A day in the life: Olly Claridge

By Alistair November 29, 2023 09:32

The head greenkeeper at Harpenden Common Golf Club, the club where Ken Brown was a member and greenkeeper, takes us through his average day.

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

In the summertime I’ll arrive at 5.15am and the team will arrive at 5.30am. As we approach winter we will progressively arrive later up until 6.30am. Our morning routine begins the night before when I work remotely to put together a plan of action for the next day and send it out to the team. Once I arrive on site, I will check the weather station, any irrigation programmes and check any urgent emails. I’ll then cast the daily plan from the computer to the TV screen via the TurfKeeper app – a vital programme we use every day. Finally, we’ll fill up the coffee flasks and then crack straight on!

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

There are six of us in total. Besides myself is my deputy Sam Cook, first assistant Ryan Hodges, senior greenkeeper Mick Brocklehurst, apprentice greenkeeper Sam Gardiner and mechanic Kieron Watkins. We also have a seasonal worker from the months of April to October. I try to share as many tasks between the team as possible. By doing this all members of staff are able to complete different tasks, helping them to become competent in all areas of the job which I believe is essential for their development in this career. Ryan is the exception; he insists on cutting the approaches three times a week!

How do you motivate your colleagues?

I try to lead by example and get stuck into all sorts of jobs that the team also completes. I also encourage the rest of the team to take ownership over the course and carry out work they can be proud of. I’ve found that by sending out the plan the day before, it helps with getting the guys prepared for the following day, meaning they know exactly what is expected of them. I’m open to feedback from them and always try to make the workplace a relaxed environment for them to carry out their best work.

What aspects of your job give you the greatest satisfaction?

I love seeing improvements out on the course. We strive to give golfers the best experience we can and go the extra mile to deliver this, so receiving positive feedback is a great reward and gives all-important job satisfaction. Setting up for big competitions is also great fun and really the pinnacle for greenkeeping!

And the least satisfaction?

Managing expectations in the winter! Dealing with the impact and disruption of the wetter months can be hard.

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

A couple of the team have done a chainsaw refresher course as well as a wood chipping course, the knowledge from which is now being put into practice. In terms of events, we attended BTME at the start of the year and have booked in to go again in January 2024. We are also looking to attend a ‘Microdochium Trial Day’ this November, which should be interesting.

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

Every season brings its own positives and negatives, however the end of summer coming into early autumn is my favourite. Irrigation pressure drops, leaves are still hanging on and the morning / evening skies are beautiful. Springtime is a close second when the course starts to recover from the long winter.

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

We use a water balance sheet in conjunction with our weather station to track rainfall figures, evapotranspiration loss and many other things. The water balance sheet is on Excel, all we have to do is input the daily figures and it will summarise this information on a monthly / yearly basis. From there we can analyse this data and make informed decisions on things like irrigation use and fertiliser timings. There seems to be a trend that the winters are getting wetter, which on a tight course like ours has become a big problem. Appreciating the importance of water usage, we have also been making investments in our irrigation system to make it as efficient as possible.

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

This summer has been a challenge. We have seen a lot of dollar spot activity on the tees, as well as some take-all-patch on a few approaches and anthracnose on a few of our sand-based greens, which we have managed carefully. Timely spraying has helped us to tackle this issue and has allowed us to make plans for future years to better keep on top of it. We are now in the run up to Christmas and we are keeping a careful eye on any fusarium outbreaks on our greens. We work closely with our course consultant Greg Evans and thanks to a carefully thought-out nutrition programme we are looking good so far… We also get fox, rabbit and mole damage, but luckily one of our members works in pest control and he has been helping us tackle these issues.

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

We have a pretty decent fleet, but my favourite piece of kit is the L2622 Kubota tractor. It’s incredibly easy to use and its versatility means you can attach many different implements to it. We also have a Kubota STW40 compact and an L2501 with loader attachment which gives us great flexibility in terms of completing different maintenance operations. I normally have to wrestle Mick, our senior greenkeeper, to get on some of these tractors as he’s as big of a fan of Kubota tractors as I am!

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

As mentioned previously, the use of our water balance sheet allows us to carefully manage the amount of irrigation we use and the continuous investments our club makes into its system have helped us become more efficient when irrigating and prevent water waste. Eleven of the holes here at Harpenden are on common land, meaning we work closely with the town council on their management. We have a long-term goal alongside the council to improve acidic grassland and meadow areas on the common, these areas are becoming scarce and are gradually succumbing to scrub and woodland encroachment. Our current and ongoing planting programme involves heather and gorse regeneration to enhance these areas and bring back a heathland feel to the course.
Courtesy of our pro, Rob Leonard, the club has recently gained a fleet of electric buggies for golfers to use. In terms of course maintenance, we have some electric power tools and are looking to bring in some electric mowers when the time is right for us as a club.

What do you do to support wildlife?

We have many bird boxes out on the course, as well as HLS grassland which we ensure is left long during the growing season. This is done to promote and protect natural wildlife like ground nesting birds. During the winter months we carry out a lot of woodland management and install eco piles where we can. I’m only seven months into my tenure as head greenkeeper and am looking to implement more wildlife-orientated practices around the course, including investing in resources to improve water quality in our pond on the 7th hole, which will hopefully give the aquatic life better conditions to thrive.

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

I would say the use of the TurfKeeper programme. This cloud-based online system gives you the ability to deal with all areas of management from daily task planning, staff management, machinery and stock management, application planning and much more. You get out what you put into it and having inherited it from the club’s previous head greenkeeper, I’ve found it an incredibly insightful tool.

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

I wouldn’t say professionally, however we do run our own YouTube channel – TheGreenies – which I record, edit, and send out to the membership with important information and updates on the course and works that are being completed at present and in the future. We stopped using Twitter as we found this to be quite negative, although a useful tool to keep updated with things going on in the industry. We do have an Instagram account – @hcgc_greenstaff – where we released a video last year on hole moving which received three million views, however there were still a lot of opinions on the different techniques that can be used on this task! Social media is here to stay and it’s becoming an essential tool for businesses to use, ours included. However, you do need to have thick skin if you are on the receiving end of the negativity.

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

I would start by increasing the number of clubs that stick to the CGCS salary recommendations. By improving salaries for greenkeepers, you will attract better quality professionals and, importantly, stand a greater chance of retaining them. Whilst there is an abundance of education thanks to the many organisations out there, I think there needs to be more focus on dealing with stress, overcoming adversity and communication. From what I see, there are a lot of greenkeepers under unnecessary pressure and ultimately it comes down to managing expectations and being able to articulate what can and can’t be achieved.

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

The job can be tough, so only do it if it genuinely fulfils you! If you work with someone that you look up to, gravitate to them and soak up as much information as possible. Get as many qualifications under your belt as you can, in as many different skills as you can, as this can open many doors for you. Finally, never stop learning – what worked five years ago may not work today.

How do you spend your leisure time?

Outside of work my time is spent with my family. I have a beautiful wife, two little boys – one aged three years and one just four months – and two dogs that keep my wife and me very busy! I’m also partial to the occasional beer!


By Alistair November 29, 2023 09:32

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