A Day In The Life Of "Jamie Probert" Pontardawe Golf Clubs Head Green Keeper
Well Jamie tell me a bit about yourself
I only live five minutes from the course with my wife Jacqui and two girls Catrin and Nia. It's quite handy living so close to the course. When I get a bit of spare time I enjoy watching any type of sport and of course playing golf. I play off a handicap of 8, you'd think my handicap would be a lot lower than that, with me knowing every blade of grass on the course intimately and also knowing where all the pin positions are on the greens.
I thoroughly enjoy my job as head green keeper at Pontardawe Golf Club and I really enjoy my golf on the course. Over the years I've made some really good friends and spend a bit of time in the clubhouse with them on the weekends after a round of golf, family permitting. I've just had a couple of days golfing in Spain with a few club members, lovely courses, lovely weather, lovely beer, although I'll never be a very low handicapper in the drinking side of things. They've got it all out there in Spain.
I started working at the Pontardawe course in 1989 at the tender age of 17 and became head green keeper in 1995 at the ripe old age of age 23 and I've now been brought more into the business side of the course and machinery expenditure decisions by the committee and have a really good working relationship with the them.
Run me through your daily routine this time of year warts and all.
The alarm clock bursts into life 5.30am every morning. First things first I look out of the window to see If the weather forecasters have got it right, a big sigh of relief if it's dry. I get dressed, stumble into the kitchen, eyes still only half open, whilst trying not to wake anybody else up. A quick strong cup of coffee to get the old grey matter to function and I'm off in my trusty four wheel drive and on the way before my body really knows what's happening. A four wheel drive is a must on a mountain course in the winter months. Living quite close to the course is handy, if there's an breakdown or a problem on the course. It took a while but I'm used to the early starts now and they don't bother me anymore. The early starts have their benefits and it sure is nice to finish early.
Within minutes, I'm on the course and in the green keepers cabin, kettle on for the boys, then run through the work schedule for the day with my team, Iwan, Hywel and Kevin. Don't tell them I said, but their a pretty good hard working bunch, with a good sense of humour, that makes things easier, especially on some of the not so nice jobs. Obviously the weather conditions will dictate what we can and can't do on the day.
What's the first job of the day ?
First job of the day is really important, check all the machines for fuel or hydraulic levels and leaks, the last thing we need is a hydraulic leak on the course through poor housekeeping.
And after that ?
Once that's done it's out on the course as quickly as we can, staying in front of our early morning golfers. Setting up the tee marker positions for the days competitions, cut the tees, re position the pins, cut the greens and aprons, cut the fairways, rake the bunkers, cut the semi rough and rough if required on the day. Then it's on with the strimming, pruning and general course titivation and manual jobs that you can't carry out sitting on a machine. We've got fertilising for the agronomy and any spraying for disease and weeds, plus anything else the greens convener finds for us on the course or clubhouse.
Again early in the season were playing a bit of catch up on projects we couldn't complete due to the bad winter we've had, tidying up the winter works drainage projects, extensions to tees, buggy paths etc. The new buggy paths have made a big improvement for the ground staff as well as the buggies, enabling us to get machinery around the course with a minimum amount of damage during the winter months.
This time of year were just coming into the cutting season, so things are starting are starting to look a lot nicer and greener on the course, it's easy enough to get the grass to grow, it's keeping it cut at the right height every day that's the challenge now. Greens height at moment 5mm down to 3.5mm in high summer. Tees 13mm all year round fairways 19mm down to 17mm in high summer.
What about your meal breaks ?
Breakfast consists of a short break, where any issues that have arisen or been seen on course that morning are reported to me by the team and a plan of action is put in place. Dinner time, when it happens, although not that often, is time to catch up on any paper work and we normally end up chatting about our families and plans for the evening.
How tough is it out there carrying out the winter works ?
Winter is a tough time for projects, this is why as a team our winter works schedule has to be planned well. It can be a daunting time of year, very cold wet and windy, a fair old test of physical ability as most of the projects are heavy manual jobs. We are confined to where we can take the machinery on the course, whilst trying to limit the traffic damage on wet parts of the course.
What do you see as a priority as far as the course is concerned ?
Making the course a tough fair test of golf for all handicap levels and the course presentation looking aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The one single thing that defines the quality of any golf course is, without any shadow of doubt the putting surfaces. The first thing all golfers will comment on, is the greens. I'm striving to have the best greens around for our members and all our guests. The best way of promoting the course is free, by word and mouth. Golfers tell other golfers, more visitors, more financial income and that will promote a healthier greens budget to continue with course improvements. You can't even begin to imagine how proud I feel when golfers tell me the course is looking and playing really good. I have to say that I can't take all the credit, it's a team effort between the staff and the committee which I have to say is the reason the course and the club has moved forward and Pontardawe Golf Club is in a great place at the moment.
What sort of impact is the new machinery having on the course ?
