The Balearic island of Mallorca offers some of the finest golf in Spain; a bold claim perhaps when one considers the courses on the mainland that include Valderamma, Catalunya and Sotogrande. Yet, this almost hidden gem of a golf tourist destination boasts number eight in the top one hundred courses in Spain and, importantly, numero uno on the island itself; Golf Son Gual
Situated a few miles east of the island's capital, Palma, in rural lowlands, boasting splendid views north to the mountains and south to the Mediterranean, Golf Son Gual is regarded as the best golfing destination on Mallorca by the people that matter most; the golfers. That's not to say that many of the other twenty-three courses dotted around the island aren't half bad either as a further three Mallorcan courses appear in the Spanish top one hundred.
Avoid the 'fish and chips' tourist hotspots and you'll discover a beautiful island, especially its rural internal regions and mountainous north. Magaluf, whilst certainly many tourists only experience of the island, is definitely not the real Mallorca.
Son Gual is a private, family-run members' golf club, set in 156 hectares of beautiful Mediterranean landscape. Described as 'American parkland', it is 6,621 metres (7,240 yards) long, with a par of 72.
Gareth Anwell is the Head Greenkeeper, a role he has performed for the past ten years.
In this Q&A session, he discusses his career path to date and the vagaries of working in such an unforgiving climate.
PC: How did you get into the industry and where did you work prior to your current position?
GA: I worked a week on work experience at the Warren Golf Club in Devon, whilst in my last year at school, and immediately decided it was the career for me, so I applied to Cannington College in Bridgwater to undertake the National Diploma in Golf Course Management and Construction. From there, I was privileged enough to have the opportunity to work for two years in the US at La Quinta Country Club and Tacoma Golf & Country Club. On returning to Europe, I joined Southern Golf, constructing and growing in courses throughout the continent for seven years, before taking up my current position at Golf Son Gual.
What training and education did you undertake?
Apart from my initial National Diploma, I now concentrate on trade shows in America and Europe to keep up to date with the latest developments, attending seminars which tackle current and future issues, in particular those related to my golf course. I spend too much of my free time on various sources on the internet and also strive to improve my spoken and written Spanish.
Was there one person who inspired you?
Not one person in particular, but I think everyone that I have worked for and with has been most generous in sharing their knowledge and skills with me, satisfying my continual hunger to develop.
Are you responsible for budgets or do you report to someone else - for example a greens chairman or committee?
I am responsible for all the budgeting and cost controlling, working solely with the owner.
What is the total acreage of the course and how is this split up?
Forty-five hectares of managed golf course comprising 1.5ha of greens (Penn A-4/A-10, 3Ha of tees and 1.5ha of approaches (Penn Trio), 15ha of fairways (Lolium perenne), 12ha of semi-rough and 9ha of hard rough. Additionally, there are 3ha of bunkers.
How many staff do you have?
Twenty-eight in total, including myself, my assistant, two mechanics (a head mechanic and a trainee), two osmosis technicians and two irrigation technicians.
We employ one person part-time to repair divots and pitch marks at the end of each day. Everything is done in house by my crew who have vast expertise in most fields.
How would you describe the course?
American Parkland. If you look at the images, you'll know what I mean.
The soil profile is loose and poor in nutrients, with lime over clay and occasional layers of hard lime crusts.
The greens were constructed to USGA specification. They require programmed flushing to prevent salt build-up caused by the recycled irrigation water source.
We are a very windy, open site, but the major difference here is that it is a 365 days a year job for the entire greenkeeping crew. Our major clientele is from Northern European who come to play the course from September to November, through Christmas and New Year and again from March to June. Then, to add to that, in the heat of summer we regularly experience temperatures in the high 30s to 40s Celsius, with 90% humidity being the norm.
We have to carry out all major aeration works and projects in the first two weeks of December or January and February. Everything must be completed for the beginning of the new season in March.
As for the summer, everything is focused on damage limitation and preserving our standards for when we enter our second peak season in September.
Do you have a driving range and practice facility?
Yes, we have three putting greens, a bunkered chipping green which mirrors the course conditions, a full par 3 practice hole and a target green, as well as two large driving range tees and covered bays with training gym.
We are also responsible for maintaining the parking area, landscaping around the clubhouse, flower beds around the course, vineyards (from which we produce our own wine) and 800 olive trees (from which we also produce our own olive oil).
What are your regular maintenance regimes?
We verticut the greens fortnightly through the growing season with our John Deere 2500A and GreenTeK Thatch-Away units, topdressing with our Propass immediately afterwards and spiking with another GreenTek unit, before brushing with our Broyhill Greenskeeper and finally rolling with a Smithco Tournament Ultra.
We run our two Hydrojects once or twice a month over the greens; this frequency has become possible due to our latest acquisitions - trailers to tow the hydrojects and hoses from green to green!
Mowing heights vary through the season:
- Winter heights are: greens 3.5mm, fairways 15mm and semi-rough 50mm
- Spring: greens 2.8mm, fairways 11mm and semi-rough 45mm
- Summer: greens 3mm, fairways 15mm and semi-rough 55mm
- Autumn:- greens 3mm, fairways 13mm and semi-rough 50mm
We close the course to the general public for the whole month of August to help us protect the Lolium perenne fairways because there are no cartpaths from tee to green. Most of the crew are hand watering in this month. However, we also solid tine the bentgrass areas to vent them and mow down all of our heavy rough areas, collecting and baling the material with local farm machinery that we hire for the month.
Do you have specific tasks for specific staff or is it an 'all hands to the pump' approach?
I prefer to have a minimum of five people available to carry out each task on the course, an example being that seven members of my crew are presently updating their spraying licences to the 'Qualified Professional' level.
