Meet the head greenkeeper: Dougie Thorburn

By Alistair January 25, 2023 10:30

From Wick Golf Club, Dougie talks about the benefits and challenges of working at the most north easterly golf course in Scotland and how the club invests in machinery with a limited budget.

How long have you been at Wick and what has been your career path to this point?

I joined Wick as head greenkeeper five years ago and was a greenkeeper for three years before that. I’ve played golf since I was about six and I initially did my training as a greenkeeper when I was 16. Golf has always been a big passion of mine, but the YTS wages back then were so low I left when I was 18 and went into the fishing industry for 12 years. I slowly worked my way back into the golf industry, which was what I always wanted to do. All my other jobs fitted around my golf anyway! I’m very lucky because I love Wick’s golf course and the people. It’s a great place to work. We took on a mature apprentice recently but until then I was the only paid greenkeeper here.

What’s your favourite aspect of the job and what are the biggest challenges you have faced?

Working outside is just fantastic. There are different elements every day, especially in the north east of Scotland. Our course is the most north easterly in Scotland so it’s very close to the North Sea. We’ve got dunes and a beach that’s three or four miles long. It’s a phenomenal location.

The weather is a big challenge sometimes. In May 2021 we were still getting temperatures as low as -4 degrees and we have to wrap up warm most months of the year. It’s just part of the job and if we didn’t go out in bad weather the kettle would be the most used machine that we have!

What’s been the proudest achievement for you and your team at Wick so far?

The year 2020 was our 150th anniversary and it was meant to be a proud moment for us, but the pandemic ruined most of our plans. We had pro-ams planned, pro tournaments coming up, and it was all cancelled. But to have the course presented as well as we do with the staff we have and the small budget we’re working with is what we’re proudest of. We work very hard here and our volunteers are outstanding. A lot of them are aged 65-plus and they all give up their time for free. They’re a massive part of the club and the greenkeeping shed and I couldn’t do what I do without them. Wick is very much a community club.

The club has recently invested in a Lastec XR500 articulating mower. Why did you decide on that model, what areas are you using it on and are you pleased with the results?

We love that we can sit in a cab or a tractor while mowing. Some of my senior volunteers come in and cut rough for me and we were finding that it really wasn’t enjoyable, especially at the start and end of the season, to sit in our old open cab machine. Sometimes during bad weather the rough wasn’t getting cut, but now with the Lastec we can do it in comfort regardless of the weather.

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. We needed a top-quality new machine and our budget was stretched, so it was a no-brainer really. With Lastec the quality of machine you get for the price is unbelievable and we had excellent service from Double A throughout the process. The XR500 has helped us stay on top of the course and maintain it to the high standard expected of us, and we can do it more regularly. We use it on the fairways, greens and tees as well and we couldn’t be happier with it so far.

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

Get into it as early as possible and don’t let the money side of things put you off. This is a job you have to have passion about and you need to do it for love. There are no negatives about the job for me. We advertised an apprenticeship for eight months recently and no school leavers applied, which was disappointing, and a lot of people left the industry during the pandemic. It’s been a challenging few years but luckily golf courses are thriving now and hopefully people will come back into the industry.

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By Alistair January 25, 2023 10:30

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