Jon Scoones has a very pragmatic approach to greenkeeping: “If this course is not maintained and managed to its best to give all-year round top-class play, then our members will vote with their feet,” he says.
So, as Course Manager at Caversham Heath Golf Club near Reading, Jon depends on all his greenkeeping experience – and “a range of Rigby Taylor’s top-class maintenance products” – to ensure the 18-hole course remains what he considers the best in the area.
“I’m always trying to exceed customer expectations,” he adds, “and with several courses nearby, this local competition drives me forwards for continual improvement.”
With 18 years at the course, which is part of the extensive Mapledurham Estate, John joined the club at the tail-end of the course construction process (which was completed in 2000) on the largely gravel over chalk site. The course was built to exacting USGA standards.
“The course was given 12 months to grown-in, and the priority during this time was simply to ensure the grass grew,” he says. With experience of grown-ins at two previous clubs, Jon knew that the establishment of a successful course initially depended on “over-feeding and over-watering, especially on the tees and greens, because the priority was to establish a decent playing surface”. After that, he reflects, “I started to tweak things a little.”
Pointing out that the course is sited on an area that was formerly farmland, Jon says that the greens also have a high sand content and a lack of organic matter, so there is nothing there to hold in the nutrients. “We can grow weeds very easily; growing grass was initially not so straightforward. The contractors used a bent-fescue mix on the greens, and rye-fescue on the tees, fairways and semi-rough areas.
Over the past 15 years, however, we’ve gradually overseeded with Rigby Taylor’s R1 creeping bent-fescue mix and R116 fine rye-fescue mix, but more recently with the R9 ultra fine rye.”
Pointing out that his aim is to make the Caversham greens “as quick, or quicker” than those at other clubs, Jon’s years at the course means he knows how far he can ‘push’ the greens to ensure the best levels of playability. And while he takes up the clubs as often as time allows to ‘test’ the local courses, he is always looking at ways to improve his surfaces, to make them play even better.
For the past five years, Jon and his team of six greenkeepers have kept the greens at 2.5 mm (4 mm in winter), the tees at 10 mm and the fairways at 14 mm. “Ten years ago, I doubt if anyone cut below 3 mm, but I want these greens to be as fast as possible while also being playable all-year round.”
With this in mind, he continues: “In addition to the grass seed mixes, I also use a range of products from Rigby Taylor, the company at the forefront of supplying innovative products for the successful management and maintenance of turf surfaces – and honestly, I can’t do without any of them!”
These include the Microflow CXS controlled-release liquid and the PolyPro range of granular fertilisers for use on tees, and on greens’ surrounds and approaches. Microflow has added seaweed, organic potassium and bio stimulants, while the micro-granule PolyPro has added calcium and magnesium for improved turf disease tolerance. Microflow is used for fast initial response then has a controlled release for up to six weeks; PolyPro for consistent, predictable and gradual release.
The SeaQuest 100% concentrated seaweed extract is also applied, for added stress tolerance, and both Activate R and Activate XL biostimulants are used all year round, including at renovation time to help the establishment of new seed.
“I sit down twice a year with Rigby Taylor’s area sales director, Gareth Acteson, and we look at what the soil samples are telling me what’s in the soil, which is not usually a lot due to the high sand content, and together we formulate a plan of action for feeding and wetting agents, for example. This is reviewed regularly and, if necessary, we introduce a certain product.
“This was the case recently with the Apex granular fertiliser, which we applied after renovation works. And I’ve never seen results like it.” Apex is a high-organic content fertiliser with low salt analyses and rich humic acid levels, to encourage root development and stimulate soil microbial activity.
“If something works, I don’t like to change it – but I’ve no hesitation in introducing something new if I think it would be beneficial.”
Jon’s trend towards rye grass is another example. “We had a nematode attack and needed fast establishment. Rigby Taylor’s R9 ultra-fine rye gave us that, plus increased disease tolerance and winter colour. We’ve also found that it out-competes the poa annua and that there’s no difference in playing performance compared to bents.”
R9 is part of Rigby Taylor’s ‘iCON’ programme that offers a host of advanced and unique specialised characteristics including high tolerance to wear, drought and disease. It comprises in equal measures the cultivars Clementine, Duparc, Dylan and Mercitwo.
The use of essential products is only part of Jon’s success story in maintaining a course that meets – even exceeds – everyone’s expectations, since he can effectively call on a lifetime of greenkeeping experience.
“At nine years of age I knew I wanted to be a greenkeeper,” he says, “because while I was still at primary school I was raking bunkers and hand-cutting greens, helping my father (who was a founder member of BIGGA) at Long Ashton Golf Club in Bristol.”
Clearly, Jon did follow his dreams – and everyone at Caversham Heath GC is happy he did!