Interview - Allan Tait, Sweetwoods GC Course Manager
Post by Karen Ross
2013/14 saw the wettest winter on record*, with homes, businesses and golf courses alike under water from the flash floods. Here Sweetwoods Park Golf Club Course Manager, Allan Tait, talks about how the course he is responsible for; fought its way out of the floods and made an astounding comeback …
1. What’s your background before you joined Sweetwoods back in March 2014?
I began my career when I was 21 as a green keeper at Chartham Park Golf Club. After learning the ropes, I built my career as a well-respected Course Manager at Lindfield for 2 years and Nizels for 5 years. Now 1 year into my role at Sweetwoods Park, I’m enjoying a new challenge.
2. What impact and changes do you feel you have bought to Sweetwoods Park Golf Club in the last year?
When I first walked the course at Sweetwoods in January 2014 I witnessed first-hand the damage such a wet and wild winter had incurred. Due to the extreme rain levels I was facing repair work to areas that had never previously suffered in the wet. Over the course of the last 12 months; I’m pleased to say we’ve turned an enormous corner. My team and I have spent our time firming up the greens and adding new drainage to those worst affected. We’ve dug up and re-drained 4 significant bunkers and put in place an intensive maintenance process. The results have been staggering. In 12 months we’ve been able to reduce the thatch levels by 50%! The course is now in excellent condition ready and raring to go for the start of the season.
3. You know the course better than anyone. How would you describe the round it gives to a golfer who hasn’t played it before?
Sweetwoods is a stunning parkland course with valley’s, lakes and views. The course gives golfers a truly interesting round due to the variety the holes offer. Holes 1-3 are relatively straightforward enabling the golfer to get into their game and warm up. Then BAM… holes 4,5,6 and 7 hit you with greens sitting lower than where you tee off with lakes, bunkers & water hazards getting into your mind. What you pay for in challenge, you gain in views… as you tee off from the 4th; you’re high up on one side of the valley, with your ball flying down to the green below you and the historic village of Cowden with its steeple church at the top of the valley right in front of you. It’s simply breath taking.
4. Loves and hates of the job?
The weather!! Only kidding, although I do prefer the summer, the winter provides me more with project work which I enjoy. The summer is a constant maintenance battle against the rapid growth! Dislikes can be golfers who don’t observe course etiquette such as pitch marks in the greens and not replacing divets in fairways.
Our club owner Martin Long, who also owns Crystal Palace football club, has exceptionally high standards when it comes to the club and course as a whole, in fact his favourite word appears to be ‘exceptional’! Whilst this makes us work hard, I love a challenge and that side of my job is extremely enjoyable – the fact that Sweetwoods is forward thinking and strives to be the best.
5. What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing Course Managers in the industry today?
Lower staffing levels and cost cutting across many clubs is a reality most course managers face. I’m lucky at Sweetwoods as our owner knows the value of ongoing investment into the course, but many other courses will suffer as costs continue to be driven down. The concern I have is with visitor green fees becoming undervalued and membership numbers reducing, the level of quality some clubs are able to offer in course development could eventually suffer. Ultimately leading to golf courses lacking the prestigious feel they once had.
6. What tips could you give golfers when they take on the challenge of 18 holes at Sweetwoods?
Sweetwoods was historically known as a ‘chip and run’ course. With the work we’ve conducted over the last 12 months, I’m delighted to be able to say we now have greens that are firm and responsive. Golfers can now hit into the greens, so I’d encourage them to do so!
7. You talk of exceptional standards… what are your ‘must have’s’ for keeping a course in tip top condition?
An enthusiastic and motivated team is key. Also, recently I’ve been using a new sprayer – The Smithco 2000 Spray Star and it’s my new best friend! Much faster than a conventional sprayer, it also gives me complete control over the turf.
*Source – “The persistent heavy rainfall through the season resulted in this being the wettest winter for the UK, England, Wales and Scotland, and the equal-wettest winter for Northern Ireland in series from 1910.” http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/2014/winter
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