Who are the Gingerbread Men?

Laurence Gale MScin Golf

GingerbreadTeam_website.jpgA recent visit to Lymm Golf Club in Cheshire to talk to Head Greenkeeper, Stuart Yarwood, gave me the opportunity to meet up with several other like-minded individuals who call themselves the Gingerbread Men.

This group of Greenkeepers, with a combined total of over two hundred years experience on golf courses in and around Europe, all currently work at courses in Cheshire and North Wales. Laurence Gale MSc asks who are the Gingerbread Men?

Their common goals are to raise the profile of sustainable golf course management and share their ideas and working practices with other greenkeepers.

In the coming months Pitchcare will be visiting the 'Gingerbread Men' golf courses to see the results of their endeavours. It is likely to stimulate much debate within the greenkeeping fraternity.

Sustainability is the current 'hot topic', with both BIGGA and the R&A promoting examples of good practices being undertaken around the country. The Gingerbread Men have taken this commitment to the cause to another level. Stuart Yarwood takes up the story:

"Andy Ralphs from Delamere Golf Club was instrumental in the maintenance of my sanity throughout this 'sustainable change', supporting me over the telephone and at meetings, helping me not give in and to keep me strong and focused. Plus we both enjoy a pint and a game of golf together!
It was great to see other golf courses we played from a member's point of view and, as time went by, we both met other greenkeepers who shared our philosophies and frustrations with the industry.

I met Andy Peel, from Bull Bay on Anglesey, in the back of a van at 3 o'clock in the morning going to Menorca to play golf. Don't ask!! We hit it off and we have kept in touch every week having a natter and supporting each other.GingerbreadMen_website.jpg

After an argument about the benefits of slitting with Steve Oultram of Wilmslow Golf Club, we became friends as we knew we were both treading the same sustainable path to course management, and finding and overcoming the same problems. We got in touch with each other regularly, swapping ideas and experiences and, after a game of golf at Rhuddlan Golf Club, we met Paul Lowe, a great guy and another enthusiast for traditional greenkeeping. Suddenly we were five guys meeting up with each other, phoning and saving our wives being bored from the normal stresses of the job. It wasn't just me anymore. I was no longer alone!

It was when I received a phone call from Steve Isaac from the R&A, who was interested in what we were doing in our area, that we formed a networking cell of like-minded greenkeepers who wanted to share ideas about traditional greenkeeping.

The group became complete with Brian Taylor, Sandiway Golf Club, Carl Croucher, Caldy Golf Club, and Roger and John Kerry from Royal St Davids Golf Club in Harlech. We called ourselves the Gingerbread Men. A great bunch of guys, all trying to promote a more sustainable path at their respective golf clubs.

We, as a group, are not about a grass species. Although we do everything we can to discourage Poa at our own course, we are not exclusive to the God of Fescue. Colonial bent grasses have been overlooked in the sustainable bun-fight and can readily be achieved on the poorest of sites.

You've just got to follow best practice guidelines: Jim Arthur, Disturbance Theory or whatever works for you. But, ultimately, it takes one person at the golf club to start the change, and that has to be the Greenkeeper.

It also takes a supportive committee, a great agronomist, a well informed membership and a strong Greenkeeper to follow it through. It is now so encouraging to be part of a group, formed out of friendship and mutual respect, who we can bounce ideas off and support each other at our own club nights and members forums.

More importantly, it has created a new found enthusiasm in our own courses through fresh ideas and confidence to see the change through so that the club can realise its potential. We laugh together and sometimes cry together! It is so important to talk at all levels in the industry, whether it is to our members, the trade or our peers. Gone are the days of the Greenkeeper hiding in the shed wondering what the members are thinking.

We present ourselves professionally and we get the respect and trust of our members. We are all human after all. Some are just more human than others.
We are a group in the North West of England on very different sites working towards and achieving the same sustainable goals through sustainable practices. We are all individuals and do things slightly differently to each other.

The important thing is that we tell each other how different we are and we listen to how it could work at our own clubs. We exchange ideas, support each other and have a good time. It is continued professional development on another level.

So, next time you are passing your neighbour, say hello, and talk to him. You might like what he has to say.

And for those thinking why in the world we have called ourselves the Gingerbread Men? Well, it's not because we are sweet, sickly and always smiling. It is because, as Greenkeepers and, like our biscuity friends, we are always getting our heads bitten off! But it doesn't seem to hurt as much when there's a few more of you.

Remember, it's never as bad as it could be, and it's good to talk.
We don't know who the muffin man is, but we know where he lives!"

Stuart Yarwood,
Head Greenkeeper
Lymm Golf Club
StuartYarwood_website.jpg After discovering alcohol and girls, I completed my A levels and attended Reaseheath College for the HND in golf course management. I did a one year placement at Delamere Forest Golf Club under the supervision of Andy Ralphs, finished my college and went into golf course construction for a couple of years. I then returned to work for Andy at Delamere, for three years, as the Deputy Head Greenkeeper until I saw an opening for a Course Manager at Lymm Golf Club where I have been ever since.

