John Lockyer's new role as Course and Grounds Manager at the prestigious Roehampton Club in London appears to be the perfect fit for his range of talents. The role also requires him to ensure that the varied sports surfaces - from croquet and tennis to golf and rugby - are maintained to the highest possible standards befitting of a private members club
Roehampton Club is steeped in history and prestige. It originated as an officers' polo club created by three brothers, Edward, George and Charles Miller.
At the turn of the 19th century there was a tremendous strain on London's polo clubs and many, including Wimbledon, were considered to be too far from the capital. The brothers were determined to have a polo club somewhere more accessible than central London. So, in 1901, Charles was sent to find a suitable ground that would still be within reach of the city.
Then, with Lord Shrewsbury as its Chairman and the Duke of Teck as President, the Club was formed on April 1st, 1902. The original facilities included three polo grounds, a racecourse, showground, an area where women could practise driving, tilting and jumping, and stabling for members' horses.
From its early days, croquet was extremely popular at the Club and, from 1904, Roehampton played home to The Open Championship; 1904 also saw the opening of a nine-hole golf course that was later expanded to 18.
By 1913, the Club had 1,560 members and its popularity had been given a boost due to the golf course being extended to the full 18 holes. It had a thriving social scene right up until the 1st World War. This was largely fostered by Charles' wife Grace, who was extremely elegant and a superb organiser who came to play an important role as the social scene manager. She was even known to run an eye over other members as they entered, to make sure they were properly attired!
Sadly, 1950 spelled the end for polo, where the focus switched to other sports, for which it is now renowned.
Throughout its rich history, Roehampton has been at the heart of London society. Influential clientele, including Lord Hugh Salisbury, Admiral of the Fleet (later Earl) Beatty, and Winston Churchill were all prominent polo playing members. The royal and aristocratic connections were strengthened by the Duke and Duchess of Kent and the Aga Khan who were all made Honorary members for life in 1935, followed by the Duchess of Gloucester, and King Edward VIII granting his patronage in June 1936.
One of the BBC's earliest outside broadcasts was carried out from Roehampton over three days in July 1938, featuring a variety of sporting events including tennis, archery, diving, riding, polo, croquet and golf.
Roehampton Club's unique sporting heritage has carried on to the present day. Tennis legends Angela Mortimer, Christine Truman, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong all won Open Hard Court titles here, and Andy Murray started winning grass court titles from the age of fifteen in the Club Med Championships.
Hosting four Croquet World Cups, and having past and present World Champions Nigel Aspinall and Reg Bamford as members, has firmly placed Roehampton as one of the top international croquet venues in the world.
Golf, tennis, croquet and squash are the four core sports. Two swimming pools, a state of the art gym, five squash courts and a fitness studio complete the facilities.
Members are extremely proud of their impressive golf course, grass tennis courts, croquet lawns and gardens, which are immaculately presented by John Lockyer and his grounds team.
John has been in the post of Course and Grounds Manager for two and half years. Prior to that he was employed by the STRI for six years where he specialised in golf course management, advising at a number of the top golf clubs across the south of England, Wales and Europe. He also managed a large number of consultancy projects for various clients including the ECB, FA, LTA, UEFA and FIFA.
He also worked at Cannington College as a lecturer in sports turf and, before that, gained hands on experience working at several golf clubs.
After spending many years travelling the world, John was keen to settle down. Taking the job at Roehampton Club was a perfect opportunity to do this, whilst still being able to deliver playing surfaces of the highest quality. His role sees him sitting on the senior management team which is responsible for the strategic development of the Club.
He is in charge of the day-to-day management of all external facilities across the site. These include the 18-hole golf course, twenty-eight tennis courts (both natural grass and synthetic), four croquet lawns, a rugby pitch (which is currently home to 1st division Rosslyn Park RFC), formal gardens and all infrastructures. The club is in a strong position with 5,200 members and 800 on a waiting list
As well as monitoring the annual cost of the course and grounds maintenance budget, John's remit is to significantly raise quality standards in all areas, whilst developing and managing a team of nineteen full-time staff - nine greenkeepers, five groundsmen, an equipment manager, two gardeners and two seasonal staff.
In addition, he is project managing the building of a brand new, £1.6 million building to accommodate the groundstaff and their array of equipment.
I first encountered John at Cranfield University, some ten years, when we were both taking a masters degree in Sports Surface Management.
On my arrival at Roehampton, John introduced me to his assistant Head Groundsman, Chris Hughes, one of the longest serving members of his staff with twenty-four years under his belt.
With John having to attend a progress meeting for an hour, he left me in the capable hands of Chris who was keen to show me around the grounds and introduce me to John Entwistle, the Head Greenkeeper.
The 18-hole parkland course provides a wonderful wildlife corridor between Richmond Park and Barnes Common. Renowned for its excellent presentation and playability, it was remodelled in 2010 by golf course architect Ken Moodie, in partnership with former Ryder Cup player and now BBC commentator and analyst, Ken Brown.
The meticulously managed course features back to back par 5s - the 9th and 10th - and par 3s on the13th and 14th holes. The final three holes offer probably the most challenging finish of any course in the locality, culminating at the 18th with a tight dog-leg requiring a narrow drive between two stands of trees. Even Gary Player, the legendary South African golfer, commented that it was the most difficult course that he knew on which to score well!
John Entwistle came to the club in May 2006 and was promoted to head greenkeeper in January 2008. He trained at Myerscough College, attaining a diploma and BSc Honours degree whilst working in both Ireland and America.
He certainly likes a challenge, especially knowing that John Lockyer's expectations and standards are very high; a lot of effort and emphasis is based on good cultural practices, attention to detail and 'making a difference'. Plant health is key, followed by presentation.
