Since arriving at The Lakes Golf Club in 2012, superintendent Anthony Mills has undertaken a raft of improvement works and tweaked management practices to deliver a course that long-term members now regard as being in its best condition in over 50 years. It was therefore fitting when Mills and The Lakes were recently bestowed the ASTMA Excellence in Golf Course Management Award, presented in conjunction with Bayer.
The golf course superintendent profession is very much a numbers game. What’s your height of cut, frequency of clip? How many millimetres above or below average for the year are you? What rate and how many applications are you putting out? How many staff do you have and, in this current climate, how many bottles of hand sanitiser have you gone through this month?
For Anthony Mills, course superintendent at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney, there is another number that he also likes to keep a close eye on. And, no, we are not talking about nematode counts and threshold levels, even if they are never too far from his thoughts.
Starting in 2014 and conducted every two years since, The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney undertakes a broad survey of its members. They are encouraged to rate every part of the club’s operations, from membership services and clubhouse functions, through to the practice facilities and, of course, the playing surfaces and course environs. The Lakes boasts an active membership and last year pushed through around 48,000 rounds. It is also a very proud membership, one befitting a club which has played a major role in the history of the game in Australia, and one that ultimately demands high standards across all areas of the facility.
Two years after arriving at the club back in 2012, the first survey results came back with a course satisfaction rating of 83 per cent. Impressive. Fast-forward four years to the 2018 survey and the course received an extraordinary 91 per cent level of satisfaction across all categories of membership. And if things couldn’t get any better, in the 2020 survey this March, that figure rose once again – to 94 per cent.
As the management and the Board will attest, the golf course at The Lakes’ is the club’s primary asset and understandably the critiquing of the course is benchmarked off of very high expectations. But to achieve a 94 per cent approval rating… quite staggering when you think about it. As all his colleagues will likely appreciate, the position of a course superintendent at a championship golf course is a results-based one and to achieve such a level of satisfaction indicates not only a huge commitment to excellence but someone who is very much at the top of their game.
It was little surprise therefore that in July, the Australian Sports Turf Managers Association (ASTMA) bestowed its longest running award upon Mills and The Lakes – the Excellence in Golf Course Management Award, presented in partnership with Bayer. The award followed Mill’s receipt of the New South Wales Golf Course Superintendents Association’s Superintendent of the Year Award the previous October.
“I was blown away,” says Mills of his reaction to winning ASTMA award. “I was truly honoured to be one of finalists, but to win it is a pretty awesome achievement and a real reflection of the work of not just me but the entire crew here at The Lakes. Together with my fantastic assistants Aaron (Taylor) and Simon (Blagg), we have achieved a lot and it has taken a massive effort on everyone’s behalf to get the course to where it is today.
“We’ve had a lot of highlights along the way – we’ve hosted two Australian Opens, upgraded the practice precinct facilities and undertaken a major programme to renovate our fescue bunker surrounds and reinstate sandy waste areas, as well as continually improving the playing surfaces. But the biggest thing has been the satisfaction of the membership. To see satisfaction ratings where they are at the last survey is extremely pleasing.”
The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney is no ordinary club. It has an esteemed status as one of Australia’s premier championship layouts and with that comes very high expectations of course playability and presentation. The Lakes sprawls across 55 unique hectares of Sydney Water-owned land, with Mills overseeing a crew that comprises 18 full-timers as well as part-time staff. Together they maintain two hectares of A4 creeping bentgrass greens, 25 hectares of kikuyu fairways and surrounds and two hectares of Santa Ana couchgrass tees.
Since starting with the club, Mills has gone on to oversee around 50 course improvement projects as part of a detailed and ambitious strategic plan to provide members and guests with improved playing surfaces and facilities. The works have included;
CLICK HERE to read the full article, originally published in Volume 22.4 (July-August) of the ATM.