Hull Golf Club – Norton firing on all cylinders

On a rather windy autumn day David Mears visited and chatted to David Norton, the new Course Manager at Hull Golf Club, just a year into his appointment. They spent time discussing his plans for the course and what had been tackled already.

David Norton, born in nearby Beverley in the East Riding of Yorkshire, has always loved the outdoors and playing golf; his handicap is 1. When the time came to forge a career, David knew his decision was a “no brainer” and that he must be outdoors. He was considering working in a National Park, however, an opportunity came up of a position in greenkeeping at his local golf club. David plumped for the Beverley greenkeeping option. “It was a great job,” he said. “I knew very soon that it was the right thing to do!” Asked about what or who inspired him, David said “No one really inspired me. I was, and am still, very self-motivated.”

He was determined to succeed and progress his career. As with many in greenkeeping in the North, David studied for and passed his NVQ 2 and 3 exams at Askham Bryan College on the outskirts of York. He maintained the momentum in his work and was most pleased when he won the Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year award in 1990. The Toro scholarship included a six-week residential turf management study course at the University of Massachusetts in the USA, a trip to the Golf Industry Show and a visit to the Toro factory. That’s quite an achievement and has been so for other students over the years.

David’s career progressed and he moved to Mid Yorkshire Golf Club to grow it in and set it up. Then, in 1992, he moved to the Belfry as Head Greenkeeper. Whilst there, he hosted the English Open 1992 and the 1993 Ryder Cup. David moved to Forest Pines in 1995 to grow in and set it up from the beginning. During his time there he achieved much, developing the course and eventually seeing it become an award-winning 27-hole championship golf course with three loops of nine holes winding through the pines. He was instrumental in planning a splendid new greenkeeping facility built further away from the clubhouse when the hotel development occurred. After twenty-five years there, David accepted the position of Course Manager at Hull Golf Club a year ago.

Work begins on the pathway

David works with the Club Secretary and Managing Director regarding budgets and finance and, now that he’s been in the post for a year with future plans known, this will be developed. He has been instrumental in developing the club’s 5-year strategic plan incorporating major course improvements and infrastructure.

The club has a greenkeeping team of six headed by David. Most have been with the club for a number of years. As David said; “The youngest member Roy Carmichael, in his early twenties, has been here for five years. Gareth Brown, the Deputy Head Greenkeeper, is the longest serving and been here for at least twenty-five years!” The others are Ricky Bonniface, Rich Coulson and Paul Thacker and their service ranges up to twenty years. David believes that the fact that all have long service must mean something.

The team are reliable and hardworking and are trained to carry out the mix of greenkeeping jobs. All are able to undertake the regular greenkeeping work and have the necessary qualifications for hazardous work too, e.g. spraying and chainsaw work. They all maintain familiarity with current legislation, including Health & Safety protocols. Ongoing training is undertaken as required. Most jobs on the course are tackled in-house by the team and only occasionally will a contractor be brought in for major projects or when specialist equipment is required. “The main contractors who work in with us for alterations are Fineturf. This year, for example, equipment was needed for the ‘drill ‘n’ fill’ project.”

The soil profile is mainly clay which, as David says, throws up lots of challenges! The site is not vast, being under a hundred acres, and is totally surrounded by residential, many upmarket, properties. The close proximity of a number of these properties does raise concerns and one of David’s tasks has been alterations to the course to protect boundaries and to encourage play away from them.

The completed pathway

Knowing David’s skills, these alterations came as no surprise and, in his short period of time in the job, work has already included: creating a new pathway last winter; moving the 8th green and hole away from the boundary, then altering the 7th and 15th holes for safety and to keep players away from boundaries, plus hiring a tree spade to transplant fifteen mature trees. Certain trees were really in the wrong place or too close together in any event. Replanting also assisted the protection of the boundaries and, as with the 7th and 15th developments, aimed to encourage play away from these.

“We also thinned more trees in particular locations to allow more air and light into key areas,” David explained. “We’ve also planted over three hundred trees, again to protect boundaries. One thing we have majored on is the inclusion of species best suited to our golf course.”

Asked about other projects, David commented: “Apart from clearing leaves, which are blown from playing areas and then mulched – a huge job for us and many others right now – we’ll start bunker work in the second week of December.” This work will mean reworking fairway bunkers on holes 5, 6 and 15 to complement tree work already carried out. “This winter, work to reduce future maintenance will be carried out using Durabunker geosynthetic bunker edges; nice and strong!” David added.

One thing that David is keen to bring to fruition is the installation of a new greenkeeping facility. They have run out of space in the present one. “New sheds are planned,” said David, “and we are awaiting prices.”

Ecosol undertaking drill ‘n’ fill in front of the clubhouse

As to the future, David said; “We are looking forward to implementing a programme of major course improvements!” It is clear that the forward thinking of the club for development of the course and facilities was what probably attracted David to the job!

The machinery list (see What’s in the shed?) shows that Hull Golf Club is not a one brand club, as it has a mixture of brands, with main kit from John Deere, Toro and New Holland. They have two main supplying dealerships: F G Adamson & Son, for John Deere, and Russell’s of Gilberdyke for Toro and New Holland. Adamson’s, just five minutes away, are the “go to” supplier for most of the club’s greenkeeping needs. “So easy to pop round,” says David. “I’ve dealt with them for years. They are friendly and helpful with a depth of knowledge.” Servicing work is carried out mostly in-house or by the two dealerships as necessary.

