We recently sat down with Nick Nottingham, the new Head Greenkeeper at Aldeburgh Golf Club to discuss all things course related and to find out a bit more about his plans for the future.
How have you found your first 10 months at ALDEBURGH GOLF CLUB?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time so far at Aldeburgh Golf Club. It has brought lots of exciting new challenges. It is a lovely club and everyone has made me feel very welcome. I am really pleased that I have made the move.
How has the pandemic affected the role and what impact has it had on the team and golf course?
The last ten months have not been how I envisaged starting the role! It has been tricky moving to a new area when we are in and out of lockdown. However I am starting to find my way around and I am exploring Suffolk when I can. It was difficult when I first arrived, as the team could not all sit in a room together (we still can’t!). So trying to hold a meeting wasn’t ideal but the team have been really receptive to the changes and the new ways of working. I was quite thankful that we had the November lock down as we had a lot of rain in September/ October. With the levels of golf that was being played, the golf courses started to suffer with the amount of wear it was receiving. The tees were getting peppered with divots and not recovering as quickly as they were being made. Pathways were getting very worn and if the levels of golf had stayed the same, this would have had a detrimental impact on the golf courses. On the plus side, the courses getting a rest for the amount of time they did is nothing but beneficial.
What enticed you to apply for the role at ALDEBURGH GOLF CLUB?
I love the traditional, classic, heathland and links courses in the UK. I had been at my last golf club for 17 years and I was looking for a move. When you work at a Top 100 club in England there isn’t many options for you to move. I also have children in Rutland so I didn’t want to move more than 2 hours from there so my options were limited. I thoroughly enjoyed doing tournament golf at Luffenham and Aldeburgh have hosted the next level up competitions and have the desire to host more in the future. When I came to Aldeburgh to look round for the first time, I fell in love with the place. Aldeburgh Golf Club ticked all the boxes for me, I just had to get the job!
Do you play golf yourself? Will you enter any the competitions?
I do play golf and I have been enjoying playing more since I have been at Aldeburgh. I play off 12 when I play but I don’t currently have an official handicap. I am going to try and get this active in the next 12 months and then I would like to enter some of the competitions. I do believe that Course Managers should play the course regularly to see how it plays. We do drive round with our blinkers on most of the time and you get a better feel for it walking around.
What’s your favourite course you’ve ever played or visited?
I have been very fortunate to play some great course in the UK but one that will stay with me is Askernish, on the Isle of South Uist, in the Outer Hebredes. It is an untouched Old Tom Morris course which has been dubbed the most natural golf course in the world. No artificial fertilisers, herbicides or even irrigation have been used on the site, ever! They electric fence the greens off in the winter and the cattle and sheep are free to graze the course through the winter months. When you arrive there it literally feels like you have stepped back in time and the course doesn’t disappoint because of this. It is very natural and everyone should visit it at least once. It proves what can be achieved with out going down the over managed/ American feel. The greens complexes are a sight to behold and the stretch of holes from 7- 12 are unrivalled any where in the country. I went over and built some tees over there so hopefully there will always be a bit of my work on the course and I can be part of the history.
IS there anyTHING THAT PLAYERS could do on a regular round of golf that would really help THE TEAM?
The pitch marks and divots are the obvious ones. One of my pet hates is golfers taking trolleys between greens and greenside bunkers. It is tough to produce decent surfaces there and with everyone doing it, it soon wears the turf out and it looks unsightly.
It looks like an early start for the team, what are the typical working hours they have to put in?
We currently still have the two start times. Martin Turna (Deputy Course Manager) and myself get in just after 5am and check the forecast/ jobs for the day. We allocate the jobs to the team the previous day so they can prepare for the following day. We just check that the jobs we have given out still work and nothing has changed. Jerry Jones (Mechanic) and Andrew Scott start at 5.30. This gives Jerry the opportunity to set any machines up and get them ready for when the rest of the team start at 6. Through the winter months the team are on site for 8 hours and work 7.5 hours. Through the summer months we are on site for 9 hours and work 8.5 hours.
What’s the most challenging part of the job?
The weather! The weather is so unpredictable and the seasons just seem to merge in to one nowadays. Sometimes we are at the mercy of the weather and its frustrating that we cant really do anything about it.
Getting staff in to green keeping is a difficult one these days. Trying to encourage someone to get out of bed at 5 in the morning to come and stand out in the rain doesn’t appeal to a lot of people (I can’t think why?!). Its hard work at times in unpredictable weather but I find it a very rewarding (if not frustrating) job most of the time. I have been very fortunate to inherit a good team at Aldeburgh and we have had a lot of success training our team through the green keeping apprenticeship programme.
What projects are the team currently working on?
Through the summer months we are mainly focussing on course preparation and presentation. Myself and Roger Wharton have already been planning what we aim to do this winter. We obviously have a couple of major projects in the pipeline pending members approval.
What is your vision for the course? What things would you like to do in the future?
Aldeburgh Golf Course has been managed well by Mark Broughton so I don’t need to re-invent the wheel. I feel the presentation and consistency of the golf course needs to be improved. I would like to see the gorse managed better and the introduction of more heather areas. I want the members and visitors to leave the club thinking… Wow. What a golf course/ Club. We are a Top 100 golf course and I want everyone who comes here to feel that is the case.
What advice would you give for anyone looking to become a greenkeeper? Do you take work experience students?
Go for it! It can be a thankless task at times but at the end of the day, when the course is the best it can be, then it is a very rewarding job with lots of job satisfaction. If you work hard and want to learn, then you can make a good career in greenkeeping. The Great British weather is not that bad really! We would definitely consider taking a work experience student if they were keen and were looking to pursue a career in greenkeeping. Depending on their age we are limited to what jobs we can give them but they will get to know a rake very well!