April 13, 2024

GREEN WITH ENVY: The secrets to Rich River’s stunning transformation

Rich River Golf Club greenkeepers

Rich River Golf Club took decisive steps two years ago to change the course and golfing experience to compete with the very best golf stay and play offerings in Australia and around the world.

First step was poaching Jarrod Castle from Kingston Heath. Castle, 39, won the job and the club was lucky enough to secure two high quality green keepers in Justin Crowe and Tim Leat to create a formidable management team.

The detail and quality in the course has been inspirational to see. I stayed here 10 years ago, but the difference between then and now is staggering.

Let’s hear from Castle and how he and his team have turned this venue into one of the best NSW Open venues of the past decade.

The East and West Courses are in brilliant condition, especially the greens and aprons. What a transformation. It was always a great set of courses but now they’re even better.

When I landed here two years ago the course was in the midst of an irrigation upgrade out on the East Course. That was completed at the end of 2021 which helped us transform the place. When I got up here there was a fine cut on the fairways but off the fairways it was basically dirt. So now we are irrigating treeline to treeline and growing rough and grass in areas that never had grass.

We are working on the clay profile now, which is challenging. The grass here grows on clay, not on a layer of sand like it does on the sandbelt, and the challenge is that it gets soft quickly and also gets really hard quickly. The clay can get so hard that it cracks. You have to manage irrigation, and the old system here the sprinklers would come on at once and you can over water an area, especially when you are trying to get water to another area nearby. We now have individual control over every single sprinkler head on the property.

We are told that you are really particular about the way you manage the course. For instance no mowing or rolling greens during frosts?

When you get a frost the blades on the machines can snap the blades of grass, golf carts can do it – even golfers can do it. The grass is frozen and if it snaps it can break the tips leaving burn marks. In winter it can take three or four weeks for the grass to grow back. We’re really cautious on what we put across the greens now as well.

There was a tendency prior to my time here to do everything with machines, particularly in winter when you only cut the greens once a week. Even then there was a tendency to run the mower over the green to remove dew and present them, but that just adds wear and tear on a surface that’s not growing much at that time of the year.

We’ve introduced a lot more manual work. It used to be if you couldn’t cut everything sitting in the seat of a machine then it wouldn’t get done. Removing dew now is done by hand with brooms. We do a lot more hand cutting now on the greens on the East Course. Using a hand mower gives you a much better cut, much finer. And you don’t have those little indentations in the green that machines cause. You can’t really see those indentations but they are there. We are also dusting the greens a lot more, especially in the growing season. That gives you a firmer surface, a smoother, truer surface is the result of more dusting. 

We’ve changed a lot of things over the past two years but I still look around the course and think at some point we are going to change that. It’s slow and steady with

What has been the reaction of members and even within your own team?

I’ve come in to a whole new group of people, and many of them would be wondering what’s going to change. We’ll be slowly implementing things along the way rather than saying everything you’ve known for the past 10 years is now going to be done this way. 

What disciplines did you bring from Kingston Heath?

Attention to detail and education for the guys. At Kingston Heath Hayden Mead (course superintendent) was always big on communicating the reasons we were doing things, for the members and also to the ground crew. That’s something I’ve tried to do here. Trying to educate my team is one of the challenges, but also getting out there and working together. I’m not an office superintendent. You’ve got to also be out there in the grounds. 

What’s you ambition for these courses?

We are already ranked in the Top 100 public access golf courses in Australia. I want to be Top 100 of all courses in Australia. We’ve still got six holes to finish on our master plan. Once we get through that the course will be a lot more challenging but also the work we’ve already done on the past two years will help. We’re growing a lot of new rough to grow in first. Once that’s done and we have cart parts in we’ll be a long way towards achieving that goal. All that’s needed is the polish.

How far through your own plan are you?

I’ve got a couple of years still to help fine-tune my team, but the NSW Open has fast-tracked us a bit because we’ve made the time to get out there more and drill down what we are trying to do. 

Tell me about the weeks in the lead-up to the Play TODAY NSW Open?

Tournament week is probably the quietest of the weeks (laughs). We were flat out for six to eight weeks leading up to it, lots of overtime and it’s getting all those jobs done so we peak at the right time, for tournament week.

HOW TO TREAT THE COURSE

  • Obey the time sheet. The time sheet is our bible and if anyone tees off 30 minutes early it throws out our plan.
  • Please don’t drive golf carts through wet patches in winter – avoid them.
  • Walking up the faces of bunkers and then complaining the faces are soft.
  • Divots and ball marks. Divots are easy enough to repair, ball marks on greens are not.

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