A day in the life: James Braithwaite

By Alistair February 28, 2019 08:40 Updated

James is the course manager at Long Ashton Golf Club. The 126-year-old parkland course is situated just 10 minutes from Bristol’s city centre.

What time do you arrive at the club?

A summer start is around 4:45am and in winter, 5:45am. This gives me an hour or so before the team starts, to get paperwork out of the way.

Can you describe your morning routine?

Monday morning starts with putting the weekly work rota up on the dry-wipe board. The first stop every morning then is to collect soil temperatures and all the weather data, putting it all into graphs and other formats. After this I will finish writing up the diary from the day before, if necessary, answer or act on the latest emails and update the budgets and stock lists … the list goes on … oh, most importantly, I make sure the kettle is on ready for a brew for the arriving team! We’ll then have a team briefing before going out and working on the course. The occasional meeting during the working day may take me off the course, but most meetings are out of general working hours.

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

We have six staff including myself to look after a 220 acre site, including 80 acres of woodland and six footpaths, with some extra help from a part time handyman / gardener who looks after the area around the clubhouse. We also complete machinery maintenance in-house with the assistance of an external contractor. The course presentation is excellent, but to improve further and implement more ideas, another pair of hands would be helpful.

Do you share tasks?

Yes, tasks are rotated as much as possible, but the staff do have tasks that they are better at than others.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

Motivation is a very difficult question. Individuals react to different types of motivation – some like praise, some like rewards, some react in other ways such as being given responsibility.  Generally, motivation is achieved through praise and the occasional drink after work in the clubhouse, or a night out.

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

Spring going into summer, when everything is just kicking off and the course presentation is outstanding. All the stripes are showing up nicely and the greens are performing to their optimum.

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

Presenting a golf course to be proud of and working with a team that can produce it. You know you have it right when you stand on the tee and you really want to play the course. It draws you in!

And what part of it gives you the least satisfaction?

Mindless vandalism, lack of care for the course and the lack of understanding of the professional job we do.

Have you attended any courses recently?

I attended BTME 2018 and 2019 in Harrogate. BTME is a must for me, the education is excellent and the networking (with a beer) on the evening is second to none – you can learn so much talking to you peers over a beer. I also attended a recent seminar presented by Maxwell Amenity. It doesn’t matter how many times you see a presentation on a subject, there is always something new to bring home, it may only be one thing, but that makes the day worthwhile.

What seed mixtures and / or cultivars do you use for your greens, tees, fairways and roughs?

Generally I’ve been using Johnson Sports Seed J Nitro All Bent on the greens (Arrowtown, Manor and Troy) and Johnsons J 4Turf on tees (Berlioz, Double and Fabian) with great results. On the fairways we have been using J Fairways (Humboldt and Wagner – Chewings Fescue, Archibal and Rossinante – Slender Creeping Red Fescue and Dumas – Hard Fescue).

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

Greater respect for our profession, raising the profile of greenkeeping through authorities recognised and respected by golfers to show we are professional people working in a professional industry.

Has a golfer ever deliberately directed a ball at you?

Not directly at me, but knowing I was on the green and that was the target. This happens far too often!

Are you seeing any evidence of climate change?

I am certainly seeing a change in climate, springs are getting later and the cutting season is going on much longer than in the past. When I first started greenkeeping over a quarter of a century ago, albeit in the north east, come the end of September, the machinery was put away for the winter. Nowadays we don’t really put the machines to bed! The rainfall hasn’t really increased from my collation since 2000, but the ferocity of the downpours is far greater, causing greater flooding of greens and so on. This was a catalyst to re-build our greens to USGA specification in 2013, combined with the demand for 365 days a year of golf on greens.

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

Not directly, but there have been a few occasions when golfers have left their trolleys turned on and the whole lot has ended up in the lake! We’ve dragged a couple of machines out from the edge of ponds, but the funniest request was to see if we could find a set of false teeth a member had lost on the course!

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

We have plenty of wildlife, ranging from adders, grass snakes, common lizards and slow worms, buzzards, peregrines, kestrels, sparrow hawks, finches and so on to roe deer. But the most interesting bird, which I think is also one of the prettiest birds in Britain, is the kingfisher. We have a few ponds on the course, but no flowing water, so I never expected to see one at Long Ashton, but amazingly I have spotted one twice in my 22 years. To try and encourage as much as possible we have put out bird boxes, sown wild flower areas and increased the long grass areas, but there is still plenty more to do.

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

Education is key, but experience is also vital to get on in the industry. Attend as many educational events as possible, make yourself known to other greenkeepers, ask as many questions as you can. At the end of the day you will only get out of something what you’re willing to put into it.

How do you spend your leisure time?

Most of my time at present is taken up with looking after my grandson Archie, who lives with us, and spending time with the family, which I love. I also spend time walking my dog, Jack (who goes to work with me every day), and play golf in a society. I have also just joined my local golf club in Clevedon, a bit of a busman’s holiday, but I enjoy it!


By Alistair February 28, 2019 08:40 Updated

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