The cutting is taking far less man hours, enabling us to reduce our staffing level and still be left with more course working hours. Lower maintenance and running costs on newer machines. New machines have helped improve the course presentation with better quality of cut. The new machines are far more comfortable to drive and easier to operate plus if the team are happy operating the our machinery they will be more productive
Tell me about the course wildlife you see on the course ?
We have an abundance of wildlife on the course. in and around our lake we have Mallards, Ducks, Geese, Canadian Geese, frogs and newts. Our lake is stocked with good numbers of very large Goldfish, Carp and Koi Carp. We have seen the odd Mink about. Then we've got the general wildlife, foxes, rabbits, badgers, squirrels and of course a few moles. We've got a very wide variety of birds to be seen, as part of the course is parkland and part is mountain terrain. My favourite birds have to be the Buzzards and Red Kites which can be seen soaring effortlessly for hours at very low altitudes, so they can be seen in detail quite easily.
What qualifications have you got ?
I started on a YTS scheme going to Pencoed college part time, where I gained my city and guilds in and horticulture phase one, two and three. The institute of groundsmanship in the science and practice of turf culture and sports management. Spraying license in pa1 pa2 and pa6
What's your favourite season of the year and why ?
Spring and summer, golfers are happier with a bit of sun on their backs, in general everybody's happier when the suns out. The course starts moving forward and things begin to grow and the colour arrives. It's a wonderful time of year to be working outdoors and you can get things done.
What part of the job gives you the greatest satisfaction ?
Producing smooth fast quality putting surfaces
Well the last answer was pretty short and to the point. What are your pet hates ?
Golfers who don't respect the course, by that I mean, litter and plastic bottles dropped, we've got bins on most tees. Golfers not repairing pitch marks and divots. For me the one that hurts me the most is golfers using their putters to take the ball out of the hole and golfers not placing the flags back in the cups properly, when we've bought special flags that firmly click into the centre of the cup. Both the later damage the holes badly. If there is one area that defines the quality of a golf course, it’s the putting surfaces, it's a shame to see golfers damage them.
There are always issues which are sometimes out of my control and down to nature, however, any failings on the course become part of a blame game that some golfers still seem all too happy to play their part in.
74% of golfers directly blame the green keeper if the course is below expectations it's a known fact that golfers are quick to criticise when they feel elements of the course are unsatisfactory, but slow to praise the green keepers when the course looks good and plays well.
What's Bigga (British and International Golf Green Keepers) all about and what do you get out of it ?
Bigga is the green keepers representative where you can get unlimited information, they hold numerous golf and seminar days which I have found very helpful over the years. You meet other experienced green keepers and can discuss different problems that we have come across on our courses. The information shared is invaluable and someone has always got a fix for any course issues you have.
What courses have you visited and taken inspiration from ?
I have been fortunate to play some top golf course in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and now Spain. They all have had great holes that stick in my mind, but for me the one course that ticked all the boxes was Royal County Down in Ireland. The quality of the playing surfaces there, were outstanding, the best I've ever seen. That's one thing I'm striving to bring to Pontardawe Golf Club, "Top quality playing surfaces."
What's the science behind keeping the greens tip top ?
Without getting to much into the technical aspects, the greens are a bit like your body if you look after it and feed it the right consistency of vitamins, with a balanced diet it will make it feel good and look good.
What difference has the lake and sprinkler system made and what was it like before the lake ?
The lake area used to be a bog and an
absolute nightmare to look after. Now the lake is there and the sprinkler
system in place, it means no more night shift watering for me and the team. Our
water used to be off the water mains with no pressure during the day, so the
watering had to be done at night. Now I can just programme the computer or push
a button and I have water wherever and whenever I feel it is required. joyo !
What's the funniest thing that's happened to you on the course ?
It was on the 4th and a member was moaning about his golf to me, he then he walks off to the 5th parks his trolley right on the tee, something that is strictly prohibited. The geese took exception to this and started to attack and peck his trolley, his battery shorted out and his trolley took off on its own, straight in to the lake he! he! he!
This one has nothing to do with green keeping but it makes me laugh every weekend. Playing golf standing on the first tee with a past captain, Conrad Dyment-Jones insisting he was going to take a £1 off me. That was about seven weeks ago and fair play he's still trying (I had to get that one in)
Where do you see the course being over the next couple of years and what would you like to see ?
I see the course going from strength to strength with people having to be on a waiting list to join. I think we could all change or want things on the course but for me it's all about improving on what we have, with realistic projects being carried out to a high standard.
Well Jamie, thanks for being so honest and open with a brief insight into your working day. I would like to thank you personally and on behalf of all the members and guests that have played at Pontardawe Golf Club. The proof of your good work is in very high numbers of satisfied members and guests who play the course. I hear lots of good reviews about the course presentation and playing condition and I'm sure with you at the helm the course will continue being known as one of the best courses in South Wales.