Men at work - down under
Greenkeeping gives us a fantastic opportunity to work abroad, as well as the chance to work at prestigious UK courses through summer casual positions. I will be spending this summer working at Walton Heath.
Countless tournaments take place where volunteers are welcome, and I’ve met many greenkeepers that are making the most of this opportunity, hopefully this article will encourage a few more.
Gaining experience and knowledge from various greenkeepers at a range of facilities - and having fun along the way - can surely only benefit you in the long run.
So where do we start? For me, it was a wasted year at golf college before I realised I wasn’t even going to get in my scratch team let alone make a living from playing golf. I had done a week’s work experience greenkeeping while at school, so I knew it was something that interested me.
I was fortunate to land an apprenticeship at Coombe Hill Golf Club, and I really learned my trade there. High standards were drilled into me from the start and an approachable boss meant you could truly feel
fully involved in course improvements.
I did both my Level 2 and 3 whilst at the club, studying at Merrist Wood College. My college project was to play a part in building a new bunker. I was fortunate enough to be trained up on most machinery, and work at a course where the right practice was done as opposed to the cheapest.
The Golden Bear
Maybe it was the influence of several Australian guys at Coombe Hill, but I was very keen to further my greenkeeping experience down under.
I came across an advert on the Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association (AGCSA) website – the Australian Golf Club in Sydney were reconstructing the course and greenkeepers were required.
The chance to work with warm season grasses, in 40C heat on a championship course, was a new and really enjoyable experience. Setting up the course for the greatest ever player – Jack Nicklaus - was special and I spent five months there.
For more on my time there take a look at my interview with the club’s Course Superintendent Phil Beal.
Wimbledon, Wentworth and Walton Heath
I’ve always wanted to work at Wimbledon, so when the opportunity arrived last summer I was the most excited I have ever been for a job. I finely tuned my hand cutting and attention to detail, and the Wimbledon Championships fortnight was amazing. I learned the most during renovations, which start the week after the Championships. The use of the Koro, pedestrian scarifiers as well as top dressing and seeding means each court gets a new coverage of grass each year. This work plays a big part in creating a world-class surface.
They take on temporary staff every season many of which have golf experience, so it’s a great opportunity to broaden your knowledge.
I also joined BIGGA’s Support Team at the BMW PGA Championship, which was a great chance to meet more experienced BIGGA greenkeepers and work on another superb course. Next was a day at Walton Heath for the US Open Qualifier, where Alan Strachan and the team got me really involved with the whole set up. It was another fun and informative day, and all these experiences have improved my CV.
The Australian Open 2014
I recently volunteered at The Australian Open held at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney in November 2014. With the new look golf course almost complete it was going to be interesting to see how it played, and it turned out to be a great feeling of pride and enjoyment.
The whole event was a massive success and the congratulations towards the greenkeepers kept coming, I’d never seen the work of greenkeepers appreciated so much. Sitting near the 18th with the crowd, watching Jordan Spieth sink his birdie putt for the title, I got a real sense of achievement.
The full-time team is 22 greenkeepers including four Brits. They were joined by 25 volunteers working for a nine-day period. The atmosphere was really good. Course Superintendent Phil Beal and his assistant Dave Smith were very relaxed and this transmitted to the volunteers.
I was in one of three pairs hand cutting the greens and my holes included the 18th and 9th greens. The greens were initially double cut, followed by a double roll, but this varied later in the week as the greens were reading too high on the stimp (according to the tournament director). This meant the greens were not rolled at all on tournament days.
Wednesday to Sunday consisted of split shifts. Morning was set up, then back in the afternoon where fairways, tees, approaches and semi rough were cut again. Other afternoon jobs were pitchmark repairing, divoting and blowing debris and paths.