Back in November last year Peter Driver, our Public Relations Manager, went on a whistle-stop tour of Ireland and circumnavigated the country in less than five days, stopping off at some the most prestigious links golf courses along the way. The following is the first in a two-part account of his visit, where he found the Jacobsen brand alive and well across the ‘Emerald Isle.’
I left home at 5.45 am on a cold, late November morning and arrived at London’s Stansted airport in good time for my 7.55 am flight to Belfast. My colleague, Andy Campbell, Jacobsen’s Regional Sales Manager for Scotland and Ireland, picked me up at Belfast’s International Airport and we drove straight to The Royal County Down Golf Club, ranked the No. 1 golf course in Ireland in 2015 by Golf Digest Ireland magazine.
Located in the Murlough Nature Reserve, the 36 holes of classic links stretches along the shores of Dundrum Bay, with the magnificent Mountains of Mourne offering a stunning backdrop to a round of golf.
Links Manager Eamonn Crawford is the man with the huge responsibility for maintaining the courses and upholding the standards that have ensured it remains one of the most prestigious venues in world golf. He has a permanent staff of 11, supplemented by eight temporary greenkeepers in summer and three dedicated divoters.
This year the number of staff will increase significantly when numerous volunteers arrive in May when the Club hosts the Irish Open. The world class, star-studded field for this year’s event includes tournament host and World number one Rory McIlroy, his compatriots Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, defending champion Mikko Ilonen, former World number one Lee Westwood, four-time Major-winner Ernie Els and Ryder Cup talisman, Sergio Garcia.
Back in 2013, Eamonn purchased a Jacobsen Eclipse 322 and this was the first time I’d met up with him since the machine was installed.
“It’s a great machine,” he said, “The quality of cut is second to none. Now in its second season it has made a significant difference to the greens on our no. 2 course, the Annesley Links.
“One of the main reasons I purchased the Eclipse was for its adjustable clip rate; I wanted to have the facility to change the clip rate throughout the seasons, to suit the growing conditions at any given time. It’s the only ride-on greens mower that allows me to do this and it has been superb.”
Stephen Brady, a member of the greenkeeping team added,
“The improvement in fuel economy is unbelievable; the smaller diesel engine uses much less fuel. In a working week, we hardly ever need to fill it up!
Eamonn also purchased Jacobsen’s latest lightweight fairway mower, the Jacobsen LF550, and has been equally delighted with its performance. So much so, that he has ordered a further three machines, initially to help with the preparations for the Irish Open and for the long-term benefit of both courses.
Good-byes said and it was back into Andy’s truck for the two-hour journey south to The Royal Dublin Golf Club, situated on the shores of Bull island, where we met Paddy Teeling, the Links Superintendent.
Paddy has worked at Royal Dublin for 24 years and is responsible for a team of seven full-time staff and one part-timer. In 2013 he purchased his first Jacobsen GP400 and was so impressed that he purchased a second for the 2014 season.
“As with all purchasing decisions, quality of cut is a huge factor. We arranged for demonstrations by all three major manufacturers and the GP400 ticked all the boxes immediately,” he said. “However, we have many severe undulations on our greens surrounds and approaches and I wanted proof that it could cope with these, as well as ensuring that the cutting units followed the humps and hillocks. Our local dealer Broderick’s brought along the three-wheel drive version with 11-blade reels and, even though it has slick tyres, it coped admirably.
“The final factor was serviceability; the integrated fuel and hydraulic tank lift up to give excellent access to the engine compartment and the swing-out centre unit is a great innovation, giving really good access for servicing and routine maintenance.”
I’ve never been able to persuade Paddy to be in a photograph and this time was no exception, so his first assistant Gerrard Rowlands and mechanic Donal Mulvey stepped up to the plate and volunteered to be in the picture.
With the light fading we said our farewells and headed off to our hotel for a quiet night before an early start the following morning, where we were scheduled to attend the Golf Course Superintendents’ Association of Ireland Annual National Education Day at Croke Park.
