The History and Story of Wooley Park, during Covid-19 and the start of a greenkeeping dynasty
Hi my name is John Rowbottom. I am the Head Greenkeep and one of the owners at Woolley Park golf club in West Yorkshire, as well as being a fourth generation farmer. Our family business started farming in Woolley back in the 1920s with my great grandfather, there are currently 5 family members managing the business. My mother Jane, father Philip, wife Emily and sister Emma.
In the early 90s farming was in decline and our family took the decision to diversify in to golf. It was a sport that none of the family played and had very little knowledge of, despite this my Grandfather and Father thought it would be a good way to grow the business. We still farm 300 acres of arable land, growing predominantly oilseed rape and milling wheat. We are also a commercial grain store, storing up to 9000t of dry grain.
The last crop of wheat was harvested in 1992 from the 150 acre plot that was designated for the golf course and work then began on transforming the landscape. The course was designed by architect Michael Shattock and constructed under his watchful eye. The area in which the golf course is situated was once the deer park for Woolley Hall, a stately home that was part of the Wentworth family.
Construction of the Course
This meant the landscape lent itself naturally to a golf course with established trees and undulations. We hadn’t realized during the construction how lucky we were to be building a golf course on sandstone, it has always been a negative for the farm as we never grow bumper yields on such nutrient deficient and dry land. However it is perfect for a golf course and we are known to be one of the driest courses in our area and have weathered some tough winters very well.
In 1995 construction was complete and the golf course was opened. My grandfather, father and mother were the original greenkeeping team and managed the golf course and farm all at the same time, I was 7 years old.
Expansion into Hiring Greenkeepers
As years went by the greenkeeping team was expanded to 5 full time men working on 18 holes, which in 2008 became 27 holes with the addition of a Par 3 course designed again by Michael Shattock but this time built by ourselves. We have always operated in a slightly different way to most golf courses in that greenkeepers work a standard 8am-5pm day. We expect our team to interact and work amongst golfers so that they can gain an understanding of what we are trying to achieve.
In 2009 I left university with a degree in history but a passion for working outside on the golf course, I have no formal qualifications in greenkeeping but instead have learnt on the job and from the team around me. We have always had a drive to constantly improve the golf course and our methods. One of our principles as a family has always been that investment would be made in the course and machinery before any other aspect of the facility.
We have always rotated our fleet of machinery and kept it as new as possible to maximize efficiency with a small team of men. We run predominantly Toro equipment including:
1x 4700 Semi Rough Mower
2x 6700 Fairway Mowers
3x 3100 Surrounds and Tees Mowers
2x 3250 Fringes and Multipurpose machines
1x 3420 Greens Mower
We have various aeration and overseeding machines including:
1x Procore 648
1x Charterhouse Verti-Drain
2x Vredo Double disc seeders, one for greens and one for fairways
All of which we hire out to golf courses, cricket clubs, football and rugby pitches in our area.
The course has matured over the years and the greenkeeping team, with the help of this machinery has set a higher bar year on year for the standards we produce. Running in to 2020 the golf course was looking well and had withstood all the wet weather during the winter. Myself and the team believed we were in a strong position heading into the season.
On 23rd March 2020 the UK was put in to lockdown. The day after this greenkeeping at Woolley Park Golf Club completely changed. In line with government rulings we shut the golf courses and unfortunately had to furlough all the staff. My family and I put our heads together and decided that the only way we could keep up with maintenance was if we all pitched in. This meant my mum and dad returned to their original roles after 25 years. The mowers may have changed slightly but the skills are never lost, after a few minutes explaining slight changes to controls we were all up and running.
Greenkeeping Essential Maintenance
We are conducting essential maintenance in line with BIGGA and R&A rulings, everything gets cut once a week. Monday afternoons are dedicated to cutting greens and fringes, Tuesdays are spent mowing fairways and surrounds, Wednesday we cut the 9 hole course, tees and driving range, and Thursdays I spend on semi rough. Everything is cut with the 6700s (tees, fairways and surrounds) and 4700 (semi rough) apart from greens and fringes.
I have been truly amazed at the versatility of the Toro 6700 during the lockdown period, it has really maximized my efficiency. The three large mowers are covering over 100 acres between them at the moment. For a couple of days a week the course looks as if it is being maintained to our usual high standard but when you return on a Monday its back to square one. Essential maintenance has had its positives, it has given high wear areas around greens a break and time to recover.
less Stress on Greens
We have also seen a lot less stress on the greens with us maintaining our 5mm winter height of cut. We have also had chance to experiment with different techniques, for example running our farm sprayer across the fairways to control weeds. This job would normally take 6-8 hours on average, but with a 32m, fully GPS enable and auto height controlled Hardi sprayer it took 1 hour 30 minutes to cover 27 holes!
These are frustrating times in the greenkeeping industry both from a maintenance perspective and management side. Hopefully we have set ourselves in good stead as a business to weather the storm we find ourselves in and come out the other side raring to go, albeit it in a very different world, leaving behind a legacy for future family generations.
If you enjoyed Johns excellent blog and maybe want to write your own,give me a email firstname.lastname@example.org .Also check out our previous two blogs, from our golf bloggers and our greenkeeping section-https://turfcareblog.com/category/golf/