A day in the life: John Rowbottom

By Alistair June 17, 2022 08:38

The head greenkeeper at Woolley Park Golf Club in Yorkshire, takes us through his average day.

What time do you arrive at the club?

This changes day to day. We are a small family business, and my role is not solely restricted to greenkeeping. We are also more flexible than other golf clubs with our greenkeepers working hours; in the summer our hours are generally 8am-5pm with one man in early mowing greens, and in winter we tend to work 7am-4pm. We rotate weekend work between all the greenkeeping team.

Can you describe your morning routine?

The morning cannot start without a coffee and a chat with the team about jobs for the day and bits we are planning for the upcoming weeks. It’s a good opportunity to catch up with the clubhouse team so we know what’s on and they know what we are up to also. A tour round the course often follows with my trusty three turf dogs.

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

We are a small team of five, responsible for the maintenance of 27 holes of golf. Due to the nature of my job, I can often be pulled away to other parts of the business, leaving four men at times. The great thing about our team is that they are all passionate about their job, multiskilled and really hard working, so even if we are shorthanded, the guys will pull together and make sure they still produce a really high standard of golf course.

Do you share tasks?

Being a small team means it is really important to share tasks and be able to cover each other’s roles if necessary. We try to ensure we are trained in all aspects of the work and learn from each other. Whilst we all tend to have ‘our own’ mowers, we are all still able to perform each other’s jobs when called upon.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

First and foremost, praise for the standard of golf course that they produce week in, week out. It is rare the team ever lets their standards drop; I think the fact that a couple of the guys play golf, to a very good standard, drives them to create a course they are proud of. I also make sure any compliments I receive from other players are fed back to the them. Secondly, I avoid micro-managing the team – they are all skilled workers who have been in the industry longer than I have and I trust them on a day to day basis to make sound decisions. I think a sense of freedom is a great motivator.

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

It’s hard to say, one of the great things about greenkeeping in England is the challenge of our four seasons. I really like spring, as it tends to lift the spirits after what seems to be ever wetter winters these days. Watching the course wake up from its winter slumber is always a pleasure and then to see the guys start to ramp up presentation for the start of the golfing season is super satisfying. Of course I would be lying if I wasn’t a fan of summer too; there is no better feeling than mowing grass in the sunshine, in shorts, with music on.

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

I think the mad Friday afternoon rush, in the height of the season, getting the final touches out on the golf course in preparation for the weekend’s play is one of the most satisfying aspects. To be able to stand outside the clubhouse and know that you have put everything into the course for the week and see it shine is my ultimate in job satisfaction. To come back and play it on a Saturday is pretty close behind.

Another aspect of the job that I really enjoy is learning new techniques and finding better ways to get the desired results from our work, whilst at the same time minimising any negative impacts on our customers. I think one area in which we have excelled at this in the last five to 10 years is aeration. This was often the bane of the golfer’s life, now we have some great tools in our arsenal that allow us to complete this sort of work without the golfer ever knowing, and that is a very satisfying feeling.

And what part of it gives you the least satisfaction?

I don’t think I could name one. As one of the owners in a family business I take great pride and satisfaction in pretty much all aspects of my job. Our family has dedicated its lives to producing the best golf course we can over nearly three decades. So even in the depths of winter, digging up an old drain, up to my neck in mud, when some people would wonder why they do the job, I still find satisfaction in the knowledge that I am improving our golf course and hopefully leaving something behind for future generations.

Have you attended any courses recently?

I haven’t been on any face-to-face courses recently. I was fortunate enough to attend three days of online learning with BIGGA as part of BTME 2021. This was a great learning experience and a really good way to network, and ask questions of people who have produced golf courses to a much higher level than myself.
I think one of the things that most people in the industry find unusual is that I have no formal education in greenkeeping. Everything that I have learnt has been on the job, from my colleagues or from taking the time to read books and journals to further my knowledge.

