Toro Equipment at Houghton Golf Course

Toro Keeping standards high at Houghton Golf Club

Toro Houghton Golf Club is deemed one of South Africa’s premier golfing venues. To keep standards high, a meticulous turf maintenance regime ensures the course’s unmatched aesthetic appeal and overall playability. To be able to achieve these maintenance goals, the green-keeping team has standardised its fleet on Smith Power Equipment-supplied Toro machines in recent years with great results.

Stephen Mangold and Stuart Ross
Stephen Mangold and Stuart Ross

Course playability is what every golfer dies for. High-performing greens, visual appeal and tee positioning that accommodates varying abilities, are among some of the key considerations that every golfer puts on their priority list. However, achieving and maintaining those attributes is a full-time job requiring agronomic expertise, experience, and a well-trained crew.

Stuart Ross, superintendent at Houghton Golf Course, brings all those attributes and more to the Johannesburg based golf course. Boasting 15+ years of experience as a greenkeeper, Stuart has amassed a lot of experience in greenkeeping. He understands the unique properties of various turf grasses and how best to keep them in great shape. He joined Houghton Golf Club in 2006, a year before the famous club underwent a holistic revamp, which gave it a completely new face.

Stuat Ross - Houghton Golf Course
Stuat Ross – Houghton Golf Course

In 2007, Houghton Golf Club decided on a radical makeover, which saw it becoming one of only five Jack Nicklaus designed signature courses in South Africa. The makeover entailed pretty much a complete redesign of the course, with new greens and more. Another part of the revamp entailed contouring the greens with subtle slopes, therefore increasing difficulty of the course.

Today, Houghton Golf Club – with a parkland layout course meandering through mature pine and eucalyptus trees which has played host to the SA open on no less than eight occasions – is famous for its immaculate conditions. These conditions are a result of great attention to detail paid by course superintendent Stuart and his staff through a process called “spring treatment”, performed – as the name suggests – every spring.

In order for the course to look its best, one needs to start with a good base, once you have achieved that the rest falls into place – spring treatment is every turf grass superintendent’s chance to achieve an optimum foundation to ensure the grass performs during the growing season,” says Stuart.

Spring treatment at Houghton

The spring treatment at Houghton Golf Club involves several processes which involve dethatching all kikuyu areas as well as aerification on tees, fairways and green surrounds. Explaining the aerification, Stuart says the process basically serves three main objectives – it relieves soil compaction, thus getting your soil and air percentage to optimum levels ensuring good rooting. It also provides a method to improve the soil mixture when incorporating a top dressing mix, and it reduces and prevents the accumulation of excess thatch,” explains Stuart.

Toro Equipment at Houghton Golf Course
Toro Equipment at Houghton Golf Course

Typically, spring treatment at Houghton Golf Club starts on the 1st of July, starting with the bunkers. “We have 64 bunkers in total and the work we do there usually takes about two to three weeks, with a team of 6-10 people,” says Stuart. Due to the design of the bunkers, Stuart explains they can’t use normal run-of-the-mill brush cutters because they are too aggressive and the bunkers will therefore lose their unique shape.

The bunkers on this course are a special feature which I don’t want to lose. A lot of it is done by hand this is one of the reasons I start my bunker programme a bit earlier as removing last year’s growth by hand does take a bit of extra time,” he adds.

On the first week of August the serious business starts, commencing with the tee surrounds, rough then the out-of-play areas and eventually tees and fairways and green surrounds. “As we get to September, we start with high traffic areas, being tees and fairways, the recovery will be faster because the temperatures during that time of the year will be much warmer, which bodes well for quicker growth. We try not to disturb the golfing experience too much so the quicker we get the grass back the better,” he says.

Equipment for the job

To undertake this process, Stuart explains that he has put trust in the Toro brand, which is a renowned name globally, and locally supplied by Smith Power Equipment. A Reelmaster 5510 is also on site for cutting fairways. A key feature of this machine is the Dual Precision Adjustment (DPA) cutting units which maintain levelness and hold adjustments. DPA allows quick bedknife to reel adjustment. Harder reel and bedknife steel retain a sharp edge up to three times longer to minimise the need and frequency of adjustments, backlapping and grinding leading to healthier turf that stays green.

