A day in the life: James Balmbro

By Alistair February 2, 2020 16:58

The head greenkeeper at Kelso Golf Club in the Scottish Borders, an attractive parkland course that is set partially within Kelso Racecourse, takes us through his typical day.

What time do you arrive at the club?

We start at 7am in the summer and 8am in winter. At Kelso we have houses bordering the golf course, so early starts are restricted.

Can you describe your morning routine?

I’ll have a quick chat with the staff about the jobs for the day ahead and then it’s very much straight out onto the course and getting on with the work.

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

We have two full-time staff – a newly appointed apprentice, Liam Todd, and me. We also have a part-time seasonal, Raymond Ainslie, who cuts the rough for us. It can be quite a challenge with such a small team however we are lucky to have a very active membership at Kelso with people helping with tasks around the course every week. This helps to ease the workload greatly.

Do you share tasks?

With such a small team we all have to be able to do all of the jobs, although our seasonal Raymond mostly cuts the rough, so this isn’t often a task that’s shared. Using different machines every day keeps our skills sharp and our minds focused on the job.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

I’d like to think I lead by example and wouldn’t ever ask them to do anything I wasn’t prepared to do myself. Any positive feedback we receive is relayed to the boys and I encourage them to take pride in their work and the results they are achieving.

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

Summer has to be my favourite season. The long, warm, dry days mean the course looks at its best and the greens are playing well, with the benefits of our aeration and overseeding programme clear to see.

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

Greens work is easily the most satisfying for me. Any work carried out on the greens, whether that be aeration, top dressing or fertilising, I take great pride in knowing that it is going to have a positive effect on the putting surface.

And what part of it gives you the least satisfaction?

Pitch marks are the single most frustrating thing about this job.

Have you attended any courses recently?

Unfortunately, I have been unable to attend any courses recently however I do hope to attend BTME in Harrogate.

James Balmbro

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

We have a BLEC Multiseeder which has made a massive difference to the uptake of seed on our greens. The seed is placed in small pockets exactly where it needs to be in order to germinate and all with minimal disruption to the surface.

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

More young people need to be encouraged to get into greenkeeping, but I feel it’s even more important that greenkeepers are retained within the industry. Experience and learning from them is key in this field and we need to be careful not to lose that. A greater recognition of what we do and better wages would help in retention.

Has a golfer ever deliberately directed a ball at you?

I certainly hope not!

What is your favourite machine and why?

The BLEC Multiseeder is my favourite. The improvement it has made to our overseeding programme has been superb. A really fantastic piece of kit.

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

Nothing very exciting I’m afraid… Golfers chasing runaway electric trolleys is the funniest thing I’ve seen.

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

We have a resident kestrel that I see nearly every day and lots of oyster catchers through the summer. We also have a pair of swallows that nest in the shed; watching the chicks grow and fledge is really special.

Are you seeing any evidence of climate change?

The seasons are certainly changing, with weather changing year on year. I think we need to be more adaptable in our plans as the seasons no longer guarantee certain weather patterns.

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

Put your phone away, get your head down and work hard.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I play a bit of ‘5s’ through the week and I like to go out hill walking at the weekend. I try to get the clubs out when I can and play different courses – it’s good to see the hard work of other greenkeepers.


By Alistair February 2, 2020 16:58

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