Hillside Golf Club, situated in Southport, is located along “England’s Golf Coast” – boasting one of England’s finest stretches of coastal links.
The club has played host to many elite amateur and professional tournaments throughout its history and has recently been selected to stage the 2022 Cazoo Classic on the DP World Tour, following a hugely successful 2019 British Masters.
With 150 years of turf grass industry experience, Bernhard and Company are the leaders in the sharpening systems market and one of the world’s most influential forces in the presentation and quality of turf grass. As well as renowned day-to-day support for customers, in the run up to major tournaments, Bernhard provides an extra level of support to alleviate some of the pressure users are under to keep maintenance and presentation at its absolute best. During these demanding times, Bernhard helps out by sending its own expert teams and equipment to support customers with the sharpening, setting and preparation of cutting units.
Hillside is regarded as one of the finest links golf courses in the country and has undergone a significant period of renovation work in the last couple of years under the stewardship of Links Manager, Chris Ball. With the Cazoo Classic approaching, the excitement at Hillside is starting to spike, but with a calmer sense of confidence as they approach the event with unwavering support and consultancy from Bernhard and Company.
“Yes, it’s probably less frantic than it was last time, because we were like rabbits in headlights when we hosted the British Masters and none of us were experienced in a tournament of that size,” says Ball. “However, having now already experienced a similar event, you kind of know what the Tour wants and when they need it by – so we’re a lot calmer this time!”
Preparation for a Tour event takes dedicated time and thought, something that Hillside have experienced before – helping set a precedent of what is expected at any future events. Neil Hullah, Territory Manager at Bernhard and Company, is on-site for the build-up and the tournament, providing assistance and bringing with him, the latest Bernhard machinery, as the preparations for the event ramp up. “I am really looking forward to the Cazoo Classic and playing a small part in the event. The course at Hillside has certainly improved a great deal since the British Masters from 2019. It will be great to see how the players handle the challenge, and we are very proud to be supporting the team. Chris and the green keeping staff have put in a tremendous amount of work to improve the tournament standard of the golf course in the last couple of years and take Hillside to the next level.”
“Having Neil’s and Bernhard’s assistance at another major tournament is fantastic,” adds Ball. “He has so much experience with high profile tournaments, so he knows what the Tour might be looking for and how they want the set up. He always brings a great spirit to the whole environment and just helps to ease a bit of pressure on the mechanics when they have a fleet of mowers to rattle through. It’s a high-pressured time for us and we need to ensure everything runs smoothly and that course preparation is absolutely top quality – Bernhard play an invaluable role in ensuring this is the case.
Mechanic Greenkeeper, Gary Pearce, works hand-in-hand with Hullah to make sure any questions or concerns are addressed. “It will be fantastic to have Neil here supporting us for the Cazoo Classic. Any questions I have, he gets stuck in and gives me brilliant support. He’s bringing the tournament support grinding units down to help us, which means not only an extra pair of hands but the latest Bernhard machines which are even quicker than our existing grinders so we can turn round units quicker.”
The Cazoo Classic is the continuation of increased recognition for Hillside, with the recent announcement of the Men’s Amateur Championship to be played there next year. “It is fantastic news for the club, but it will be a challenge having two different tournaments so close together, working differently in regard to the set up. Both The R&A and the DP World Tour have got their own methods, but it is great to be involved with both in a short space of time and I’m sure we’ll be relying on Bernhard for essential support through both events.
“We have a core group who organise outside the ropes and inside the ropes ahead of the event. I will be concentrating on inside the ropes, and I get appointed a tournament agronomist by the Tour – Eugene Hennessy. There are a team of four of these agronomists and they leapfrog around each other throughout the tournament schedule. They will get appointed to five or six venues every year, and they work with the clubs leading up to the event to make sure a plan is in place and the course is peaking at the right times.
“I have been working with Eugene since the event got announced. He has been with us periodically prior to the event, and he will also be with us in the week building up to the event. During that time we will work together to push the course in the direction that they would prefer, with how they want it to look, feel, and play. It is a fantastic experience, and they don’t enforce anything on you – they listen to our greenkeeping staff to get a feel for how the venue works and how its heart beats, and with Neil’s help as well, we all band together to produce the best result from there on in.”
Hillside have had a long-standing relationship with Bernhard and Company and have seen a shift in the quality of presentation and health of the turf across all areas on the course since investing in making the grinders a part of the club’s day-to-day operations. Aside from preparing the course for some of the world’s best players, one of the biggest changes at the club has been returning the walkways between holes from red shale to beautiful grass pathways. Across all these areas, there is now freshly sewn seed, overseeding and sand. To keep these areas looking their best and the height of the cut at an optimal point, sharp blades are always required – and the sand can often damage the blades quicker, so regular sharpening is required.
“We’ve got new grass paths and we must make sure we are looking after them,” says Pearce. “Its paramount for the health of the grass that the blades we’re cutting with are sharp. The machines we use for cutting the paths do get used quite a lot, and with our top-dressing programme, we have to grind them more often and stay on top of them. Being a links course, there’s plenty of sand that gets onto the playing surfaces, as well as the occasional stone, so being able to maintain our equipment is even more important.
“It’s just a piece of the jigsaw that you sometimes take for granted, with mowers always being sharp. There is never an occasion where something is not ready to go, the machinery is always maintained to the highest level. The grinders, in addition to the other good practices that we do, are all parts of the puzzle that make the course what it is today. So, it is a combination of things that has gotten us to the point we are at.
“We have been very astute with what we’ve done to the machinery in the sheds – looking at both the volume of the machinery and how many units we have accessible. We have spare bedknife holders sharpened and ready to be put on a mower if anything gets damaged, meaning efficiency is high if we do need to make any adjustments with machinery,” concluded Pearce.