A day in the life: Richard Shapland

By Alistair December 3, 2021 08:39 Updated

The head greenkeeper at Bigbury Golf Club, which is located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) by the Devon coast, takes us through his average day.

What time do you arrive at the club?

I normally arrive around 6am in preparation for the rest of the team arriving ready for a 6.30am start.

Can you describe your morning routine?

I check again what golf is being played and discuss the requirements for the day ahead with the team. Following this, it’s course preparation – greens mown, tees markers placed where required, bunkers raked and a general check around the course.

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

I have four full-time green staff including myself and one part-time team member (this year’s club captain) who does 20 hours per week. At times it is difficult to stay on top of the workload and another additional member to the team would be beneficial, but budget constraints don’t currently allow for this, however this is being reviewed again for 2022/23. I also have a lady member who spends one day a week maintaining the shrubs and boarders around the clubhouse.

Do you share tasks?

All the course prep tasks are shared amongst the team. Each team member then tends to have their own set task and machine for the rest of the day, whether that be tees, fairways, first cut semi and semi rough. The staff have their own skills and timings to carry out their tasks, and with such a small team, time really is of the essence.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

With such a small team, motivation is so important. I discuss with them my intentions for the week ahead and what my aims are, and value their inputs on this as well. We’re very lucky here at Bigbury as the members and visitors give positive feedback to the team on a daily basis, and that is motivation in itself. At the end of every week, I make a point of thanking them all as a team on their work and what we have collectively managed to achieve.

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

I most enjoy the arrival of spring when the course is starting to blume again. We are very lucky in this part of the world (south Devon), and also being on the coast, that soil temperatures remain fairly stable through the winter meaning we tend to grow for 11 months of the year. This means that, generally, we come into an early spring.

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

I write a monthly newsletter to the membership explaining what has been achieved over that month and what my intentions are for the following month. In this, I also explain the reasons for carrying out certain tasks – aeration, scarification, watering (and the lack of it!) amongst others. The feedback I receive is always very positive, with emails saying that they now understand and appreciate all we do, and never realised how scientific cutting grass can be!

And what part of it gives you the least satisfaction?

You spend a day tidying up the bunkers and that night you hear the rain lashing down and you just know the bunkers are going to be washed down and you will have to start again.

Have you attended any courses recently?

In the current situation with Covid, it has been near impossible to get out and spend time attending courses. When restrictions are lifted, and I feel it is safe to attend, no doubt I will.

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

I have been back in the greenkeeping fold for 18 months in my current position, and it has only been this year that I put together a fairway feeding programme. I applied Headland Amenity’s Multigreen 28-3-15 back in March and that has taken me through until September. I have never been one to chase green colour, but on the odd occasion I will apply 20lts of a non-staining iron!

Has a golfer ever deliberately directed a ball at you?

Not that I’m aware of. I always tell them I stay on the fairway and then, that way, they’ll have no chance of hitting me!

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

In total, I have been around the greenkeeping industry for 45 years and it has come such a long way in that time. Training and education are hugely important and, as I said previously, for the education of your membership it is vital you can justify everything that you do. In my previous job as a technical area manager, I used to listen to course managers who were always finding it difficult to employ persons mainly due to the low salaries that come with a job that is demanding year-round, in all weathers!

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

In all the years of greenkeeping I have had many instances of rescuing buggies and machinery from ponds, probably too many to mention. At a previous club, the owner went out early one morning with the head greenkeeper as usual, only to return on foot saying: “Get the tractor, the Range Rover is in the pond!’ We also had an instance of a greens mower that slid through a fence in wet conditions and ended up in the estuary mud … it was a good job the tide was out!

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

We have had skylarks nesting on the course over the last couple of years in our tiger rough which I incorporated into the course, and we have erected signs so the golfers and walkers stay away from these areas. We also have owls in our barn.

Are you seeing any evidence of climate change?

I feel the seasons are changing. The winters seem wetter and over the last 20 years we now rarely get the heavy frosts like we used to, which would aid in insect control. Over the last few years, the springs have been cold and dry and the summers seem to be getting longer. This year for example, at the end of September, we were still basking in 20 degrees plus.

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

Most importantly, enjoy your job. Have pride in your work and what you achieve every day, work hard and you will never stop learning.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I spend a fair bit of time watching sport or so I’m told! I enjoy getting the kayak out, fishing from the shore, gardening and, of course, playing golf.


By Alistair December 3, 2021 08:39 Updated

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