Two Reelmaster 3100-D mowers are also on site. With a 21.5 hp (16 kw) Kubota engine, the Reelmaster 3100-D has the power to climb and power to cut through difficult mowing conditions. It is available in a 183 cm or 216 cm width of cut. With a choice of 5, 8, and 11 blade reels and adjustable reel speed control, this mower can be configured to meet all mowing applications.

Another Toro mower on site is the Greenmaster 3250-D. There has never been a greensmower with as much versatility as the new Greensmaster 3250-D. A large, 3 cylinder, Kubota® 902 diesel engine making 24.8 hp (18.5 kw) @ 3 600 rpm, governed to 2 750 rpm, provides the performance needed to use on greens and all areas around greens. Stuart says they have since placed an order of another 3250-D, which Stephen Mangold, National Sales Manager – Toro and Club Car at Smith Power Equipment, says will be delivered at the start of July this year.

Also on site is the Groundsmaster 3500 – a revolutionary triplex rotary mower designed for superior performance trimming. The free-floating Contour Plus cutting decks allow mowing of undulating terrain without scalping. The powerful engine and exclusive traction drive system, gets the mowing job done quickly.

On the green surrounds, considering the tighter and complex nature of the area, we use a turf aerator, and then the Greenmaster 3250-D to get around those little corners. Our green side bunkers are quite close to the greens, some areas are maximum half a metre between them. That’s why we prefer the 3250 in those areas where space is at a premium,” says Stuart.

Houghton Golf Club is also a proud owner of two Toro Workman MDX units, a Toro 1250 spray tank and six Flex 2120 walk-behind mowers. The spray tank is used to spray everything from greens & tees to fairways. “I use it usually every single week, and can even sometimes use it up to four times a week on various parts of the course,” says Stuart.

The Workman MDX’s are great utility vehicles used to carry goods, staff and also for towing purposes. We decided on these units as we needed something strong and powerful enough to tow our Flex 2120 mowers to our greens. We don’t really have a flat course so we needed something to help us in that regard, literally going up and down the course

The Greensmaster Flex 2120 mower delivers pristine results time and time again on the bentgrass greens. It cuts closely to follow severe undulations at extremely low heights, and provides an excellent solution for greens that require precision mowing. The unique and patented Flex suspension system utilises an integrated linkage system to allow cutting units to pivot around the centre of the front roller, which prevents side-to-side scrubbing of the putting surface. “One can just see the value of having the right machine for the job right there,” says Stuart.

Why Toro and Smith Power Equipment?

Stuart explains that Houghton Golf Club has pretty much standardised its fleet with Toro machines, following a careful replacement process that has taken out all competitor machines. “We have slowly but surely converted the whole fleet into Toro machines. We are just one machine away from being completely Toro,” he says. “We previously had some competitor machines and experienced a couple of problems with some of them and we decided to move on.

Stuart also asserts that it’s common knowledge in the golfing industry that Toro is just “a far superior brand”. For Stuart, quality matters over price. He acknowledges that Toro might not be the cheapest, but the build quality of the machines is critical for any golf course superintendent. “It is definitely a solid product that gives us exceptional performance,” he says.

A good product is one thing, and support behind it is quite another. Under the dealership of Smith Power Equipment, Toro has enjoyed massive growth in South Africa. For Stuart, it’s also about relationships. He started dealing with Smith Power Equipment as far back as 2004, and has gone on to establish a more than supplier-customer relationship with Mangold. “I deal with Stephen more often and there has never been an instance where he has said he can’t help. If there are issues, he quickly attends to them and finds solutions to our problems should any occur.”

Stephen Mangold and Stuart Ross with Houghton Club House in background
Stephen Mangold and Stuart Ross with Houghton Club House in background

Stuart says green keeping is a high performing pressurised job and this type of support is what every greenkeeper needs to produce the best course possible for its members and guests. “Downtime for us is out of the question! Remember each machine in my fleet is allocated to a certain area on the golf course, so if a machine goes down, that area will naturally suffer. Golfers want to play on a premium surface and therefore you need machines and support you can rely on – Toro says you can count on them, and that’s exactly what I do,” concludes Stuart.

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This article was featured in the Tee and Sandwedges – July 2019.

Contact Stephan Mangold on email: stephen@smithpower.co.za or 082 882 6935 or 011 284 2000.

For more information please contact Smith Power Equipment on 011 284 2000.