The National Stadium of the GAA is a wonderful venue and the 230 registered delegates were treated to a couple of excellent presentations. The first by Steve Chappell, Head Greenkeeper at the PGA Centenary course who provided a fascinating insight into his preparations for, and aftermath of, The Ryder Cup. The second presentation was on the subject of Managing a Premier League Ground and Dougie Robertson, Head Groundsman at West Ham United provided an entertaining look behind the scenes.
Halfway through Dougie’s presentation I took a call to say that Gary Johnstone, the Links Manager at Portmarnock Golf Club, about 10 miles northeast of the city centre, was available to talk to me. Twenty minutes later I was on the course chatting to him about his Eclipse mowers; he has two hybrid ride on Eclipse 322s and five Eclipse2 walking greens mowers.
“I purchased two Jacobsen Eclipse 322 diesel-electric hybrid greens mowers back in 2010 and they haven’t missed a beat,” he said. “Both have completed over 800 hours of work and their fuel economy is superb, using just 1.5 litres of diesel for every 18 holes. I also have five Jacobsen Eclipse2 walkers, which we use between March and September; the technology’s the same, the quality of cut is outstanding, they give us more flexibility and I would recommend them to anyone.”
Gary has a mix of greens, some old and some recently refurbished with each type maintained differently. This is only possible due to the technology inherent in the Eclipse mowers.
“Without doubt, these Eclipse machines are more versatile than any other mower on the market today and they are the only machines that allow me to manage each green in an individual way,” he added.
Thanking him for his time, I headed back to Croke Park to catch the end of the Education Day, and then jumping in a taxi with Andy Campbell to return to the hotel, collect his truck and begin the 305 kilometre, four hour journey southwest to Killarney.
We arrived at our hotel at 8.45 pm, had a quick shower, a change of clothes and then went out for a meal in a local bar, which featured an excellent local band. The end of a long, but rewarding day.
An early start Wednesday morning saw us on the road at 7.15 am heading south to Waterville on the Ring of Kerry. We had an appointment to see an old friend Mike Murphy, the respected superintendent at Waterville Links.
We arrived at 8.30 am and were greeted by Mike outside the impressive clubhouse. A short drive and we were in his modern and well equipped maintenance facility, discreetly hidden in the middle of the course by mountainous sand dunes. Like Gary Johnstone at Portmarnock, Mike has had his Eclipse 322 for four years.
“Where do you start when talking about this mower? I suppose the main reason for purchasing the Eclipse is its lack of hydraulics, so zero chance of an hydraulic oil spill on the greens. We’re also seeing massive fuel savings; I’m using two and a half to three litres of diesel to cut 18 greens, instead of 12 to 13 litres of petrol with our previous Toro triple.
“We specified our machine with solid front rollers and Jacobsen’s new 15-blade reels and they are providing a superb finish on our bent and fescue-dominant greens. As far as I’m concerned the more blades the better when cutting fescues! I can dial in the mowing speed, transport speed and, best of all, the frequency of cut – the number of cuts per metre I want on all greens.
“Once set, these variables are locked in, so every green is cut to exactly the same specification; you just can’t do this with any other ride-on greens triple. In the summer I change to grooved rollers and we are consistently stimping 10 feet at 5mm height of cut.
“Originally, as we moved into autumn I raised it to 6mm, but now I just change the rollers. I also specified the brushes that sit between the front roller and the reel. This is excellent in my fescue bent mix as it stands the grass up for an even better cut!”
With a 230 kilometre drive ahead of us we said goodbye to Mike and headed back to Killarney heading for the Atlantic coast of County Clare. We’d had an interesting start to our around Ireland adventure, meeting satisfied customers using a selection of Jacobsen mowers that seem to be particularly suited to links courses.
Our journey continues up the west coast to Co. Donegal and then back into Northern Ireland, where we’ll meet some more end-users who are convinced that Jacobsen equipment works for them in their environments.
To be continued next month ……