A day in the life: James Cleaver

By Alistair October 23, 2020 06:50

The course manager at Stratford Oaks Golf Club in Warwickshire, a parkland venue that was designed by Howard Swan, takes us through his average day.

What time do you arrive at the club?

I usually arrive around half an hour before the rest of the team in the morning to confirm the jobs set for the morning and afternoon, catch-up on emails and continue the planning for the days ahead.

Can you describe your morning routine?

I arrive at the club and will grab a cup of tea and some breakfast and confirm the day’s jobs. Once the team are all in and ready to start, I’ll meet them in the maintenance area which they will have opened up ready to go. I’ll hold a team briefing where jobs are given out for the morning and also for the afternoon. It also gives me time to air any thoughts I may have, bring them up to date with plans for the days ahead or update them on anything out of the ordinary going on. Covid-19 is a great example as guidance changes regularly, so we must adapt quickly to that. I will also make sure that I’m available to carry out a morning set-up with the team. I’m very hands-on and will mix up what I do daily, as this gives me a great opportunity to see and monitor all areas of the golf course. Once completed, I’ll catch up with the team to check everything is ok and afternoon jobs are ready to go after their break.

How many people are there in your team and is it a fair number for your collective workload?

We usually have six but have just dropped to five through retirement, but as we approach the tail end of the season and with the way the world is at the moment, we won’t be looking to replace them just yet. Five is not really enough and we do struggle. Six is OK, it gets us by, but in an ideal world seven would be nice as it would give us the scope to take everything up a level.

Do you share tasks?

Yes, I am a big believer in having a multi-skilled workforce. It means I can rely on anyone to do any task, but it also keeps them interested and focussed when things are mixed up and not set in a routine.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

I think appreciation goes a long way in motivating people – letting them know their efforts are appreciated and sharing feedback, especially during big projects or renovations. A simple thank you at the end of the day goes a long way which is something I learnt from my first head greenkeeper, Andy Mason. Every day, without fail, he thanked every member of staff which I think (or at least hope!) means people leave feeling appreciated.

What’s your favourite season of the year and why?

Easily spring, especially after a long, wet winter like we had last year! Everything hopefully starts to pick up and the presentation of the course changes and improves. Spring renovations is always a great time too, as you start preparing your surfaces ready for the season ahead.

What aspects / functions of your job gives you the greatest satisfaction?

Seeing a plan come together and what was once something on paper become a reality.

And what part of it gives you the least satisfaction?

Paperwork. I’ve never been a lover of the office, I much prefer being hands on, but it’s increasing an industry of paper trails, emails and correspondence.

Have you attended any courses recently?

During Continue to Learn in Harrogate, I attended a course / seminar on collating and using data to improve the condition of greens. It was American based, but still relevant to the UK, and it really did highlight the levels you can go to in order to fine tune your playing surfaces.

Do you have a feeding programme for your fairways? How do you ensure your greens have good colour?

I don’t have a feeding programme as such for my fairways as they are not irrigated and burn out very quickly. When conditions allow, I will use a tank-mix of XTEND 46-0-0 and Elevate Fe from Headland Amenity. Elevate Fe for me is pound for pound the best value iron product on the market. On the greens, personally I’m not a huge fan of a deep green appearance and so I tend to find that nitrogen usually gives us enough colour. If I feel I need to enhance it slightly, I will use a seaweed / iron product such as Seamac Proturf Fe.

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

I think we need to make a collective effort to make sure that greenkeeping is recognised as a profession and that managing a golf course is a science. We are not just grass cutters and sadly, for some clubs, that is how the greenstaff can be seen. This is having an effect on good people, with degree level education, leaving the industry because their salaries are sometimes the same as a normal labourer in other industries.

Has a golfer ever deliberately directed a ball at you?

Not deliberately at me as such, but in my general direction through a lack of patience, and that appears to be getting worse. At least once a week every member of my staff will say they have nearly been hit. Clubs should have a zero tolerance policy; close call receives a warning, an actual hit gets them a month ban. I think some golfers are literally ignorant to the fact they could kill someone through a lack of patience.

Have you ever had any mishaps with lakes on the course or had to undertake a rescue of a daft golfer?

Not myself thankfully but I have seen machines in a lake before and it’s not nice. Quite quickly the operator becomes aware of the fact that they could have been trapped under the machine in the water, and often it’s not a quick process to get someone out. We do however seem to see a good few trolleys make their way into lakes!

What is the most interesting animal you have seen on your course and how do you do support wildlife?

We have signed up to GEO Foundation and so are committed to improving our wildlife and habitat work, as well as helping to create a more sustainable golf course as a whole. We have buzzards, kestrels, herons, and a red kite on our course and have installed a lot of bird boxes and bug hotels over the last year.

Are you seeing any evidence of climate change?

We seem to be having fewer really cold winters, less frequent hard, deep frosts and more reasonable amounts of snowfall. For example, last year in terms of traditional climate we basically had six months of autumn and didn’t really experience any periods which you would classify as winter weather.

What advice would you give to a young greenkeeper starting out today?

Get as much education as you can and don’t stop learning. Try to work for someone who his willing to invest time in you. Ask as many questions as you can and don’t be afraid to network and mix with people in more senior positions, most will gladly help you. Tournament supports are one of the best things you can do if an opportunity arises – I have many contacts all over the world who I bounce ideas off and ask for help and advice when I need it.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I spend my leisure time with family and friends. I also play golf and enjoy the occasional DIY project … my most recent one was to build ourselves a dining room table!


By Alistair October 23, 2020 06:50

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