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

We have accumulated a wide variety of equipment over the years, all of which have been bought with maximising our efficiency in mind. I guess it is always the latest purchases that stick out in your mind as the most popular. We were fortunate enough to get a Redexim Top Brush towards the end of 2021. This has proved to be a very popular piece of kit with the team. With a lack of chemical controls for worms, we had been searching for something to help us alleviate the problem in autumn months. The Top Brush certainly fits the bill; it is great at dispersing casts before mowing and is proving to be very good at increasing presentation and definition as well.

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

By eradicating greens’ committees. Golf clubs around the country employ skilled individuals with the knowledge and qualifications required to look after fine turf. The biggest problem in the industry is that these qualified people are often hampered by a group of individuals who don’t know the first thing about turf. Let greenkeepers make decisions about their golf course.

Has a golfer ever deliberately directed a ball at you?

Yes, and I’m sure that nearly all greenkeepers can say it has happened to them at some point, although of course we always hope it was by accident.

What is your favourite machine and why?

There are so many to choose from, I love my Toro 6700 fairway mower, our Redexim Top Brush, all of our aeration equipment … the list is endless! I am also really looking forward to the delivery of our new all electric greens mower, hopefully later this year.

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

There have been all sorts of mishaps over the years. We have tried to float tractors in lakes, sunk a 12t telehandler in a bog (it took 600HP to drag out!) and accidentally driven mowers in to bunkers. Fortunately, none of our mishaps have ever led to an injury, other than some dented pride!

We have seen our fair share of daft golfers out on the course, the most common one is the electric trolley that automatically stops after 10 yards, a shame when there is a pond nine yards away!

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

I think the animal I am most excited to see returning to the course is the roe deer. Our course is built in the old deer park for a neighbouring stately home and up until last year I had never seen deer regularly in the grounds. One of the great things to result from lockdown is an increase in the diversity of wildlife. I managed to maintain the golf course during the first Covid lockdown more or less single handedly. This meant I brought a lot of areas of rough back in that had been cut back for many years. I never thought that this would have such a positive impact on wildlife on the course. I have decided to keep these areas for the most part, I sometimes think the golfers believe I am maintaining a course for animals and not them!

I am also a big believer in reducing our chemical and fertiliser inputs, to minimise the negative impacts on the environment and our wildlife. In addition, we are increasing our native wildflower areas for pollinators which in turn is creating better ground coverage for smaller mammals and we are seeing birds of prey, including barn owls nesting in and around the course.

Are you seeing any evidence of climate change?

There is no denying that climate change is affecting the greenkeeping industry. We are seeing less defined seasons. Gone are the endless weeks of frost in the winter, instead we are often met with warm and wet winters, which are extremely challenging for even the driest of golf courses. This in turn puts strain on the greenkeepers’ and golfers’ relationship. Summers seem to bring more prolonged periods of scorching weather as well. We must be careful as an industry that we don’t become part of this problem, so climate change is affecting my job but I am also making it part of my job to minimise my effect on it. Golf courses need to be maintained in a sustainable fashion. We must think carefully about our water usage, diesel consumption and fertiliser / pesticide inputs. We are taking steps towards this in our own little ways, using a Pogo moisture meter to build up data on our greens and be more aware of our water usage and purchasing our first electric mower, which will be powered by our solar panels. As already mentioned, we are also lowering our nitrogen and pesticide use so that our greens are healthier and less dependent on inputs which can be damaging to the wider environment.

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

Take every opportunity to learn from others in the industry. Greenkeepers are a great bunch and are always willing to share knowledge which helps out their peers. Ask questions to further your knowledge, but at the same time don’t be afraid to question why a job is done in a certain way. Greenkeeping can be very prescriptive at times, when you are dealing with living organisms and mother nature you have to be flexible and adapt, doing a job because ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ isn’t always a good thing.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I like to get out and play golf with friends, often at our own course, but I love getting out and about to experience different courses and see how their teams set them up. Having worked at a parkland course all my life I really enjoy going and playing links golf and seeing the different challenges greenkeepers face there.

I am a family man so the rest of my leisure time is spent with my wife, two young children and three turf dogs.


By Alistair June 17, 2022 08:38

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