendent brings ten years of Muirfield Village experience to private course in Ohio

Pinnacle Golf Club At-A-Glance

Year Opened: 2005
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Superintendent: Mike Takach
Turf: L-93 bentgrass on greens, tees and fairways; bluegrass and ryegrass in the rough
Equipment: Jacobsen ECLIPSE 122F walking greens mowers (6); Jacobsen PGM walking greens mowers (10); Jacobsen Greens King IV riding greens mowers (2); Jacobsen SLF-1880 fairway mowers (3); Jacobsen R311T large-area rotary mower (1); Jacobsen TurfCat outfront rotary mower (1); Jacobsen Tri-King trim mower (1); Cushman SprayTek DS-300 sprayer (2); Cushman Turf-Truckster (2)
Superintendent Mike Takach of Pinnacle Golf Club in Columbus, Ohio

Superintendent Mike Takach of Pinnacle Golf Club in Columbus, Ohio

During his ten years at Mr. Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club – including five as superintendent – Mike Takach learned a thing or two about bentgrass.

“The biggest thing I learned about bentgrass at Muirfield is just how far you can push it,” said Mike. “The challenge is always trying to keep a balance between playability, aesthetics and the health of the turf.”

Mike has been superintendent at the Pinnacle Golf Club located near Columbus, Ohio since it opened in 2005. The course is almost wall-to-wall bent, with L-93 covering everything but the rough. The Ohio climate serves the grass well, except for July and August, where the heat and humidity is especially stressful to the turf.

“We’ll hand water fairways, tees and greens during those summer months, but the rest of the year the bent thrives,” said Mike.

Mike and his team get a consistent 10.5' roll with a height-of-cut of .125" combined with light rolling, frequent verticutting and an occasional triplex mow.

Mike and his team get a consistent 10.5′ roll with a height-of-cut of .125″ combined with light rolling, frequent verticutting and an occasional triplex mow.

“We try to keep our greens at about 10.5’, which seems to work well with our green countours. We can get there pretty easily with a height-of-cut around .125”. We’ll mix in some light rolling, frequent verticutting and an occasional triplex mow.”

The biggest challenge for Mike and his team actually has very little to do with grass.

“We have a creek that runs through this course and has contact with 14 holes,” said Mike. “Every time it rains there is some type of erosion where the creek is trying to do something different. We have a lot of rock walls holding up greens and tees.”

Pinnacle Golf Club sits on a picturesque piece of property that has become just as popular for weddings as it is for golf. One of the top ten places to get married in the Columbus area, Pinnacle will hold an average of three weddings per week for eight months out of the year. Couples exchange vows under an iron archway that once greeted guests at the Brach (the candy manufacturer) family mansion.

An iron archway from the original Brach family (candy manufacturer) mansion serves as the centerpiece for wedding ceremonies at Pinnacle Golf Club.

An iron archway from the original Brach family (candy manufacturer) mansion serves as the centerpiece for wedding ceremonies at Pinnacle Golf Club.Pinnacle will hold an average of three weddings per week for eight months out of the year. Couples exhange vows under an iron archway that once greeted guests at the Brach (the candy manufacturer) family mansion.

The Pinnacle staff also boasts a great marriage of internal teams.

“We have a lot of fun here on the turf team. We keep things positive and collaborate really well,” said Mike. “But that’s also true of our relationship with ownership as well. There’s a level of mutual respect that we’ve built over the years.”

Pinnacle’s success has a lot to do with the shape of its nearly flawless golf course, which is maintained with a fleet of Jacobsen turf equipment. Mike was sure to do his due dilligence before going all orange.

Mike and his team did side-by-side comparisons of fairway mowers from all three manufacturers before choosing Jacobsen's SLF-1880s. "It was just so easy to tell how superior the cut was," said Mike.

Mike and his team did side-by-side comparisons of fairway mowers from all three manufacturers before choosing Jacobsen’s SLF-1880s. “It was just so easy to tell how superior the cut was,” said Mike.

“We brought in fairway mowers from all three manufacturers, took them out with my assistants and mechanic and we walked behind all three as they mowed,” said Mike. “Every one of us pointed to the path left by the Jacobsen SLF-1880, it was just so easy to tell how superior the cut was. We’re getting the same results on the greens from our ECLIPSE walkers as well.”

Of course, service is just as important to Mike as equipment performance.

