Women & Girls' Golf Week: Nicky Chaplin

29 July 2019 Feature Article

 

If there are few enough women in greenkeeping, the number who come to it as a second career must be tiny.

But that’s what Nicky Chaplin, trainee greenkeeper at Prince’s in Sandwich, Kent, has done.

Nicky and her husband Mark, at the time a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, lived in London in their younger years, before moving out of the city to Tonbridge.

Mark, a keen golfer, joined Royal Cinque Ports in 1998 and has become a well‑known fixture of the club in the years since. When Mark retired from the Met in 2012, the two moved to Deal, where the club is located. They bought a bed & breakfast in the town, running it for five and a half years.

The couple sold the B&B in early 2017, and Nicky took a job managing a local restaurant. But that was not a success and she began looking for something new.

And then Mark announced that he would like to spend a summer living in St Andrews, experiencing the Home of Golf in a way that only locals can. He had originally thought of 2019 as the year for this trip, but, as Nicky said ‘I might find my dream job in the next year. Let’s do it now’. And so they did. Both knew they needed to work, and looked around for seasonal opportunities in the town – which basically meant golf.

James Bledge, course manager at Royal Cinque Ports and a good friend, offered advice on seasonal opportunities in Scotland and Mark sent his CV to St Andrews Links Trust director of greenkeeping Gordon Moir.

The two had a successful interview via Skype, and as they were closing up, Gordon said: “I’ll interview your wife too, if you like.”

And so it came to pass that the couple spent the summer of 2018 living in St Andrews and working on the golf courses from Monday to Friday, 5.30 to 9.30am, and often on weekends too.

On returning to Kent last autumn, the question arose: what should the two of them do with themselves? Mark’s police pension meant they would not go hungry, but neither was ready to retire. Nicky, who had much enjoyed her experience at St Andrews, began volunteering as part of Sean McLean’s crew at Prince’s.

“It was almost like an extended interview,” she said. “After a few weeks, Sean came to me and said he appreciated my enthusiasm and attitude.

I spoke to him about a part time opportunity, but part‑timers don’t really fit in with the way Prince’s organises its crew. So I started as a full‑time trainee greenkeeper on 4 April this year.”

How is she finding her new life? Nicky is the sort of person who takes new things in her stride, and the small greenkeeper in a cap has already become a common sight at Prince’s.

Nicky said: “I find getting up in the morning to be easy, especially now it is light so early. It’s beautiful to be outside in the early morning, although at first, when it was dark and I needed to wear a head torch for the first hour or so, that was tougher.

The crew have been very welcoming – they talk a lot at break – but it’s football, football, football. I have tried to bring the conversation round to sunscreen and moisturiser, but it’s not really working.

“I think the big challenge for me will be winter work. But I enjoy the job. I don’t know if it would suit all women, but greenkeeping could and should attract more women. It’s probably never going to be fifty‑fifty though, just because there are plenty of women to whom this would not appeal.

“I do still care about what my hair looks like, but at the end of the day it is what it is.

“Strength‑wise, there’s nothing I haven’t been able to do and in terms of fitting in with a team of men, I can curse just as well as the next person – if anyone wants to shock me they find I can give it back!”

Nicky is a BIGGA member and went to BTME – sponsored by BIGGA Kent – for the first time this year.

“I’m not worried about progressing upwards, but I would like to get qualified,” she added. “I have always been someone who wants to know why she’s doing what she’s doing.

“BIGGA has a Facebook group for women in turfcare that has been very useful. But mostly it is just about being out and about in a beautiful environment and helping get the course ready for people to have fun.

“Several of the Prince’s members recognise me now, and come across to say hi when they see me. Getting that kind of feedback is what makes any job worthwhile.”

Article by Adam Lawrence of Golf Course Architecture Magazine

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