A Day In The Life of James Wilkes, Course Manager

Fame for our Head Greenkeeper as he is published in the Greenkeeper magazine!

What time do you arrive at the club?I try to get in around 5.30am for a 6am start during the summer and around 6.30am for a 7am start during the winter.Can you describe your morning routine?

The first thing is to check the various weather forecasts in the hope there is a common theme! Then I will check the fixtures for the day, have a coffee with the lads and discuss the plan of action. Next we check over the machines that we're going to be using during the day before going straight out onto the course for morning prep.

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

3 is the magic number (De La Soul, anyone?!). Ash Merry is my deputy and Dave Boulton is my first assistant. I have to be very hands-on so mine is probably not the typical Course manager role. There’s more than enough work to keep us constantly busy but it would be great to have more staff, especially at busy times during the main playing season.

Do you share tasks?

Absolutely. Being such a small team it is vital for everyone to be competent at every aspect of the job. We try to rotate most jobs through the year.

How do you motivate your colleagues?

I find the best motivator is chocolate, closely followed by bacon rolls! In all honesty I am very fortunate to have a mature and very conscientious team and therefore motivation is rarely an issue. We get on with each other (most of the time!) and we just get on with the

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

I genuinely enjoy every season but if I had to choose one I guess it would have to be spring - the weather is improving, the days are getting longer, the trees are coming into bud and the scars of winter start to recover. It gives me a feeling of positive anticipation of what's
about to unfold.

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

It has to be all the tasks involved in presenting the course as well as we can for a major event or competition which results in positive feedback. It’s comforting to drive around the course and see the results of all the hard work. We are constantly trying to make improvements to presentation techniques and efficiency in the hope that it’s noticed and appreciated by the members and visiting players.

What gives you the least?

Not being able to present the course as well as we would like and receiving negative feedback. This is usually a consequence of bad weather - just one wet day in a week can seriously disrupt our schedule as even the most simple tasks become a lot more complicated and time consuming.

Have you attended any courses recently? If so, which ones and how has this helped?

Not recently but I am about to start my chainsaw training course. Being a very old established club, we have a massive number of mature trees on the course that require constant care and maintenance.

What is your favourite machine and why?

Our Charterhouse Verti-Drain 7526 for fairways and 7212 for greens and tees have to be my favourite tools as without doubt they are the most beneficial. As my college lecturer used to say in his broad Aussie accent "the three most important aspects of good greenkeeping are aeration, aeration and aeration!”

How would you improve the greenkeeping industry?

I would like to see a raised awareness by the golfing fraternity of the intricacies of our profession and the ‘grass cutter’ stigma to become a thing of the past. We are lucky at Evesham to have a very positive and appreciative membership, however there are always one or two who ‘know better’ but that is undoubtedly the case in every golf club and indeed every walk of life. I think the greenkeeping industry on the whole is constantly improving -manufacturers, be it machinery, fertiliser, seed, chemical and even clothing are constantly developing products that have huge benefits for greenkeepers in the UK.

Has a golfer ever deliberately directed a ball at you?

Not that I'm aware of? To be honest (with the odd exception) I'd more likely get hit if they weren't aiming for me!

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

We use Headland Amenity’s Clipless plant growth regulator and Elevate Fe liquid iron complex during the summer to slow the fairways down. The course is very well established, and being situated in the vale of Evesham, we benefit from very rich fertile top soil that provides us with more than adequate growth on our fairways. We Verti-Drain regularly to keep them open and healthy. The greens are sprayed monthly during the growing season with a selection of Headland liquid fertilisers, Elevate Fe and Clipless combined with a couple of other products.

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

I watched helplessly as a PowaKaddy trundled into the river recently. PowaKaddy's are a constant source of entertainment as we regularly see them buzzing around the course being chased by a distressed golfer!

What is the most interesting animal/bird you have sighted on your course and what do you do to support wildlife?

The list is endless! We are blessed with a massive array of wildlife, many of them residents, but I’d say the most elusive is a huge mirror carp that lives in the river Avon on the 5th hole. We provide nesting boxes for most species of birds from Wrens to Barn Owls and Bats and erect dead hedges for nesting birds. We leave lumber piles to encourage bugs and beetles and are about to prepare areas of wild flowers to encourage bees and butterflies. 

Are you experiencing any evidence of climate change? If so, in what way is it affecting your job?

Obviously on a global and even national scale climate change is massively apparent. In all honesty though, as far as the golf course is concerned I haven’t noticed anything obvious. Our 'jet-stream' controlled weather patterns vary massively as they always have done in my experience. A 'long' growing season one year is followed by a late spring the next. Winters perhaps are less cold in general but it doesn't seem that long ago we were covered in snow with temperatures as low as -15 degC!

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

Be conscientious and try to develop an eye fordetail - presentation is everything in this job. Try to get experience of as many different aspects of the job as you possibly can. Education plays a very important part but you have to be able to put theory into practise and there is no substitute for experience and expertise.

How do you spend your leisure time?

Chasing that huge mirror carp in the river Avon on the 5th hole!

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