Undertaking a project, the size of the Peninsula Kingswood redevelopment has only been achievable through having a dedicated team that has collectively bought into the vision of delivering two elite level golf courses.
As any course superintendent or turf manager will tell you, in order to produce the standards a club or organisation aspires to, you need an expert team behind you. No more has that been truer than at Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club (PKCGC). With a redevelopment of this magnitude, having the right people, whether on the maintenance crew or externally via the many contractors and suppliers, has been of paramount importance and gone a long way to ensuring its ultimate success.
At the official opening of PKCGC in May, president Robert Dowling made the interesting observation that over the duration of the project, more than 150 people had been involved at some point in bringing it to fruition. Central to that was the PKCGC crew put together by director of courses Glenn Stuart, who along with the more than 100-strong personnel from course architects through to consultants and suppliers, delivered what can be seen today.
Bringing a crew together was by no means easy and arguably one of the hardest aspects that Stuart had to grapple with, especially early on. When he arrived at PKCGC, Stuart essentially inherited two separate teams – a crew of 17 at the Peninsula site and 11 at Kingswood. The two clubs merging had made for quite an uncertain environment in regards to staff. The previous superintendents – Martin Greenwood (Peninsula) and the long-serving Terry Ford (Kingswood) – had left and the remaining staff were unsure of how the future looked. It was especially heightened for those at the Kingswood site which, as part of the merger, would eventually close.
Stuart’s first task was to assess the relative skill levels of both teams and the requirements of both sites. Kingswood was in a high-level maintenance phase, whereas the Peninsula site was a mix of both. Construction on the South Course was already underway, while the North Course would continue to be open for play before it too would be closed for reconstruction once the South had reopened. (PKCGC had given an undertaking to members that 36 holes would be playable across both sites at all times throughout the redevelopment. That would eventually become a series of composite holes across both North and South courses to ensure an 18-hole layout as promised when the North course work started.)
Due to the demands of what was happening at the Peninsula site, Stuart started to slowly change the rostering around and shifted staff between the two sites. He was able to place staff at the Kingswood site that were physically challenged by the works that were transpiring at the Peninsula site, which helped the club and those selected individuals. Ultimately, many who were on the original crews would move on as the project progressed, but, as Stuart affirms, they all had a positive impact on the redevelopment and the club was grateful for their efforts.
It was a hard time for everyone and very emotional for those who would ultimately leave. A lot of difficult decisions had and were made, but Stuart had to look at the bigger picture and structure up a team, initially across two sites and eventually one, that would be able to help him deliver what the club had employed him to do.
As well as assessing the skill set of his inherited crew, Stuart also knew very early on that he needed some key personnel with specific skill sets at each of the three courses. At Kingswood, he elevated long-serving quality assistant superintendent Marcus Harber to course manager. Under Ford’s guidance over a 22-year period, Kingswood always had a reputation for excellent conditioning and Stuart challenged Harber to not only meet those levels but exceed them. Indeed he did and while in charge successfully prepared the courses for back-to-back Australian Amateur Championships in 2016 and 2017.
At the Peninsula site, it was a little bit different. With construction underway, Stuart needed someone with experience and knowledge of the land to oversee the South Course works. He didn’t need to look far. For 27 years, across the boundary fence at Long Island Country Club, Stuart’s younger brother Shane had unassumingly gone about his own career, eventually rising to the top role which he held for 18 years. Ironically it was Stuart who had put his younger sibling on as an apprentice when he was superintendent at Long Island in 1989 and history was about to repeat.
First, however, he had to sell the idea. Stuart knew what it looked like from the outside – ‘Has he just put his brother on because it was easy?’. The club questioned him as well, but more to do with whether they could work alongside each other. They had and they could and more importantly they knew the boundaries – when the sibling stuff stopped and the work stuff started. At the end of the day, his brother had the experience and very broad skill set he was looking for, in particular his exemplary work ethic which would be displayed at numerous points further on in the project.
The third part of the equation was appointing a North Course superintendent. In Shane and Marcus, Stuart had two experienced professionals. He now needed someone who he thought could help elevate the maintenance standards to a level that he was wanting to implement. New Zealand-born Ben Payne would be that person, coming across from Metropolitan where he had worked previously under Stuart as foreman.
Employed initially as the superintendent charged with maintaining the in-play holes on the North course before moving to the grow-in role during its redevelopment, Payne had all the qualities to instil the industry-leading standards Stuart wanted the crew to buy into. He was well organised, extremely polished and had a real eye for detail and presentation, together with a passion for Sandbelt golf history and producing firm and fast greens. As well as possessing a different skill set, Payne also had a completely different personality to that of his South Course counterpart. But as the saying goes ‘opposites attract’ and the two have, since starting together in October 2015, become a dream team in the eyes of Stuart.
With that key trio in place, Stuart’s focus was then on the next tier down. Mark Harkness (ex-Kingston Heath and Victoria) joined as assistant on the South Course, mirroring the qualities of Payne from his years on the Sandbelt and his involvement with numerous tournaments. Also joining the South Course team was foreman Jacob Burridge who came across from one of Adelaide’s great Sandbelt courses Kooyonga. Burridge would eventually rise to be North Course assistant, before departing in 2018 to become assistant superintendent at Victoria Golf Club. Jeremy Clarke, another Kiwi with past construction and grow-in skills, is now the current day North Course assistant.
“All these key staff members have exemplary character and are building their talent and experience to one day soon realise their dream of becoming a superintendent,” says Stuart. “The PK experience has certainly accelerated their learning and broadened their already impressive skill set.”