“Our local Jacobsen dealer Baker Vehicle has really provided us with great service,” said Mike. “We have a good, easy working relationship with them and there’s nothing one phone call hasn’t been able to fix. That means a lot to us.”

“The biggest thing I learned about bentgrass at Muirfield is just how far you can push it. The challenge is always trying to keep a balance between playability, aesthetics and the health of the turf.” ~Superintendent Mike Takach of Pinnacle Golf Club in Columbus, Ohio

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Serving Up a Unique Tennis Experience

Architect overcomes odds to build natural grass tennis complex outside of Detroit

Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club Owner & Founder Bill Massie with his convertible Mercedes that serves as the marquee for his new tennis complex in Pontiac, Michigan.

Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club Owner & Founder Bill Massie with his convertible Mercedes that serves as the marquee for his new tennis complex in Pontiac, Michigan.

What started as an afternoon musing during a tennis tournament turned into an obsession for Bill Massie.

“In 2008, while watching my thirteen-year-old son play in a tennis tournament at the beautiful Longwood Cricket Club outside of Boston, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to go back and build something like this in Pontiac,” recalls Massie, an architect by trade.

The first thing Massie did upon his return was build a perennial rye test court. Other than mowing fairways on a golf course for one summer during his youth, Massie had no experience or training in growing grass.

“I leaned heavily on Joe Vargas, Professor of Turfgrass Science at Michigan State University,” said Massie. “We threw the traditional golf-centric, sand-based agronomics out the window because this is literally a whole different ball game. A sand-based grass surface would never hold up to the rigors of tennis.”

After mastering his ryegrass skills, Massie decided to take it to the next level. He purchased an abandoned recreation center and 50 acres of surrounding property in Pontiac, Michigan, just outside of Detroit.

One of Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club's 24 natural grass courts with the clubhouse in the background. The original building was constructed in 1919 and served as the Pontiac waterworks.

One of Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club’s 24 natural grass courts with the clubhouse in the background. The original building was constructed in 1919 and served as the Pontiac waterworks.

“It was an ideal site for what I wanted to do. There was an existing pool and clubhouse that we renovated extensively,” said Massie.

With his architecture background and experience, Massie was able to prepare the site for tennis courts himself, doing much of the laser leveling and drainage work.

“I built a 14 foot by 80 foot trench that’s about ten feet deep and filled it with crushed concrete from the old building foundations. When it rains, the water runs off these courts almost immediately,” said Massie. “I put a slight grade on the whole thing but it’s a perfect plane so you would never notice. From one side of the property to the other, the turf actually drops a total of 18 inches.”

Design details at Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club, like a bar inlaid with vintage tennis ball cans, make the facility truly unique.

Design details at Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club, like a bar inlaid with vintage tennis ball cans, make the facility truly unique.

The attention-to-detail can be seen all over the property. From the etched metal water fountain to the vintage tennis ball cans inlaid into the clubhouse bar, every inch of Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club has been meticulously and thoughtfully planned.

But as Massie will tell you, not all the Wessen plans went smoothly.

“It was the second week of September last year and we were sitting on $6,000 worth of grass seed,” says Massie. “Conditions were ideal and there was just a small rain shower in the forecast for that evening. We put all the seed down and almost on cue, it rained. And it never stopped. It rained an inch and a quarter in one hour and washed every last bit of seed into the river.”

Heartbroken but not defeated, Massie knew the window was closing on the chances for a 2014 opening. He had new seed shipped from Oregon in just three days and had full turf growing by October.

“We dodged one bullet but got hit with another as the worst winter in decades followed,” said Massie. “I thought we’d be able to do more to prepare for the cold but it came so quickly we couldn’t do much of anything. We had record snowfall and record cold but as you can see, the ryegrass survived quite nicely.”

“People tried to convince me to try other grass varieties but I knew ryegrass was the right choice, especially with the wear patterns and toughness,” said Massie. “You could use bentgrass, but it would get very stressed from the wear. Also, ryegrass has no thatch, so you really get a good ball bounce. And it’s no secret that these courts are really modeled after Wimbledon, which is also ryegrass.”

Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club uses a Jacobsen SLF-1880 large-area reel mower to maintain its 24 natural grass courts. Founder and owner Bill Massie calls his Jacobsen equipment "a dream."

Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club uses a Jacobsen SLF-1880 large-area reel mower to maintain its 24 natural grass courts. Founder and owner Bill Massie calls his Jacobsen equipment “a dream.”

