I don't follow any set program

TurfPro editor, Laurence Gale writes  . . .

I recently got a call from a practicing greenkeeper Damian Wormald who was keen to let me know where he was now working. I first met Damian in 2014 when he was head Greenkeeper at Wakefield GC.

Damian is one of the old school greenkeepers who believes strongly in sustainable work practices and not using chemicals. He is a hands-on greenkeeper who likes to work with nature and embrace biological methods of managing weeds, pest and diseases.

He was keen to tell me about his recent appointment as head greenkeeper on a small, 9-hole golf course in East Bierley, Yorkshire.  

East Bierley Golf Club opened its doors in 1909 and has been based at its current site since 1923 but it is really in the last 20 years that major changes and improvements have taken place. It started with the purchase of the course, the building of a clubhouse and machinery shed and the appointment of a PGA professional.

The 9-hole course measuring 5,189 yards and with a par of 68 offers a true and fair test of golfing ability, testing length, judgement and accuracy over the part parkland and part moorland course.

Damian was keen to write something about his role at the club for TurfPro, so below is an account of the work he and his assistant have been doing at East Bierley GC:

 east bierley sign sml

It's been nearly three years since my appointment as head greenkeeper at East Bierley Golf Club, a hidden gem of a 9-hole parkland course with hints of heathland scattered around.

craig damian sml

L-R: Craig and Damian 

I have now been in the turf industry for 38 years (35 as a greenkeeper), starting my apprenticeship at Wakefield Golf Club, studying at Asham Bryan under the guidance of Nick Bisset. After gaining my City & Guilds in Greenkeeping and Sportsturf Management I made the decision to leave Yorkshire and gained a position at Isle of Purbeck G.C under the excellent Chris Harvey C.M.

I have worked at various courses around the U.K in various positions before returning to West Yorkshire to settle down and start a family.

At East Bierley we are currently three years into a five-year Course Development Programme and I must say I am extremely happy the way things are heading. The only slowdown in progress was this autumn/winter of 2023 due to the record rainfall and failing ground conditions; the projects slowed down, but didn't stop.

The first and ultimately most important task was to get the greens firm, free draining and playable all year round, this meant scrapping the use of winter greens.

My personal philosophy of greenkeeping has never changed. I don't follow any set program. I'm constantly looking at the greens, only feeding and watering when necessary, using lots of compost tea and a wide range of biostimulants (seaweed, fish hydrolysate). The main summer fertiliser is an 8.0.0 SSD blood, hoof and horn. This complements the tea and bios, increasing soil microbes which in turn feed on the organic matter (thatch).

golf green flag sml

The aims, above all, are to promote perennial grasses, reduce the use of fungicides and fight the never-ending invader . . . meadow grass (poa). 

Turf greens management consists of solid tining, verticutting, brushing and topdressing, I use a 70/30 dressing, the use of plant growth regulators on the greens is personally not for me. I prefer to manage poa seed culturally. The greens are over-sown twice a year using Johnsons j green 80/20 fescue/bent. The hope is to use 100% bent in time.

Height of cut on the greens is not below 4mm. Sustaining bent and fescue survival is a priority. The tees are a fescue/smooth stalk mix ryegrass free.

With the course being built on very heavy clay ground the fairways are a constant battle. Course grasses and soft ground conditions continue to hinder progress. The use of a Shockwave-type machine and a good scarify and collection of dead material would work wonders - something I am currently looking into.

bunkr work sml

With just myself and assistant Craig as the only full time members of staff, it really is nonstop, juggling the day to day cutting regimes of greens, tees and fairways down to the detail jobs of edging bunkers and strimming work. But I must say, we do have a hardcore of volunteers from the membership, always willing to get stuck in. If this wasn't the case, jobs such as devoting tees and fairways, collection of leaves, renovation of tee markers and marker posts would be left undone.

Since arriving back in June 2021, the course projects have just kept going. Moving the course forward was the committee's aim. The building of a new 16th tee; pruning and removal of trees; the reshaping and filling in of bunkers; new primary drainage on the worst areas of the course; with the support of the committee and members, the work we do at East Bierley is very rewarding. We have come a long way in a short time. The sense of achievement is immense with all the work done ‘in house’, using greenkeeping skills that were learnt over the years. I really think there's no substitute for experience.

Trying to be as sustainable as possible is one of my personal goals. Water, chemical and fertiliser are managed quite firmly. The introduction of all new Rainbird irrigation sprinklers will help the management of water on the greens. These have replaced a mismatch of old inefficient sprinklers which were well past their best. Another sound investment for the future.

bee hives sml

The club are proud members of the Operation Pollinator scheme and have recently signed up and are working through the GEO Foundation for Sustainable Golf.

The introduction of bee hives on the course this spring was always one of my aims and, with partnership from Outback Beez, this has come to fruition. Hopefully, fingers crossed, the club should be able to produce its own honey, soap and other produce.

Hybrid and fully electric groundscare machinery is another upgrade I would embrace. Having used the excellent, game changing, Jacobsen Eclipse hybrid triple mower for a number of years previously, this would be top of my wish list - quickly followed by the battery pedestrian model.

The main project for autumn/winter 2024 is the installation of secondary drainage. This will be achieved by gravel banding - the introduction of 10mm drainage aggregate over the already installed primary drainage, helping to move water off the course making ground conditions firmer for winter play.

It's amazing what you can achieve with limited resources, the work goes on, improvements keep happening, my personal motivation to produce a golf course will always be there.

Let's just hope for a slightly drier winter next year!


LG adds . . .

 Damian was keen to also mention the help he gets from the club’s greens chairman, Guy Rumbold, and several member volunteers - they are a great help. He also would like to mention the help and support he gets from both Paul Lowe from Aquatrols who have sponsored one of their main club events and also supply some wetting agents, and Stuart Yarwood from DLF seeds supplier. 

Both Paul and Stuart are ex greenkeepers themselves, and share the same passion of delivering sustainable greenkeeping practices. Both have played an important role in supporting Damain.

 As an ex-greenkeeper myself, I can only be impressed on the work Damain and Criag have achieved in such a short time to improve the playing quality of this testing nine-hole golf course in the heart of Yorkshire. 

I will now be arranging a visit sometime soon to catch up with Damian and Craig and see for myself what they have achieved with limited resources.

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