On the environmental and Health & Safety side, David explains that he and the club are keen to ensure compliance. All waste at the greenkeeping facility: oil, grease cartridges, aerosols, chemical packaging, oil filters, catering oil, contaminated rags, etc. is collected and disposed of professionally by Acumen Waste Services Ltd., with full audit trails provided. The club also installed a ClearWater washpad water recycling system a few years ago. David was pleased to see this in situ when he arrived as he’d had two systems at Forest Pines and was most impressed with their performance. The original system was ClearWater’s very first installation nearly twenty years ago and it was he who assisted ClearWater with the development and treatment of the system. He had no hesitation ordering a second system at Forest Pines, which was necessitated by the relocation of the greenkeeping facility, and this was a larger three hose system.

Keeping machinery clean and preventing pollution is a must for David, as is keeping diesel fuel safe and dispensed from a properly bunded fuel tank. First Aid training has been carried out with all greenkeepers, with David and his deputy nominated First Aiders. David also has responsibility for Health & Safety.

Altering the 8th green and right, job done

“Disease has not been a problem but the leatherjackets in the spring were. They have now been treated with Acelepryn, but control is much harder since the product that actually controlled them was banned.” He added, “the odd fox appears but what we did see this year during lockdown was deer.”

Talking of lockdown and Covid-19, I asked if the club had been affected badly by the pandemic. “I think we were lucky,” he said, “with only two affected and then not badly.” Did the pandemic bring any positives? “I suppose it was the ability to get on with certain projects knowing that there were no players on the course!”

We chatted about the state of the industry. David thought that it was slowly improving and that greenkeeping is not as undervalued as it was. He added that “It’s not really an issue here.”

One thing that never changes are the expectations of some players however. Some do not really know how much work goes into keeping the course in top condition. As David put it, “they see the golf from fabulous courses here and abroad on TV and expect the playing surfaces to be the same at their club; Our budgets are a million miles away from some of these courses, as are the green fees!” David added, “we call it The Augusta Syndrome!”

One thing our American friends can’t offer, however, is a Grade II listed Georgian clubhouse! Kirk Ella Hall, built for William Kirkby a Hull solicitor in 1778-79, with 19th century additions to the left which is now the clubhouse.

There were more deer on the course during lockdown / Bunker construction work in progress

The club has an active membership and the club, keen on social activities, hosts a number of events which are well supported. Not only the course but the dining facilities, staff and food receive excellent reviews online and social media, as does the excellent Pro Shop.

Hull Golf Club is a par 70 parkland layout measuring just less than 6300 yards from the back tees, yet, despite recent innovations in club and ball technology, John Dockar’s course record of 64 has remained intact for nearly a quarter of a century.

The club has a long history of producing top players including several England internationals; one being Rich Coulson (now one of the greenkeeping team!) and also Richard Finch who won the New Zealand Open and, more famously, the 2008 Irish Open where he fell in the river while hitting his shot into the 18th green.

The club unsurprisingly has a long waiting list on all categories of membership.

The club has received positive publicity and benefitted from hosting a number of televised tournaments such as the “Trilby Tour.”

“As the club’s website states: Out on the course the opening four holes offer variety in terms of distance, undulation, and par, and give you a sense of the challenges that lie ahead.”

Photographs: David Norton and David Mears

View of the Humber Bridge

A brief history

The first golf club in the Hull area was Hull Golf Club, founded in 1904 by nine local golfers under the guiding spirit and first captain Haggitt Colbeck, a solicitor.

Originally nine holes, the course, sited at Anlaby Road (just three miles from the present club) was extended to eighteen holes in 1906.

In 1907 the Ladies committee was formed, the first Lady captain being Mrs J.A. Brown.

During World War I (and World War II), golf continued to be played, but major competitions were suspended.

In 1921, for reasons that are unclear, the original club was ‘wound up’ and replaced by Hull Golf Club (1921) Limited, the present company. The clubhouse and course remained unchanged, but only for 3 years.

In 1924, a road and house building programme by Hull City Corporation forced the club to move to its present site at Kirk Ella.

The new course (18 holes) was designed by the famous James Braid, and originally opened on the 21st May 1925 by club captain R.B. (Bruce) Johnston. Later that day, Braid played an exhibition match alongside club dignitaries.

It is one of the region’s premier golf courses with over a hundred years of history, and boasting views over the Humber and the towers of the famous Humber Bridge.

At the sheds ready to get back to work

What’s in the shed?
John Deere 220B pedestrian mower
Toro Greenmaster 3400D Triflex mowers x 2
John Deere 2500B x 3
John Deere 7700A fairway mowers x 2
Toro Groundmaster 3500D Sidewinder
John Deere 1580 Terrain Cut
Lastec Articulator 4520
John Deere 855D Gator XUV
John Deere 2030A Pro Gator
Kubota RTV500 utility vehicle
New Holland Boomer 3050 tractor
New Holland TN75D tractor
New Holland TN75S tractor
Honda quad bike
Cushman Groom Master bunker rake
Kubota KX71-3 digger
TruTurf roller
GKB Sand Injector/Aerator
Vredo overseeder
Charterhouse Verti-Drain
John Deere Aercore
Sisis slitters
Buffalo blower
Echo Bearcat chipper
Rotary hand mowers
Strimmers/hedge trimmers
Knapsack/hand blowers
Small tools/kit

Article by David Mears

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