Paul Lowe, Head Greenkeeper
Bromborough Golf Club
I am delighted to be involved with the Gingerbread Men. We are a small group of green-keepers who are striving for the more sustainable golf course. Each case is different; we have different courses with different soils and characteristics to maintain and are on different rungs of the ladder. But we are all climbing the same ladder. Networking with other Course Managers and Greenkeepers is of great benefit. The opportunity to exchange ideas, views and methods with like-minded experts helps enormously. We meet on a regular basis and talk on the phone. We have now become friends as well as contemporaries.

Andy Peel, Course Manager
Bull Bay Golf Club
Andy-Peel-Bull-Bay-GC_website.jpg I have been in greenkeeping since 1983. I started at Trafford BC as an apprentice, progressed through the ranks when finally becoming Head Greenkeeper in 1989. In 1990 I moved to Ellesmere GC, finally moving to Bull Bay in 1994. Denis Mortram at Reaseheath College helped me gain City & Guilds Level II & III in 1985-1988 Bull Bay is an 18 hole heathland clifftop course, positioned on the northeast coast. The course is maintained by myself, Bill Ashurst and James Radcliffe.

Steve Oultram, Golf Course Manager,
Wilmslow Golf Club
Steve-Oultram_website.jpg I completed a National Diploma in Amenity Horticulture with Turfculture and sportsground Management in 1985, and commenced employment at Swinton Park Golf Club that same year. I took up the position of Golf Course Manager at Wilmslow Golf Club in 1991 to the present date and, in 2002, completed a distance learning HND in Turf Science and Golf Course Management. In 22 years of greenkeeping I would describe my style of green keeping as traditional, the 'Jim Arthur' way. I have a great passion for the environment and, with the blessing of the golf club and a close relationship with Bob Taylor of the STRI, manage the course in a more environmental enlightened way.

Carl Crocher, Course Manager, Caldy Golf Club
Carl-Crocher_website.jpg I have been Course Manager for over twenty years. I worked for nearly eight years in Germany in the late 80s - mid 90s on new builds with both seeded and turfed greens. I constructed a course in 1991 in Yorkshire, and restored a Heathland course in Essex, to bring back the Regional Open Qualifier to a Braid design. I have been at Caldy for five years. It is a clifftop 'links', part heathland/parkland course overlooking the Dee Estuary and is classified as 'part SSSI'.
I am thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie and support that our Gingerbread group provides, and find the visits to each others courses particularly useful. The opportunity to share information and compare methods and experiences is, as many Greenkeepers know, always invaluable.
I personally would welcome other colleagues interested in anything they think we may be able to share with them to get in touch. It's not good to talk, it's bloody great!

Roger Kelly,
Head Greenkeeper
Royal St Davids Golf Club
I was invited to join the Greenkeeping staff at Royal St. David's as an Assistant Greenkeeper 30 years ago, and my twin brother John joined the team two years later when our Head Greenkeeper retired. I was asked to take over the post of Head Greenkeeper with John as my Deputy. Royal St. David's is a links course situated on the North West Coast of Wales. Today it plays as a links, being now dominated with links grasses. However, that was not the case 25-30years ago. Whilst we have taken approximately twenty years to change to a more sustainable golf course, others may benefit from our successes and mistakes, and manage to achieve their target in a much shorter time scale.

Brian Taylor, Course Manager
Sandiway Golf Club
I have almost 28 years experience in greenkeeping, having worked at six golf clubs during this time both here in the northwest of England and in Cambridgeshire. In January 2007, Stuart Yarwood asked me if I would be interested in joining a group of like-minded Greenkeepers for the sharing of ideas on matters of greenkeeping, support and friendship. Following a brief outline of what the group would be about, I accepted his invitation and have been an official Gingerbread Man for over twelve months. I believe we a have social and moral responsibility to produce golf courses that are sustainable. We are, after all, custodians of that small, but important, pocket of land and we have a duty of care, not only towards the current generations of golfers, but to future generations also. We are also in regular contact by phone or email and, if anybody has a problem, then we are there to offer support and advice.
I have found the Gingerbread Men to be supportive, informative and really enjoy our get togethers.

Andy Ralphs, Course Manager
Delamere Forest Golf Club

I have been at Delamere Forest for nineteen years, eleven as Course Manager. Delamere Forest is a well known Heathland course in the heart of Cheshire with a links feel about it. I am a traditional Greenkeeper and very passionate about my work. When I had the opportunity to join the Gingerbread Men I saw it as a fantastic way to help other Greenkeepers who want to get on the sustainability ladder. It is not about a bunch of Course Managers who tell Greenkeepers what to do, we are here to help and encourage people to believe that sustainable greenkeeping can be achieved with great results.
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