The feeding programme is tailored to suit the needs of the grass plant, which is often influenced by a number of other factors, time of the year, weather, soil and air temperatures, topography and construction type of the green. Out of the eighteen greens, two are USGA full specification, three are sand ameliorated and the rest are still the original soil push up construction.
This is based around a granular/liquid regime, starting and ending the growing season with a granular complete NPK feed, supported by liquid feeds, seaweeds and biostimulants. John also uses Primo Maxx to control growth and promote rooting, with the aim of keeping the total amount of nitrogen being applied to around 125 kg/N per year. Tees, fairways and some parts of the rough are also fed with liquid fertilisers.
Aeration is a key maintenance task, with the club investing in three Toro models, two ProCore 648s and a HydraJect 3000, for carrying out work on the tees, greens and approaches. The ProCore is fitted with 10mm tines and used on a fortnightly basis, whilst the HydraJect is used weekly.
Hollow coring is undertaken four times within the growing season and scarification twice. An overseeding programme is carried out annually using browntop bent (Agrostis capillaris) drilled in four different directions, ensuring there is good seed to soil contact.
The greens are in play all year round and are mown daily with pedestrian Toro (14 blade) cylinder mowers, with height of cut set at 3mm in the summer, 2.75mm for tournaments and 3.5mm-4mm in the winter.
The mowers are fitted with brushes to help stand the grass up. Turf irons are also used twice a week to help firm up the greens.
John rejoins us to explain that the club has now embraced a detailed performance strategy for monitoring the condition of all the playing surfaces around the site.
The golf greens, specifically, have weekly checks on their performance, testing for hardness (firmness), smoothness (ball roll), speed, moisture content and soil temperature. Stimpmetre readings are averaging between 10 and 13 feet depending on the time of the year and competition calendar.
T ees are kept at 7mm, cutting three times a week during the summer, and raised to between 9-10mm for winter. Fairways are generally kept at 12mm for most of the year, however, if worm casts become a problem, then it is raised to around 14mm.
Whilst walking around, I observed vases of flowers on the ladies' first and ninth tees, a new initiative brought in by John for special events which is very popular with the lady members.
The rough is maintained at between 50mm-60mm, whilst the four hectares of native rough is kept at a height between 200mm-300mm and scarified three times a year in February, July and October.
The club has installed a fully automated irrigation system for greens, fairways, approaches and some areas of the rough, along with some landscape plant misters used in the bunker faces.
The club has also invested in irrigation for all of the gardens, hedges, croquet lawns and grass tennis courts. The system is mains fed and topped up with a rainwater harvesting system and acid injection system to reduce ph.
John has changed the presentation of the course by simplifying mowing patterns, which has reduced the time taken to cut fairways and approaches. Previously, two units were sent out to 'stripe' in a chequered diamond. But that generally took from 6.00am until midday to complete whereas, now, one unit can 'half and half' them by about 10.15am.
Since 2009, a good deal of work has been dedicated to enhancing the ecological value of the course. Several projects have seen an increase in the diversity of flora and fauna. This has been achieved by changing the management regimes of the rough, long grass and woodland areas on the golf course. The projects have been enhanced with an ongoing tree planting programme and some pond refurbishment work which, in turn, has provided a valuable habitat for newts, frogs, dragonflies, mammals and birds.
Ecological Delevelopment Area signs are placed around the course which explain the work being undertaken at each site, the benefits they will bring to the local flaura and fauna and, where applicable, what wildflower species have been planted.
In 2012, Roehampton Club won the Water Management category of the Golf Environment Awards for the provision of a sustainable drainage system. Reconstruction of the pond on the golf course's 11th hole formed the final outlet, with all drainage from the golf course now feeding into the pond acting as a filtration mechanism.
One project that is going to make a considerable difference to John and his team, is the new £1.6 million investment in the building of garage, workshop, office and mess room facilities for the groundstaff. The ability to store all the machinery, materials and sundries under one roof, as well as providing a safe working and training environment, will be a major asset.
John designed the layout of the new facilities, ensuring they would cater for the needs of the staff. Not only are there the essentials such as toilets, showers and mess facilities, there are also rooms set aside for training purposes. It is all part of the Club's visions to be London's premier multi-sports venue.
As we moved on to look at the croquet lawns and tennis courts, John explained that £20,000 had just been spent on end of season renovation on a block of courts. The work involved fraise mowing off the vegetation, pl aning off 18mm of old loam material, laser levelling, putting back the old loam and topdressing with 120 tonnes of GOSTD loam from Surrey Loams Ltd, and seeding with a dwarf rye grass mixture from British Seed Houses.
The remainder of the grass courts were fraise mown to remove surface vegetation, scarified, aerated, localised levelling of base lines and then topdressed with 10-12 tonnes of GOSTD loam and seeded.
The croquet lawns remain in play all year round, so any renovations have to be done within a nominated four week window, this usually sees them scarified, hollow cored, topdressed and overseeded. A new primary drainage system has recently been installed along with some work to improve the boundaries.
Croquet is becoming very popular, with the Club hoping to host the British Championships at some point in the future.
Other work being done at the club is the relaying of eight of the artificial tennis courts and installing a second airhall to provide winter protection.
The groundstaff have also recently taken on the maintenance of Rosslyn Park Rugby Club's home pitch adjacent to the site.
The sports facilities are complemented by the superbly maintained gardens and lawns that provide an attractive backdrop to all the sports facilities, and provide plenty of colour and interest all year round.
Roehampton Club is certainly in good hands in terms of its maintenance and presentation of its sports facilities. John Lockyer has brought a wealth of experience and passion to the club and would appear to be the perfect man for the challenges that lie ahead.