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Day in the life of a Slaley Hall Golf Course Greenkeeper

By Neil Smith - Golf Courses Manager

“We try to ensure that golfers of all standards enjoy playing here and want to come back and that means the championship professionals as much as the weekend warriors.”

Neil Smith

My alarm normally goes off about five fifteen. I get ready and take a 15 minute drive through glorious countryside to Slaley Hall. I like to be there before six thirty. There’s a joke that no-one is allowed to talk to me before I’ve had my first coffee.  The rest of the ten strong team arrive for seven.

Today, like the rest of the last five weeks, there is no team to arrive as they’ve all been furloughed. They will be delighted, or horrified, to know that I am really missing them.   So, I’m back where I was when I started out on this career – mowing the grass.

Perhaps surprisingly my job has not changed that much since the virus started. My priority is still making the two 18 hole golf courses we have here - The Priestman and The Hunting - as good as they can be.

Around seven, after that heart-starter coffee, it’s on to a buggy to look at the course and assess their condition.  From now I start to plan out the work I need to do today, this week and this month to make sure we are as ready as we can be to re-open when that time comes. Every day I walk around the tees and the greens and check the irrigation systems and all the other things that make a golf course work.

By ten I’ve finished the inspection and assessment of what needs to be done and in what time frame. I try to be back in the shed then for a snack and another cup of coffee whilst I think about the jobs and the work-load

I try to break the work to be done into daily sessions as sitting for ten hours on a mower is a bit of a challenge to keep motivated. After my snack, say around ten thirty, I might spend a few hours doing the fairways but then some time checking the greens. Are they rolling right? Is the pace of the ball across the green within sensible limits?

We try to ensure that golfers of all standards enjoy playing here and want to come back and that means the championship professionals as much as the weekend warriors.

I need to get every detail right. To check that I used to often walk around the course when people are playing and try to get their feedback. It’s generally positive but I’m always looking at ways we can improve. Now, of course, the greens are silent but they still speak to me!

As near as possible to one o’clock I’ll take a break and have some lunch. In the old days the team would all come together and we would open our pack-lunches, eat together and have a chat about the day. At the moment it’s on my own with whatever my partner or I have prepared the night before. It’s a bit lonely.  

In these new circumstances I’m currently working four days a week – it’s normally five. I do three twelve-hour days and one six hour. In any case my work is really all done in the week as the courses are too busy at the weekends for the team to get much work done. Busy courses are not a problem at the moment!

Around one thirty, after lunch, I generally review what needs to be done tomorrow and more importantly what longer term issues I need to prepare for. Hopefully there might soon be a large corporate day in the week; a championship in a few months and returning golfers in a few weeks. There’s lots to do to keep our courses in top shape. The weather is a major factor affecting the courses and I have to prioritise all activity bearing that in mind.

Obviously Covid 19 has been a huge blow to the world and we have to keep things in perspective. On the other hand, golf is a relatively simple game to play with social distancing quite easily imposed during game play. Where we need more effort to keep players and our staff safe is in areas like the Pro-shop, food and drink offering, toilets and so on. That is something else I’m involved in on a daily basis.

Around three o’clock on my longer days, I’ll be back out on the courses, probably on a mower back to the hands-on maintenance that I’ve identified as a priority.

One thing that has been incredibly helpful is the support I’ve had from the General Manager Andrew Fox and the Estates Manager Jim McCall. In true team spirit they have got on the mowers whenever they have had the chance and worked on cutting the grass on the fairways or the rough. That’s given me time to concentrate on the greens which is the most demanding as well as the most important part of preparing any golf course. Lovely to work with people like that.

Between five and six I’ll be cleaning and maintaining any equipment I’ve used during the day. I’m a Jack of all trades! It’s important to stay on top of the machinery as that way it won’t let you down at a vital time.

At six thirty after some final detail planning for tomorrow I can set off for home. It’s a long day but I’m glad to be at work and happier on the courses than I would be locked down at home.

On my six hour day I like to spend the afternoon home schooling our six year old daughter Emily and even on the longer days I always get home around seven in the evening to be with Emily and my partner Emma who is a dental nurse. We try to eat together most nights.

I used to play a lot of sport, in the summer mainly cricket in the Lancashire League. I was a batsman. In the winter it was all about football but now I’ve got a family my priorities are different. The working days are long but there’s a great reward in seeing these two fabulous courses providing so much enjoyment for so many people.

With an early start on the weekdays I’m always in bed around ten thirty. Fridays and Saturdays can be very different though!