Award Winning Sprayer Operation - get the tips

Paul Gater AFSOOTY presentation
AFSOOTY Award winner Paul Gater shares his experiences of what it takes to be a top sprayer operator

Paul Gater, First Assistant at Caldy Golf Club, near Birkenhead, has been recognised as one of the UK’s top sprayer operators. International turf journalist, Laurence Gale, visited Paul on the course, to pick up some of his Top Tips and learn from his experience.

After 14 years at Caldy, on the north-west Wirral peninsular, near Liverpool, Paul Gater was promoted to First Assistant in 2008, taking on more responsibilities that would specifically involve taking on all the duties regarding the use of chemical products and fertilisers.

He is now effectively responsible for all the spraying operations around the course, keeping accurate records and overseeing the purchase, storage, application and disposal of any relevant chemical products.

Holding a National Certificate in Greenkeeping, along with PA 1, 2, and 6 spraying qualifications, it was Paul’s dedication to this area of work that encouraged his being put forward for the Amenity Forum Sprayer Operator of the Year (AFSOOY) awards.

Like most golf courses, Paul sees his role of the spray technician being an important cog in the running and upkeep of the golf course.

The role is very multi-tasking, not only responsible for the upkeep, running and cleaning of the spray equipment, he also requires knowledge of the weed, pest and diseases he is trying to control - while at the same time developing the best strategy and timing of when to apply the appropriate control and feed products.

Mapping of water resources and ecological features at Caldy GC

Making a detailed plan of the course can identify areas for special care when spraying, such as watercourses, for all operators

Paul advocates record keeping as one of the most valuable aspects of his job. The very fact you have accurate spraying records enabled him and Carl Crocher, his course manger, have a better understanding of what’s happening out on the course.

Safe storage at Caldy GC

Chemicals should be securely stored when not in use

This data provides much valuable information for both Carl and Paul to make informed decisions on the future maintenance requirements out on the course. It’s important to keep records for traceability, for insurance schemes and for information for emergency services, he adds.

Caldy GC shrouded boom cover sprayer

Shrouded booms can mitigate drift on windy sites. Low drift nozzles are another alternative

The club have invested in a new 600-litre tank sprayer and a 50-litre pedestrian walk over machine. During the winter months, Paul tends to use the pedestrian sprayer in and around the greens areas to reduce the problem of compaction.

Caldy GC walkover sprayer

Pedestrian sprayers still need to be calibrated, serviced and maintained for good accuracy

Like most golf clubs they all have their own unique set of problems and challenges when it comes to weed, pest and disease control. Paul and Carl are always keen to use several Integrated Pest Management strategies. 

Keeping the grass plant healthy is key, generally achieved with good greenkeeping practices that encompasses good mowing, feeding and aeration regimes, coupled with a scarification and top dressing programme, where applicable and dependant on budgets.

Labelled racking at Caldy Golf Club

Efficient store management, with clear labelling, is an important part of the operator’s role

Assessing and recording successes of application results at Caldy Golf Club

Assessing and recording results helps with future decision making, with Paul reviewing Rescue applications

They also tank mix appropriate products, ensuring they read and comply with product labels and recommendations. During any one year the sort of products they have been using at Caldy GC include: Primo Maxx; Dew smart; compost tea; soluble irons; sulphate ammonia; Porthcawl; wetting agents and Rescue.

Clean clothes and first aid kit kept on the sprayer at Caldy GC

Keep PPE separate and know where the first aid kit is – preferably on the sprayer

Caldy GC spray recording sheets

Maintain clear, up to date records

Paul was runner-up in the category for sports turf application with a mounted sprayer. Look out for more tips from previous winners, including Nathan Hume of S H Goss.

Paul’s Top Tips for accurate spraying, which made him a winner :- 

  • “Being an exposed golf course and often wind swept we tend to use shrouds / covers on our sprayer to help reduce spray drift.
  • “From 2016 new legislation came into effect that all mounted and pedestrian sprayers must comply with national testing. We always make sure every year the sprayer has an MOT through NSTS services to ensure the sprayer is working correctly. It also helps to minimise breakdowns, plus for insurance policy, it’s important to have.
  • “We have buffer zone areas designated as NO SPRAY ZONES around the course. At Caldy these are long stripes of uncut grass which form a boundary. One sensitive area at is the bee hives on site.
  • “We are also mindful of spraying near water, and only do so as a last resort, using a knapsack.
  • “I wanted to find out the accurate amount of water that I was putting in the spray tank, so we have bought a flow meter that fits on to the hose pipe. It was especially good if you want to spray a few greens as you can get the right amount of water.
  • “I use an app on my mobile phone to check my forward speed; this helps me improve my spraying accuracy.
  • “When I mix iron sulphate I use warm water to speed the dissolving process once mixed use it the same day, as the iron will start to oxidise thereby losing its efficacy once mixed. I pour it through a filter sock as I put it into the sprayer; I find this helps minimise any blockages I get out on the course.
  • “Nozzles selection is a key part of accurate application. Appropriate water volume at the required speed to hit the intended target. I tend to use water volume of 300 l/ha for foliar products, such as Primo Maxx and a selection of fungicides. For penetrating through the sward I use 600 l/ha for the likes of wetting agents and compost teas. Nozzles are regularly checked for the output and spray pattern; and changed when needed. We tend to keep a spare set nozzle accessible when required.
  • “All PPE are always kept in a clean zone. Everyone who is assigned to spraying has his or her dedicated own PPE they tend to look after.
  • “Store container old stock is dated, so it can be used first. Some products are dated on them.
  • “For washing down machines, i.e. sprayers, we have a reed bed system which we built in 2007, with a reusable water system.
  •  “We use Weather apps to check the forecast before any application.”