To maintain the ryegrass on the 24 courts, Massie and his crew use a Jacobsen SLF-1880 large-area reel mower. They keep the grass at a height-of-cut of .375”, which would be considered fairway tournament height for a golf course.

“I took two years to choose the equipment for this facility and all that research pointed towards Jacobsen,” said Massie. “The quality-of-cut we get from our SLF-1880 is unreal. With that mower, we can cut all the courts in about two and a half hours. The equipment has just been a dream.”

Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club also uses a Cushman Turf-Truckster utility vehicle.

“I love to get out there and mow, but there’s a lot of pressure to finish the clubhouse and the pool, so I’ve been very busy with that,” says Massie. “But I do look forward to getting back to working on the turf side of things, that’s fun for me.”

Just like Wimbledon - Wessen's inspiration - players must wear all white.

Just like Wimbledon – Wessen’s inspiration – players must wear all white.

Massie already has 105 members with a goal of 150 founding members by the end of summer. Like Wimbledon, players must wear all white on the courts.

Massie’s plans for the future include bringing an ATP-level tournament to Wessen and have junior and pro players train for grass tournaments like Wimbledon.

“When people come out here and play, it’s something completely new for them,” said Massie. “And that was the vision all along of Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club: to give people a truly unique tennis experience on natural grass.”

“When people come out here and play, it’s something completely new for them. And that was the vision all along of Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club: to give people a truly unique tennis experience on natural grass.” ~Bill Massie, Owner of Wessen Lawn & Tennis Club

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Greenkeeping: Out of Africa

Silver Lakes 007Situated in the east of Pretoria in South Africa’s Gauteng province, The Silver Lakes Golf Estate features a stunning 18-hole Peter Matkowich-designed golf course.

Unique to the continent of Africa, the golf club has Silver Lakes 035introduced an educational programme for prospective young golf professionals, providing them with an opportunity to gain an internationally recognized greenkeeping qualification.

Our Public Relations Manager, Peter Driver, visited South Africa recently to see the programme in action.

Unique golf course management training in Africa

Silver Lakes 010A stunning facility for learning
The Silver Lakes course opened for play in 1993 and is the centrepiece of a secure residential community of some 1,700 properties. The championship course was designed by Peter Matkowich, the renowned Zimbabwean-born course architect and former professional golfer, and measures 6,700 metres from the back tees.

Silver Lakes 025Built on a former floodplain it features ponds, dams and streams created to manage the water around which the holes were created. A feature of the design is the double-greened island on the back nine and also an island fairway, the first I’ve seen in my career as a golf writer.

The inspiration behind the venture
This stunning facility is home to a unique academy, the brainchild of Derek Le Roux and Andrew McKenna. Derek Le Roux is an influential member at the club, who is the former chairman of the Silver Lakes Homeowners’ Association and CEO of Infussion Financial Services. He is also chairman of the Kungwini West Alliance (KWA), a collective representing the interests of 20 residential estates in the east of Pretoria. He has a law degree and has carved a successful career in the Financial Services industry since 1995.

Silver Lakes 074Andrew McKenna is a proud Scotsman who was born in Johannesburg and grew up at Powfoot Golf Club in Scotland. After joining the PGA in 1992, he played the Tartan Tour circuit for 10 years, gaining his European Tour card in 1997. He played on the Sunshine Tour from 1998 until 2002, his first contact with the land of his birth since his family’s move back to Scotland.

His coaching career began in London in 2002, where he worked with John Jacobs and Jim Farmer before moving to South Africa as Director of Golf at the Euphoria Golf Estate situated in the Waterberg mountain range in the Limpopo Province. He established the Silver Lakes Golf Academy in 2010 and became Director of Golf in 2011.

The concept – a first for Africa
Over dinner I had the opportunity to find out about the motivation behind the educational scheme and how it evolved.

“It is very much a passion at Silver Lakes to grow the game of golf and open the doors of our facility to the African continent and provide a platform from which golf development, in all its forms, can be taken forward through an educational programme,” Le Roux said.

“A number of Golf Academies exist in South Africa and their sole focus is the development and training of potential professional golfers and PGA professionals. However, in reality, not all of the young people aspiring to become professionals are going to make it; that’s the hard truth. So what do they do, if they don’t make it?

Silver Lakes 040“That’s where Andrew’s vision came into play. Instead of losing these youngsters from the wider golf industry, why don’t we offer them some formal training in the art of greenkeeping, providing them with a long-term career if they don’t make it as a Golf Pro? That’s the difference in what we are trying to achieve here; that’s where we differ from other golf academies.

