Meet the head greenkeeper: Richard Jacques

By Alistair May 18, 2024 08:39

The head greenkeeper at Malton & Norton Golf Club in Yorkshire, a course that has 27 holes in which each nine starts and finishes at the clubhouse, takes us through his average day.

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

I arrive at the course at 5:45am ready for a 6am start, which we do throughout the year.

We are a very busy club so it’s essential to get organised with the team and beat golfers out on to the course to set up ready for the day’s play.

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

My team is made up of seven full-time staff and two or three regular volunteers.

All staff can do the full range of jobs on the course, which I feel is essential given that we have a reasonably small team covering a relatively large area.

It also means staff develop a wide range of skills which will improve them as greenkeepers. In addition, I find it allows staff to share ideas, understand efficiency and it helps with motivation throughout the changing seasons.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

I like to think I lead by example; I won’t ask other staff members to do anything I wouldn’t do! For me, the presentation of the course is down to everyone who works on it – it’s a team effort – from the smallest tasks to daily cutting.

We all work well together and discuss possible improvements that we could make. I have a great team and, because we all get on, this helps to motivate each of us into producing a course that we’re all incredibly proud of.

What aspects of your job give you the greatest satisfaction?

Winter is all about preparation and improvements, and the greatest satisfaction is when all of that work starts to come to fruition during the spring.

We are currently working through an extensive woodland management plan, bunker and tee improvement plan and ongoing greens drainage work.

And the least satisfaction?

At times greenkeeping is a hard job – the lack of chemicals and things out of our control, especially the weather. However, here we look for ways to be better ‘greenkeepers’ with the resources we have available and thinking about things we can change to combat some of the challenges, such as cultural improvements and adapting the way we carry out our maintenance.

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

I’m not sure what the year will bring learning-wise, but tradeshows are always a great place to keep up to date with the latest machinery and chemical information.

We are lucky we’re not too far from BTME in Harrogate so this tends to be a firm fixture in our diaries!

What’s your favourite season of the year and why

Spring and summer have to be my favourite time of the year. The winter work really starts to take shape and we welcome the start of a new golfing season and the buzz of cutting grass! That’s what it’s all about.

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

There’s no doubt in the 25 years I’ve been greenkeeping that a lot has changed, and noticeably the typical seasons are now seemingly non-existent – particularly the last 10 years where winters are milder.

Flood events on our lower site are now predictably an annual occurrence, settled dry periods are less likely, summers bring more extremes (both wet and dry!) and disease pressures seem to have extended.

What we’ve learned with weather patterns being unpredictable, is that if you have a chance to do something you need to take it! One area we have improved, due to the extreme summers, is water storage. Recent pond work has quadrupled our storage, meaning we have an ample supply of water for greens and tees even during the driest of conditions.

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

Disease hasn’t been too much of an ‘issue’. We try and focus on a preventative strategy including plenty of aeration, applying plant protection products and the odd preventative fungicide when needed. Keeping the greens drier through high intensity cultural practices and recently installed greens drainage is helping tip the balance in our favour.

We have, however, had a few issues with chafer grubs on a few holes, which encourage crow pecking and badger damage at certain times of the year.

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

We have a fair few machines in our shed now, all of which help to elevate our greens to a high level during the playing season. We recently purchased a Redexim Top-Brush which has proved fundamental in clearing worm casts as well as improving the general presentation of the course.

It is certainly one of the most well-used machines we own, out twice weekly between March and October.

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

Our main aim is to minimise what we use on the course, find the most cost-effective solutions and plan cultural improvements.

What do you do to support wildlife?

Our course has great areas of natural woodland, open water and grassed areas that mean we see lots of varied wildlife activity throughout the year.

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

Over my time in the industry, I have seen major advancements in the efficiency of machinery – equipment that is faster, less labour intensive and ultimately produces better results. This makes a big difference to daily operations!

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

Social media is something I view daily, but rarely post. I think it’s a great way to see how other courses are being maintained and it often gives us inspiration and different ideas on things we’re doing here. In difficult times, it often shows that many other clubs are having the same issues and problems which can be reassuring and helps to bring the industry together.

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

I believe greenkeeping has to be more attractive to potential employees. Wages and qualification requirements need to be more balanced and realistic, especially for more experienced greenkeepers as their skillset is very valuable right now. Greenkeeping is a fantastic career if the right structure is put in place and the staff are given the tools they need to carry out the job.

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

You must have a passion for the job. If you have passion, you can go as far as you want to within the industry.

Work hard, give it your best shot every day and you’ll soon discover how rewarding it can be as a career.

How do you spend your leisure time?

I’m an avid golfer which comes with the day job. I also like to stay fit by riding, swimming and running – which extends to taking place in races and events when I can.


By Alistair May 18, 2024 08:39

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