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Links-look is Right for Norfolk – Despite the Soil

7.55am 8th July 2010 - Course Development

Heacham Manor Golf Course

A North Norfolk golf club has successfully used Barenbrug grass seed to create a links-look course in spite of challenging soil conditions and a limited budget.

Paul Searle, owner of the new 18-hole course at Heacham Manor hotel near Hunstanton, has almost singlehandedly designed, specified and overseen construction of the project. And such is his passion for bringing a slice of St Andrews to the north Norfolk coast, he has become quite the expert on grass seed selection in particular.

Searle worked closely with Norfolk-based Barenbrug distributor, Collier Turf Care’s managing director Andrew Harding, to realise his ambition to create a links-style course worthy of this quality development, which comprises a 14-bedroom boutique hotel and planning permission for 150 luxury log cabin holiday homes surrounding the site.

But, if you think Harding the driving force behind the specification and selection of individual Barenbrug mixtures and cultivars to achieve that links feel, then think again! Searle’s commitment includes him taking an unusually in-depth interest in grass seed selection to rival many a greenkeeping professional.

Paul Searle, owner Heacham Manor

“I don’t like making decisions on things I don’t know about,” Searle reveals. “I’ve worked with Collier Turf Care and Barenbrug before, so I’ve become quite hands-on. I wanted a links-style course, but we’re not on traditional links soil – we’re on clay/silt soil. So we put artificial undulations in and used tall, willowy, wispy grass – the idea was if you stood on the tee and looked down the fairway, you would see that links-style grass. And I think we’ve achieved that.”

An established family business, Heacham Manor is Searles Leisure Group’s latest venture, having grown from popular seaside caravan park, Searles Leisure Resort, also in Hunstanton. It was here Searle built his first golf course – an accessible, nine-hole pay-and-play course in 1999. Harding says that this original course provided an invaluable insight into which mixtures might best perform on the Heacham Manor site.

“Mixtures were chosen as a result of how the species on the nine-hole course had performed and its soil types,” he explains. Hence the fairways and semi-roughs have been sown with an 80 percent perennial ryegrass and 20 percent strong creeping red fescue mixture “to, respectively, give good wear and improve bottom growth”, Harding continues. “Other longer roughs are BAR 20, with long grass ‘splashes’ left to grow up to full height to seed head, which has worked really well. The greens are BAR 2, which is exactly what was needed for them – it just does the job.”

As you’d expect, Searle designed most of the holes himself and then commissioned local contractors to do the groundwork. The course was seeded around 18 months ago.

“This was a short development,” Harding continues. “Fast establishment was required, but the mixtures have established well – the fescues are performing particularly well. We’ve got that links look but with a parkland/wilderness look as well.”

Despite his soil type and limited budget not being conducive to his aspirations, Searle has succeeded in bringing a slice of St Andrews to the Norfolk coastline. How? Harding is in no doubt that careful grass seed selection played its part. Your St Andrews-calibre courses aside, he says that all too often ‘middle-ground’ course owners invest in ambitious plans only to scrimp on the essentials that make all the difference.

“After you’ve invested £1million in your development, do you really want to scrimp on your playing surface?” Harding asks. “Some people ask me to just sell them the cheapest seed, to which I ask them if they really want that or do they want a quality surface with disease and drought resistance and all the benefits top seed brings. Paul knows that the best thing isn’t always the cheapest thing, plus also appreciates the standards of service and support that working with Collier Turf Care and Barenbrug brings.”

Searle agrees. “It’s not about how cheap something is. Yes, the price was right, but the relationship with Andrew was there. We’re a family business and believe in the value of long-term relationships – I call Andrew and he gets it done. Likewise, Barenbrug is a quality product. It’s an investment – that’s what it’s all about. And as a result, our greens are now reported to be some of the best in the county.”

Barenbrug UK

Heacham Manor

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