“If we are to progress the game of golf across the whole continent of Africa, then we have to have courses managed by trained people from the various African nations. To sustain a proper golf course, trained staff are needed to manage, nurture and maintain it. This is essential for the development of golf in Africa.”

BIGGASupport and recognition
Andrew McKenna continued the conversation and explained how it came to fruition, “In 2010 I wrote to BIGGA, the R&A and Elmwood College, now SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College), outlining what I had in mind; all were very receptive and Ian Butcher, who R&A logohas since left Elmwood to work in Germany, was particularly enthused. My proposal dovetailed with Elmwood’s ambitions in Africa, so we put an educational plan together, which we named the Elmwood St Andrews sruc-logoInternational Greenkeeping Qualification. Ian came to South Africa, visiting the great and the good in the golf industry and lobbying to get the programme off the ground. We realised we needed the endorsement of various influential bodies or else it was going nowhere.

SAGA-logo-large“Through a lot of hard work we eventually obtained support from the Golf Course Managers and Greenkeepers Association of Southern Africa (GCMGASA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA) and the West African Golf Association (WAGA).

“Meanwhile, I was having conversations with Carol Borthwick, the Director of International, Golf and Student Services at Elmwood College about integrating the R&A sustainability programme into the teaching module. We succeeded in our quest and we now had an educational programme that was endorsed by national and international bodies, so all we had to do was implement it!”

Derek Daly, Director of Education

Derek Daly, Director of Education

Quality teaching
Ian Butcher then introduced Derek Daly to the project. Derek previously worked at Kingsbarns Golf Links, which is part of the heritage of links golf in St Andrews and co-hosts the European Tour’s prestigious Alfred Dunhill Links Championship with the Old Course, St Andrews and Carnoustie Golf Links. He joined the programme as Director of Education in December 2011 and it is his responsibility to deliver the education to the students. The first students arrived January 2012 and the first course was underway.

Silver Lakes 046“I was obviously delighted when appointed as it gave me the chance to impart my knowledge to help improve greenkeeping skills across the continent. It’s a fantastic opportunity for the students here; a real first in the industry with the top students guaranteed of a job after graduation.

The course here is maintained by Servest Turf, part of a multi-national facilities management group and they have pledged to employ students at the end of their two-year study programme.”

Silver Lakes 019After a convivial dinner followed by a visit to Derek Le Roux’s amazing home on the estate, the next morning began with a tour of the course during which we came across some indigenous animals on an adjacent reserve.

How the programme works
Back at the clubhouse I had a another meeting with Andrew McKenna and Derek Daly and had the chance to gain a further understanding of the main elements of the programme and the opportunity to meet the students.

Derek explained that the St Andrews International Greenkeeping Qualification runs alongside Silver Lake’s Tour Player Development programme, a two-year study period involving playing skills development and greenkeeping theory and practice.

Silver Lakes 069In the first year of the greenkeeping module students concentrate on turf maintenance skills including setting mower cutting heights, cylinder to bottom blade adjustment, mowing, routine maintenance, course presentation and health and safety.

Year two looks at turf quality evaluation, pest and disease identification, calibration of spraying equipment, golf course hazards, turf nutrition and course design and construction methods.

Students successfully completing Year 1 are awarded an internationally recognised certificate in Golf Course Maintenance and those that graduate from Year 2 receive a Professional Qualification of Golf Course Management, accredited by Elmwood College in the UK.

Students from the initial cohort who graduated in 2013

Students from the initial cohort who graduated in 2013

Andrew then provided an overview of the Tour Player Development programme, which is designed to run concurrently with the greenkeeping module and provides an holistic approach to player development.

It features 200, 90-minute group coaching sessions a year, 120 Pilates sessions, monthly mental conditioning group work, nutritional assessments, course strategy, Academy clothing plus membership at Silver Lakes with unlimited rounds of golf and practice balls on the driving range, swing motion analysis, annual affiliation fee to Northern Gauteng Golf Union and other benefits.

Amman Shah (small)The students
Sitting on the paved patio outside the clubhouse, sipping a fresh orange juice in the glorious sunshine, I then had the chance to speak to some of the students. Amman Shah is a 21-year old student from Nairobi in Kenya. I asked how he came to be on the programme.

