Warren Lawler, Armidale Golf Club’s greenkeeper, strives for excellence in his chosen field.
>When did you become the greenkeeper at the Armidale Golf Club?
I started work at Armidale Golf Club on the 22nd August 2006. We left Cowra on the Saturday for the 8 hour trip, unpacked on the Sunday and started on the Monday.
> Where did you commence your career as a greenkeeper?
I started as an apprentice greenkeeper at Oatlands Golf Club in Sydney, 27 years ago in 1981. I left school when I was 15 years old and have been working on golf courses ever since. At the time Oatlands was rated in the top 10 courses of Australia. Not a bad place to start off my career.
> Have you worked on other courses?
Six and a half years at Oatlands was my start and climbed the ladder to second in charge, 5 ½ years at Antill Park Country Club at Picton, started out as second in charge and became the Course Superintendent after 18-months. Ten years at Gerringong Golf Club as Course Superintendent. Four years at Cowra Golf Club as Course Manager and to date at Armidale Golf Club as Course Superintendent.
> What prompted your move to Armidale?
At the time I was working at Cowra Golf Club, with the impact of the drought the club was struggling for players and finances and had no forward planning. It was a club with limited chances of improvement. In the end we were just maintaining the course. I was bored and looking for a new challenge.
With Armidale it was a coincidence, we holidayed at the Gold Coast and on returning home stopped over at Armidale for lunch. That night I looked at the AGCSA website, (Australian Golf Course Superintendent Association) and in jobs vacant was Armidale Golf Club, looking for a course superintendent.
My wife Jacqui and I talked about the prospect of moving, it was a step forward financially and a step forward for our son Max academically and career wise.
The golf club itself was a whole different story. The club was tired looking, it was a club that had seen great times and now was left behind with no real direction forward. Upon driving around the course for the first time, you could see the potential the course had. The course was unique in itself with well defied tree lined fairways. Old trees throughout were scarred with time among pines and deciduous plants. Every hole had its own distinctive appeal. I could see the job as a huge challenge and one that if the club was behind my ideas, would be a golf course with unlimited potential.
> What do you enjoy most about your job?
Job satisfaction is most important to me. I enjoy the end result of a project the boys and I have completed. When you look back at what we started and what we have achieved it is most pleasing. This goes for the whole course, for the improvements we are making brings Armidale one step closer to being the top country club in Australia – and one the members are proud to belong to.
> Who have been the greatest influences in your career as a greenkeeper?
Two people have had a big influence on my life as to the way I apply myself to be a successful greenkeeper. When I was just starting out as a 15 year old apprentice greenkeeper at Oatland Golf Club, the then Course Superintendent, Doug Spurway, was a man from the old school; he was as hard as nails and a man who everyone had huge respect for. Doug knew all there was to know about greenkeeping. He took me under his wing and taught me what he knew. He always said that to be a successful superintendent is by hard work and never to cut corners. One thing that will always stick in my mind is one day, Doug called me over and as we talked he stopped, looked at me and said, ‘Warren, to be a successful superintendent you need to strive to always do better. A good green keeper is never happy with the end result he has achieved, if you think that this is the best you can do that is the best you will ever do. You need to push yourself all the time and think next time I will do much better to achieve those results that are just out of reach’.
The other person is my father, Max. Growing up and even today he is always building things, he never sits still and is always thinking of ways to improve what he is working on. Dad has always told me, “If you are going to do something don’t even start unless you are going to do it to the best of your ability”. When I was young I thought if I do it that way it was going to take too long, just cut corners it will still work the same. How times have changed. I have become a perfectionist in the way I do my work. It has to be painstakingly correct or I start again. You put a lot of pressure on yourself but in the end it also brings the best out in you.
Doug may have passed away a long time ago but he and Dad still have a big influence on the way I strive to become a better superintendent day in day out.
> How does the golf course in Armidale compare with other courses?
Comparison is a hard one, to compare us to the top clubs in Sydney we struggle, but to compare us with other country clubs we are one of the best around. The beauty of group 1 clubs is that they set the bench mark. This in turn sets the high standards we will achieve over time; these goals are the things that drive me to improve the Armidale course. Being a superintendent you are constantly on display in the way the course is presented. If you were to come back in 5 years the comparison would be much different.
> What is in store for the future?
At the moment we are looking to becoming more environmentally friendly. The water quality from our three dams is highly alkaline; with high alkalinity, grass struggles to grow healthy, so we use an acid injection machine to rectify the problem. Over the last few months in conjunction with the National Parks and University of New England we have constructed an artificial wetlands. The wetlands are a giant fish tank filter, by using gravel, sands and aquatic plants we are able to filter nutrients, algae and sediment from the water thus reducing the use for acid. Native fish have also been released into the dams to further help improve water quantity.
We have implemented a five year plan which first and foremost will make the course safer by building strategically placed protective mounds and realigning hazardous fairways. All tees will be rebuilt by making them larger and level. New grass species are to be introduced. Also the planting of native shrubs around water courses to remove nutrients and a habitat to attract native birds.
Overall the five year plan is to provide a continuing strategy to maximize improvements and take the course to a level that members and visitors will want to come back and play time and time again.
> Do you enjoy a round of golf?
To be honest, no I don’t like to play at Armidale. The reason is I can’t relax playing on a course I’m in charge of, I’m my own worst critic; I see all the faults. Little things like why is that bunker not raked properly? The grass that was not cut, the greens that are too soft. I sometimes cop the blame for a bad score. So I guess it’s not the most relaxing sport for me
On the other hand I enjoy playing at resort or group one clubs, these clubs give ideas on improvements I can take back to Armidale and use in the future development upgrade. Group one clubs don’t cut corners, they have the money and the resources to do the job properly. By taking ideas from group one or resort courses you are rebuilding the Armidale course with proven designs and layouts from the best Australian golf courses. By that I mean if I build a new green I can recall from a layout of say the 3rd green at Lakes club in Sydney, that would be ideal down at our 8th green in Armidale.
> What would entice more visitors to Armidale Golf Club?
Armidale Golf Club is constantly changing and improving. From the time you are greeted by Rob the course professional, head to the 1st or 10th tees and stand there overlooking the whole course, it now looks like a huge parkland. The course encompasses 80 acres of lush green grass, gently rolling hills highlighted by the brilliant colours of autumn trees so characteristic of Armidale. For the player the trees have been pruned, there is no chance now of losing a ball under a tree, gone are the days of crawling on your hands and knees to retrieve it, even if you hit a ball into the rough more than likely you will find it. The fairways are well defined all snaking their way down to the greens. If by chance you land in a bunker, not to worry there will be plenty of sand under your feet. Once on the greens you are guaranteed a true roll, it’s up to you to read the speed and breaks. Week in week out the boys and I will always present the course in a highly manicured standard which the members are now accustomed to. To play Armidale now is to play a course which is constantly changing. From day one we set about to improve the =course in some little way, I take pride in the fact that we have.
> Thank you Warren.