A day in the life: Graeme Roberts

By Alistair September 11, 2021 08:48 Updated

The assistant course manager at Windlesham Golf Club in Surrey takes us through his average day.

What time do you arrive at the club?

We start at 6:00am most of the year apart from during hot periods and when we have events where we will start at 5:00am. I generally get in around half an hour before the planned start time.

Can you describe your morning routine?

Leigh Powell (course manager), myself and a couple others arrive early. While we generally have the week planned out, we’ll go through the tasks prior to everyone else arriving, making any adaptations to factor in changes to events, weather, staff and what we intend to achieve for the day ahead. As we have a smaller facility, we then get everything out and loaded up, set up and ready to go. By doing this we can get everyone straight out within just a couple of minutes, giving us that extra valuable time on the course ahead of the golf.

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

We have nine full-time in our team, plus two members who are part of the government’s ‘Kickstart’ scheme. The size of the team is good for what is expected from the club with regards to course condition however, where we now have more inexperienced staff that have joined us than we’ve had previously, we have to dedicate more time to training them meaning we’ve had to adapt our routines to account for this. Like any greenkeeping team, we look to achieve as much as possible but would always benefit from more staff.

Do you share tasks?

We do share tasks – from the day-to-day tasks, through to the larger projects we undertake. Often we will pair up a more experienced member of staff with someone learning the job at hand. This way, they can train them and help them to build their confidence, so they’re fully equipped to do the job to the standards we look to achieve when they later do the task solo or with someone else. Generally we try to get everyone using everything. This gives us better consistency on the course and prevents any lapses in quality when we are down on any particular member of staff.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

We try to encourage the team to use their initiative, to communicate any ideas they have and help one another out. We also try to make sure everyone is enjoying their time at work. We all spend a lot of time together so it’s good to be able to get along, have a laugh and still get the work done.

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

I’d say autumn. The intensity of the summer and presenting the course starts to ease a little, and we look to carry out renovation work and prepare for the winter projects ahead. The mornings and colours around the course are also stunning at that time of year.

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

From a turf standpoint, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the definition on the course appear as the weather improves. From a personal perspective, having been brought up in the industry myself, I would say something that I find really satisfying is having new members of the team come in and seeing them learn, train and develop. They go from not knowing how to rake a bunker, to being able to carry out any task you set them and then using their initiative and bringing forward new ideas when they are really focused and passionate about the job.

And what part of it gives you the least satisfaction?

Dealing with that small percentage of members who are incredibly vocal in a negative sense. Trying to educate them that everything we do or don’t do on the course is calculated, and done with good reason, as opposed to the presumption of us not caring about a task.

Have you attended any courses recently?

It’s been quite a while since I attended anything due to Covid restrictions, but now things are easing I will be attending whatever is available as a means to catch up with peers and to further my CPD.

What piece of equipment would you say is the most popular and frequently used by you and your team?

Away from our daily mowing equipment I’d say the Redexim Top Brush, partly because it’s a new machine carrying out an extra task to assist in presentation, or our TDR Moisture Meters – although this summer we haven’t used them anywhere near as much as we usually would.

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

I think one of the biggest hurdles for the industry is support for greenkeepers from the clubs themselves and having that stronger presence in the golf industry to support us. At a lot of members run courses, the greenkeeping team answers to the committee, meaning the staff who are experts in their fields are being dictated too often by people with no knowledge or agenda. They need to trust the person they have employed to manage the course and equally, that comes with a responsibility for the course manager to communicate with them appropriately too. All too often nowadays clubs are getting rid of staff without actually discussing a given situation, instead favouring to get in ‘fresh blood’. To them it’s their golf course, where they go to socialise, but that act of getting rid of someone is seriously affecting that person’s life; financially, mentally and emotionally, all for what can often be trivial reasons that could be addressed and potentially overcome.

Has a golfer ever deliberately directed a ball at you?

Not to my knowledge but has someone given it a go … maybe (although I’d like to think not!) They wouldn’t take a shot at another golfer, so I’d expect them to have the same level of respect for us.

What is your favourite machine and why?

Recently it has been our Redexim Top Brush. We bought it for one main purpose which was worm cast clearance, but have found we are using it year round with minimal impact on our current operation and seeing great results from it.

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

Funnily enough I had a situation very recently. A member had their electric trolley go rogue and it made its way off and into a ditch. I was on the adjacent fairway and was approached for help. Her trolley was fully submerged but I managed to get it out without actually going in myself! They did have to replace the trolley, bag and their phone because of the water damage. She was nice enough to drop in a bottle of wine as a thank you though, which was very kind.

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

I have always been fascinated by birds of prey so it is great to see kites and owls on the course. To support wildlife, we have bird and bat boxes installed around the course, beehives set up near our chipping green and lots of natural rough areas for wildflowers to grow and providing animals with space to shelter.

Are you seeing any evidence of climate change?

The most noticeable thing with the climate is how the seasons appear to be shifting through the calendar year. When I started greenkeeping, winter was in full force with snow and so on in December and July / August was the peak of summer. Now this all seems to slowly be shifting along and moving to later months in the year.

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

Ask questions! Whenever you do something or see something you aren’t familiar with, ask about it. It shows you’re interested in what you’re doing and opens the door to learn more about what and why we do things. The other thing is to network, whether it’s volunteering at tournaments, attending educational events, or even visiting neighbouring courses and walking them with the staff working there. It’s a great way to learn more, build contacts that can help you to elevate your career as well as just making some fantastic friends.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I really enjoy photography although most of that involves taking work-based shots. It was humbling to have some of my photos feature in Golf Monthly. I used to do a bit of running and played the (bag)pipes. We have a two year old boy, Toby, and a little girl due in September so safe to say that any time I have now is spent with family and I love it… although a couple hours more sleep wouldn’t go amiss!


By Alistair September 11, 2021 08:48 Updated

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