We carry out annual appraisals though and aim to help each worker develop in the areas that interest them most, whenever possible.
Where does presentation rank?
A very close second to course playability, especially due to our predominantly German and Swiss clientele.
What end of season and ongoing renovations do you undertake?
We carry out hollow-coring and scarifying on all of our bentgrass areas, as well as renovation of all the bunkers.
Verti-Drain, Verti-Quake, scarifying fairways and semi-rough, overseeding and topdressing. Plus drainage works, irrigation modifications and major repairs. We also have to prune the trees and vineyards back.
Are renovations affected by budgets?
Certainly to some extent, but we understand that we have to keep our product at its highest standards for our returning and new clients.
Have changing weather patterns affected what you do?
Actually, not much. We have more immediate issues regarding the changes in the EU spraying laws and constantly varying irrigation water quality.
Do you take regular soil samples to ascertain what work is required?
Certainly, as well as irrigation water and soil humidity records daily throughout the main season.
How do you interact with your club members?
I just try to be very open with our members to discuss the course conditioning and get their feedback on the course, in the clubhouse or on practice facilities.
Are you working on any special projects at the moment?
We are renovating both of our greens turf nurseries following our most recent 8mm hollow tining of all the greens. We're rotovating bunker bases and adding sand whilst edging.
My irrigation team are changing all the irrigation valves, which have rusted or seized due to the poor quality irrigation water, and cleaning and re-painting all of the course furniture.
Our final project this winter has been spraying off and cleaning out the hard roughs of all manner of weeds from wild-carrot and sorrels to bermuda and kikuyu grasses, which we will proceed to overseed in March with Fescue.
What projects have been undertaken in recent years?
12km of drainage with 80mm perforated pipe, backfilled with pea gravel and topped with sand throughout all of the fairways, which can now be complemented by sand bands, as and when required. This has all been completed with the fantastic Shelton System 25.
A new par 3 practice hole of 170m was constructed last year as well as a 3,000m rye grass turf nursery.
Do you source additional help or is the work done in-house?
Everything is done in-house, thanks, in no small part, to the diverse background of experience that my team has in various trades apart from greenkeeping.
Are you and your staff compliant with current legislation?
In Spain, yes!
Do you offer ongoing training to your staff?
The staff gain credits from the Government which can be used for training within work time. Recent courses completed include electrician, first aid, spraying, tractor and mini-excavator operating, chainsaw and mechanic.
Would you consider employing apprentices?
Unfortunately, there is not an education system in place in Mallorca at present for apprentice greenkeepers.
Do you employ a health and safety officer?
Yes, through the company.
Who is responsible for first aid?
Nobody; however, the entire crew has now received complete training.
How do you purchase machinery, e.g. outright, five year replacement deal, secondhand, and do you use local dealers or by direct?
It varies depending on the machine in question.
Are there any new pieces of kit that have significantly helped to improve your playing surfaces?
The Koro FTM has increased the productivity of scarifying the bent-grass areas substantially, compared with the two pedestrian Graden machines we used to use.
How do you undertake pest, weed and disease control?
We monitor temperatures, humidity and insect traps to spray at the most effective time, as required. We are a very open course which permits a constant prevailing wind. This reduces disease outbreaks substantially, but we still have to be alert on the fairways in particular for Pythium, Red Thread and Gray Leaf Spot.
Rabbits and bird populations are controlled by a local falconer.
Problematic insect populations on our course generally consist of, in order of prevalence, mole crickets, cutworms, leatherjacket, mosquitoes, earthworms and ants.
We treat each insect problem individually, trying to monitor populations and severity. Some can be treated with biological products, such as nematodes, fish etc. but, as per the new EU legislations applied here in Spain, we only turn to chemical application as a final resort.
About our industry - what would you consider to be the state of our industry?
The industry has reacted positively to all the recent economic issues that we have had to endure and, in my opinion, has subsequently strengthened itself thanks, in no small part, to the professionalism of the greenkeeping community themselves.
My underlying concern, however, is for the game of golf and its future, especially considering the alarming rate at which golfers entering the sport are dwindling. This has to be addressed by the federations and authorities as soon as possible because so many good peoples' livelihoods and ways of life depend on this fantastic sport.
Are we undervalued?
In my opinion, we all entered this occupation for job satisfaction, not to become millionaires or celebrities.
How would you raise our profile?
Simply by being professional and conducting ourselves in the way that we wish to be viewed.
Do you and your staff attend industry shows, seminars, demo days, road shows?
There are twenty-three golf courses on Mallorca, so we try to get together two or three times a year as a section, so to speak. On a personal note, I will attend any of the above that time permits, as well as tournaments, however, if not, we try to send members of the crew whenever possible.
Thanks for your time.
What's in the shed?
John Deere 220 hand mowers x 7
John Deere 260 hand mowers x 4
John Deere 2500A (10 sets of units; 4 fairway height, 2 tee height, 2 Thatch-away, 1 sarrel roller and 1 at greens height) x 6
Toro 4700 - semi-rough mowers x 2
Toro 3500 - surrounds mowers x 2
Toro Pro Gators (Transport Box, Vicon, Hardi and Topdresser) x 2
Toro Sand Pros x 2
MDX transporters x 5
John Deere 5415 tractor
John Deere 5095 tractor
John Deere 3520 tractor
Koro FTM 1200 Mark 3
Toro Pro-Cores x 2
Toro Hydrojects x 2
Accord Fertiliser Spreader
Redexim Verti-Drain 7521
Redexim Verti-Quake 3821
Komatsu WA65 Front Loader
Komatsu PC35 Mini Excavator
Smithco Tournament Ultra
Toro GreensPro 1200
Caterpillar D6 XL Bulldozer