Q&A with James MacBeath

By Alistair May 4, 2021 07:44

James is the head greenkeeper at Brora Golf Club.

Can you give a brief description of your background?

I have lived all my life in Brora, played golf round the links since I was nine years old. After leaving school at the age of 16 I pursued a career as a welder in the oil industry, after a period of time where I would be paid off, back to work, paid off, back to work, paid off, I decided to get a more steady healthier job and lucky enough for me Brora Golf Club were looking for a labourer.

I got the job and liked so much I asked the club if they would put me through my apprenticeship at the ripe old age of 27, I was then given the opportunity by the club under the tutorship of Ian Wakeman, who was the head greenkeeper at the time, he himself had served his time as an apprentice here and been employed by the club for over 25 years. During this period I went on block release to Elmwood College and secured my level 2 in greenkeeping. After 10 years working at Brora I applied for the course manager’s post at The Carnegie Club, Skibo Castle, unfortunately I was not successful but was offered the deputy position, which I accepted. Again I learnt a great deal under Gary Gruber who incidentally got the course manager position, that is exceptional attention to detail and the managerial side of the job. After spending six years there the position of head greenkeeper came up at Brora, at this point I believed I was ready to take on a new challenge and where better than the 200 acres of links land that I had been very fortunate to be brought up on, so I applied for the position and was lucky enough to be offered the post in 2010 and here I am today. Including my time as a labourer, apprentice, greenkeeper and head greenkeeper I have worked here for 21years.

What challenges have you faced and how have you coped throughout the pandemic to maintain the course?

We have been and currently are having slight issues with coastal erosion with a couple of our greens and one tee in particular danger. We have battened up the hatches with gabion baskets and so on and so far (fingers crossed) it’s been fine, but no doubt somewhere in the future the sea will win the war and take it over, but not for a good 50 years yet I hope! Clearing up behind 200 sheep and their lambs as well as 20 cattle has its challenges and this goes away with 25 to 30 hours a week, pretty much every week of the year.

The pandemic has hit us obviously financially but from a greenkeeping point of view it totally decimated our winter program, I worked for 10 weeks on my own first of all, then we only had two out of the five staff in for a period of time, now it is up to three in work and always two on furlough, but with the long periods of frost, only two staff, animals still on the course, you can imagine how difficult a period this was. Fortunately we were in a reasonable position at the time regarding our five year development plan.

What are the things that you enjoy most about your job, what are you most proud of and how does this make feel?

Being a golfer myself since a young age, I get so much satisfaction out of being involved in producing a quality product for our members and visitors, we have such a dedicated and loyal staff here, I am proud of what they have and can achieve (every day, every month every year) cleaning up after the animals takes a lot of resilience, on top of that they are highly motivated in giving the best possible experience to the customer, I am so fortunate to have such a good team alongside me. I have always been a believer of you yourself are only as good as the staff beneath you.

You purchased another Tru Turf R50-11 greens roller last year, how does this piece of kit contribute to the course maintenance, how often do you use it as part of your programme and what results have you seen?

Yes, this was one of my first investments I made when I came back as head greenkeeper, I find this piece of machinery an integral part of our greens’ presentation. We will use the Tru Turf R50-11 twice a week from late spring to autumn and everyday in our five-day summer tournament, for example we are built on sandy loam, we have absolutely no issues with compaction whatsoever, so we are able to cut at a higher height of cut of 5mm then double roll and easily get 11 on the stimp, with a program of cutting one day and possibly rolling the next through the summer months, I feel we are not stressing anything out and we are able to keep it healthy plant going into what can only be classed as cold and frosty winters.

The course looks beautiful and has incredible topography, what do you continually strive to achieve and how do you balance this with the crofters who graze their animals across the course?

As I have touched on earlier, I set out a five year plan which will be ratified at committee level to such as manage rough, gorse, bunker re-builds, tee extensions, rabbit control, refining fine turf grasses in our greens, surrounds and tees. Except for the greens and surrounds which their are electrified wires round to protect them from the animals, all other areas are at the mercy of the sheep and cattle so we just have to live with it and make it as playable as we can.

Just recently the club bought the land which we share with the animals, this saves us paying rent in the future and gives us a little bit, not much but a little bit more control over the land, but the crofters still have the right to graze so nothing changes there. Strangely enough we have many visitors who stop and take photos of the animals and often comment how much of a selling point this is for the club, unfortunately they don’t see the course first thing in the morning, I think if they did they might have a different opinion!

By Alistair May 4, 2021 07:44

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