“I had a friend who was a second year student and he told me how valuable the course had been for him,” he said. “I applied and was accepted and arrived at Silver Lakes in November 2012, two months prior to the start of the 2013 programme. I really did not appreciate the number of machines it takes to maintain a golf course; there seems to be a different machine for every part of the course! I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here and I would recommend it to anyone.”

Richard-Dean Geyer, 24, is a second year student from nearby Pretoria.
“In the first year we concentrated on basic greenkeeping skills, but now in year two it’s much more intensive. I’m particularly interested in the turf nutrition side and I really enjoy getting out on the equipment and mowing. Sure, the initial attraction with this programme is the golf; improving our game and techniques. But, to be honest, not everyone is going to make it on to the Pro circuit, so the greenkeeping side would make a great alternative and I can see this as a really good career option. This is new to Africa and we’re lucky to be among the first to benefit from it.

Silver Lakes 009Funding and costs
After thanking the students for their time and apologising for delaying their early morning fitness training, I again spoke to Andrew McKenna and asked him how this programme was being funded.

“The complete package costs the students SAR 65,000 (£4,100) per annum, so it’s outside the range of some of the students from the poorer countries in Africa. Some are here after securing funding and sponsorship from their clubs, local education departments or other benefactors. We are desperate to ensure that this programme is open to all and definitely not elitist, so we looked for a headline sponsor.

2013 RJ master logo

More support
“I made some enquiries across my industry contacts and several times the same company kept being mentioned. I knew Ransomes Jacobsen, the UK turf equipment manufacturer, is very committed to education right across the industry, so we contacted their International Business Development Manager, Scott Forrest, and outlined what we were planning to do.

“He was suitably impressed and approached his management team to gauge their interest. We were obviously delighted when Scott called us and asked us to prepare and present a detailed proposal and even more delighted a couple of weeks later when Ransomes Jacobsen agreed to come onboard. We now had all elements we required to get the programme underway and we proceeded immediately.”

Scott Forrest was my host and he explained why his company agreed to be part of the education initiative.

UK Future Turf Managers' training initiative

UK Future Turf Managers’ training initiative

“I think it’s fair to say that we are known across the industry for our commitment to education, not just in the UK, but right across the globe. For example, in both the USA and UK we run the Jacobsen Future Turf Managers initiative, where top college students and young aspiring superintendents are invited to Charlotte and Ipswich for educational events.

“In Australia, the UK and USA we have sponsorship agreements with turf colleges and universities and in Asia we recently sponsored Dr Thom Nikolai, the eminent American turfgrass agronomist, on speaking tour to help with education in the Far East.

“So getting involved with the Silver Lakes education initiative, which encompasses the whole of Africa, was an extension of what we are doing in other parts of the world. It’s part of our business philosophy to support ventures such as this and we are delighted to be part of it.”

Three-pronged strategy
Ransomes Jacobsen’s commitment to this project is to provide the necessary funding to allow less affluent students to take part in the programme and the final words from Andrew McKenna sum up the importance of this to the success of the St Andrews International Greenkeeping initiative.

“Our goal at the outset was to grow the game in Africa with a three point strategy. First we wanted to educate African golfers to produce and manage golf courses on  the continent with the St Andrews International Greenkeeping Qualification and the R&A sustainability agenda as a premium focus.

Silver Lakes 064“Next, we wanted to establish Silver Lakes Golf Academy as the hub for golf course management training and education in Africa and with the assistance of a financial institution to aid in the distribution of funds for golf development in Africa as a whole.

“And finally, we wanted to secure funding to offer scholarships to Africa’s national golf unions (West, Central, East and Southern Africa) to provide their members with the opportunity to send their young players to the programme through the national unions and golf clubs. With the support from Ransomes Jacobsen, we’ve succeeded on all three counts!”

Latest update:
Since my visit the R&A have added their support and are offering scholarships at Silver Lakes. This can only help further the educational opportunities for aspiring greenkeepers across the continent of Africa.

Silver Lakes 080Also after graduating, Richard-Dean Geyer was given a four-month trial with Servest Turf, which he passed with distinction and is now assistance head greenkeeper at Silver Lakes.

Former student Christoph Penzhorn has just completed his second year of employment at Sun City, one of South Africa’s premier golfing destinations, where he is honing his skills on the Lost City and the Gary Player golf courses.

Alfred Dunhill logoFinally, Amman Shah from Nairobi will be part of the greenkeeping team in October at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns in Scotland.

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