A day in the life: Lee Payne

By Alistair October 20, 2023 07:47

The course manager at Wellow Golf Club in Hampshire, a course that is set in parkland surrounding the former home of Florence Nightingale, takes us through his average day.

What time do you arrive at the club and what is your morning routine?

We start at 6am in the summer and 7am in the winter and I usually arrive around half an hour before the scheduled start time. All the lads are normally already there, so we’ll have a cup of coffee, check the weather forecast and events board (which is always busy!) and have a good chat about the day ahead.

How many people are there in your team and do you share tasks?

We currently have a team of five full time – alongside myself is my deputy Andy as well as Craig, Dave and Kev. Then we have Den who does three days a week and this summer we’ve had two lads, Joe and Ollie, helping us out. The extra hands have been so helpful with the summer so busy and the fact we’re a grass factory, meaning we’ve been managing much better this year. We share jobs, everyone can do all that’s needed, and we take it in turns to do the less attractive tasks!

How do you motivate your colleagues?

I’m lucky that I have a strong team – the guys are all qualified and have a range of licenses. They also play golf themselves so they understand what’s required. I always share positive feedback from the members or golf days we have which is good for motivation. Of course we have some friendly banter on our WhatsApp group if anyone has slipped up! There’s also nothing like a homemade cake to cheer the team up when needed!

What aspects of your job give you the greatest satisfaction?

There’s lots of them! Receiving feedback from members that the courses are playing well and that the greens are good. Looking back on a job that’s been done in-house and seeing it do exactly what’s it’s intended to do is another. Also, something as simple as a well-timed spray! Small things like a well mown approach or tee always make me smile.

And the least satisfaction?

It’s got to be seeing greens littered with pitch marks or bunkers that golfers have been in and not raked. It should be the minimum requirement that these are done.

Have you attended any courses recently, and if so, what did you take away?

I have attended BTME the last couple of years, which is always a great platform to catch up with people I’ve not seen for a long time. It’s also great seeing any new innovations or hearing different ideas that we can take away and use here at Wellow. Social media is a great tool these days for seeing what others are up to the rest of the year.

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

I’d say the end of spring / start of summer is my favourite – mornings getting lighter, days lengthening, when the winter’s hard work starts to pay off. The mowing regimes are then starting to burn the lines on the course nicely. Disease pressure is behind us and we can then all start to worry about too much sun!

Are you witnessing evidence of climate change and, if so, how has your job had to adapt to changing weather patterns?

I think there’s been a change. The seasons seem to be much more aggressive, higher temperatures in the summer and deeper, colder and harder frosts in the winter. When we get rain, we seem to be having larger amounts in one go as well. For us, it’s a case of trying to be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us!

Have you had to overcome any course issues with disease and / or pests?

We’ve had certain greens that have suffered with leatherjackets, but Accelepryn has helped us break the cycle and now we seem to be much cleaner. We also have the odd green that suffers from anthracnose, these tend to be the most shaded and therefore have their own microclimate, so we have to treat them a little differently from the others. We probably see the usual things that all courses get, but with good practices we always manage to keep on top of them.

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

We spray our worst fairways with a herbicide, feed and PGR. I’d like to do them all, but we find doing the worst areas is sufficient. I am trying to work a full fairway programme into the budget but with 27 holes, it’s costly!

Our greens are fed with products from Sustane every six to eight weeks and this gives us a great platform to maintain their playability and aesthetics. It’s a great product. We and our members are very happy with the surfaces we produce year-round.

With a growing focus on sustainability, do you deploy any sustainable practices in the management of your course?

We are lucky that our directors are superb and are always looking to improve the courses and equipment we have. They have spent a lot of money on upgrading our irrigation system, so we now have more control over how much, and where, our water is used. We have also started using dwarf ryegrass to overseed our greens which is less needy and helps us to lower inputs compared to bent grass. We like doing all our projects in-house and, where we can, reuse any soil or hollow cores we have when building tees or features.

What do you do to support wildlife?

We have lots of woodland to manage and these areas are full of roe and fallow deer. We have a large conservation area on one of our par threes that you hit your tee shot over which we’ve now sown with wildflowers. We see red kites, buzzards and the like, so one of our members has put up a number of bird boxes which appear to have been well used. In addition, we’ve got ponds and streams on the course that are teeming with wildlife.

What are the technological developments that you feel have been the most important in your career to date?

Weather forecasting and the use of computers to help generate GDD and GP figures has been huge. Being able to have disease pressure forecasts and see historic data helps so much with being able to keep fungicide applications to a minimum. Products have also improved hugely – penetrants, PGRs and so on have all become more effective thanks to modern science.

Do you use social media professionally and what do you think this contributes to the industry?

I try to keep the members up to date with what we are doing via our Twitter page and I, personally, enjoy seeing what everyone else is up to. There has definitely been an increase in the number of greenkeepers asking questions to industry peers via social media and we all seem to be helping each other out more which is the way it should be.

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

I’d like to see it become more widely recognised and thought of more highly than simply ‘grass cutters’. It’s a tough job, we all work incredibly hard to produce the courses we do and we all take a huge amount of pride in giving the golfers the best conditions we can. Generally, I don’t think golfers understand what we do and how technical the job is. Maybe going into schools and getting the profession out there is what we need in order to attract new people to the industry.

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

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get stuck in! If I had my time again, I would be applying for all the BIGGA opportunities, like volunteering at the Open and applying to go to America on a work placement scheme. There are so many exciting opportunities now that you just need to be brave and go for it.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I am the manager of my youngest son’s football team (U13s) and help coach my eldest son’s team (U18s) too. The three of us also play cricket for our local team – Knights Valley – during the summer, so sport takes up a lot of my spare time! I also try and go to as many Southampton games as I can but other than that, after a long day, a takeaway and movie with my wife hits the spot.


By Alistair October 20, 2023 07:47

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