Presently, the PKCGC crew sits at 35 (increasing to just shy of 40 in the coming months) and throughout the redevelopment Stuart has continued to mould and shape his team and develop a structure that works. Other key staff and departments include;
Stuart has also made sure that over time there has been a regular influx of talented young greenkeepers into the crew who could keep pace with the rigorous demands of the project. Among them are past NSWGCSA Graduate of the Year Jake Needs and current AGCSA Graduate of the Year Thomas Burridge, who has followed in the footsteps of his older brother and moved across from Kooyonga. Tim Vegt has also been recently employed as course foreman on the North Course, coming over from Heidelberg Golf Club.
“The combination of all these people and their skills as individuals has helped to create the level of success we have had to date and enabled us to proactively position ourselves at the forefront of all agronomic challenges,” says Stuart. “As a collective they are a wonderful group of quality people continuously improving and stepping up to help PKCGC deliver on its vision.
“They have all been pivotal, but especially our superintendents Ben and Shane who have been nothing short of amazing and allowed me to focus on the bigger picture. Despite being such different people, they hit it off from the get go and have helped to drive a cultural change within the whole crew. They have involved themselves in that change since the start and have ensured that the crew works as a single unit to deliver the best results under the club’s motto of ‘Pure Excellence, No Compromise’.”
For both Shane Stuart and Ben Payne, like their boss, their involvement in the project has been almost career-defining. It has tested their mental and physical skills daily and challenged them to develop on multiple levels, and while unrelenting at times both agree that it’s been the best thing they could have ever done. More than anything, they are now looking forward to seeing how good PKCGC can become.
Since reuniting with his older brother, Stuart has literally lived and breathed the redevelopment. When he was appointed as South Course superintendent, he moved into one of the on-site houses playing the South Course superintendent, grow-in and caretaker role all in one. He literally had to hit the ground not running, but sprinting, as construction was already six months progressed. There were many challenges along the way, but one in particular stands out.
As the new irrigation system was progressively being installed and holes completed, the mainline would be capped at each point then recommenced when the architects had completed each hole. Late on Christmas Eve 2015, the mainline on 3 South blew. At that stage 13 greens were at varying stages of establishment – some had literally been seeded a few days earlier, while others were about eight weeks old.
For 11 hours on Christmas Day, Stuart drove around those 13 greens with a 2000-litre spray tank in tow and hand-watered greens to keep them alive. He was back in again on Boxing Day doing the same until the pipework could be repaired. It was a critical moment during the early part of the redevelopment and demonstrated the work ethic and commitment that had been forefront in the mind of his older brother when he had recommended him for the job.
“I have learnt so many things about myself being part of this project,” says the younger Stuart. “I have learnt many new technical skills across a range of areas that you think as you get older you may never achieve or never thought existed. It’s really driven home how important it is to continue to evolve and reinvent yourself. Above all, it has reminded me of how great an industry we work in and the immense satisfaction that comes from what we do and the positive impact we have on our members and the golfing community.”
For Payne, who prior to joining PKCGC had been employed at Metropolitan since 2011, rising to be foreman, the roles were reversed slightly. With the North Course redevelopment a year from starting, he had the initial challenge of teaching and training the staff on the new elite standards of course maintenance and presentation that had been the new vision for PKCGC. Payne admits it wasn’t easy to alter the existing standards and creating new levels were a big challenge for the staff to not only understand but maintain and deliver on.
To aid that, in 2016 all PKCGC staff were taken across to Kingston Heath Golf Club to take in the 2016 World Cup of Golf. Superintendent Hayden Mead kindly spoke to the team and explained how they prepared the course at the elite levels for that event. It proved very helpful not only for Payne but the entire team to get a handle on what they were trying to achieve back at PKCGC.
“The project has been relentless, but I am so fortunate to have been involved,” explains Payne. “In the four years here I have learnt so many different ways of construction techniques, grassing programmes, grass types, grow-in methods and challenges, product usage, irrigation and drainage installation and too many more to list. It has been an excellent decision for my career to be involved in this project and there is nowhere else I would rather be.
“I know that I have much more to learn as the courses and facility matures and I’m particularly looking forward to playing a key role in implementing the detail and fine-tuning aspects which we are now entering into. More importantly I’m really excited about furthering the great culture we have here. Not only do we want to create a team that has elite skills, but also a team that enjoys each other’s company, enjoys coming to work every day and that is proud of where they work and what they present.”
And that’s the next challenge for Stuart, his deputies and crew. With the construction phase now officially behind them, they can really start to dial in the playing surfaces and take them to that next level they so passionately talk about. Due to the many demands of the redevelopment, they haven’t had the opportunity to focus on getting into full maintenance and presentation mode, but they are ready now to pull that trigger.
“When we opened up the last green (10 South) in September, it was so satisfying,” says Stuart. “It was great to get to that point, not that we could celebrate it much. But for us it signified that the construction phase had come to an end and we are now into official fine-tune and detail mode which is where the real strength of this crew lies.
“The members love what they are seeing at the moment which is great. But I keep saying to them, don’t accept what you are seeing now. If we want to have aspirations of being the best in the industry, then you should demand nothing less than perfection. If you want the best out of me and the crew, you need to keep demanding high. The more pressure you put on us, the better we will perform.
“I have grand aspirations for this place and as a team we are really driven towards that. We think that with the group we have here and what has been done to date, we can achieve those industry-leading standards. I recall saying to CEO Heath Wilson, then president Peter Sweeney and Board members before we even started, that my vision was that if we could have the bunkers and green design of Kingston Heath, the greens design and firmness and vegetation quality of Royal Melbourne and the conditioning of Metropolitan, we would be well positioned to be in the conversation with the best clubs in the Sandbelt.”
Words: Brett Robinson
Photos: PKCGC/Brett Robinson
Originally published in Volume 21.5 (Sept-Oct 2019) Australian Turfgrass Management Journal. To subscribe to the journal click here.