After Dudley came away with The Greenkeeping Project of the Year award last week at BTME, James Kimmings caught up with Head Greenkeeper, Stewart Marshall to find out what the award means for the club.
What were your immediate thoughts after winning the award?
It felt like a dream, I couldn't believe it to be honest. All of the other clubs had done such great things so it was just such a shock to win it.
You think about the dark days at the club, where we were close to closing and that makes this even more special because we have managed to turn it around.
Often people don't appreciate the effort and hard work that goes into trying to present a course in the best possible way, especially with restricted finances and manpower. So to win was a proud moment for everyone involved.
How have the club reacted to you winning the award?
That first 24 hours, it felt like I was a celebrity. I had dozens of missed calls from people trying to congratulate me and about 34 text messages from people saying how well we had done.
It was on the Saturday after the awards when I felt the recognition for the work that we had done. Lots of members came up to me shaking my hand and thanked me for the work that has been done over the past few years.
It was a proud day for everyone because we're a small club and a lot of people have put a lot of effort in. If it wasn't for the kind donations from club members, I doubt we would be sat here today. Winning the award is the boost that everyone needed.
Coming from an office-based job, would you recommend others to join the turf industry?
I would 100% recommend joining the industry. I know that the money isn't fantastic and you do have to sacrifice, but working outdoors and the rewarding nature of the job outweigh that for me.
I was fortunate to have a lot of support from my family. They could see how my mood had changed for the better. Being stuck in an office for five days a week did not do my mental health much good. It has been the best thing that I have ever done.
How important have your family been to you throughout the career change?
Throughout my working life before I became a greenkeeper everything was focused on supplying the best possible life for my family. I did that for over 20 years but I knew that my mood wasn't happy and I needed a change. They have supported me massively through this.
Life has rewarded me by giving me the good grace to let me go do something that I enjoy and I'm passionate about. So the award is as much for my wife and children as it is myself.
What has been your highlight in the industry away from winning the award?
Hosting a county match last year was a pretty big thing for me and the club. I know some courses probably don't appreciate having county matches because it puts a spanner in the works with the work they want to do and it disrupts their members. However, it's a sign that we're doing something right; they're using our course to show off Worcester County, which is pretty special.
How has it been like going from a golfer to a greenkeeper here at Dudley?
It has certainly made it easier to build relationships with members. I speak to the golfers as friends on a weekend or after work in the clubhouse and explain to them what we're doing, what we have planned and the reasons for it. I think this then gives them a little insight into the greenkeeper world.
It also gives us some credit as greens staff as the members then recognise that we are working hard to make sure they have a surface play on.
I think that is where I am quite strong, the interaction and the communication with members. Communication is a really important part of the job.
How did it feel going from the office seat to the mower seat?
I love that Friday afternoon feeling. Nothing to do with it being the weekend, but it is more about the satisfaction that it gives you seeing members turning up after a busy week at work and going out and enjoying themselves on the course that you have prepared.
You have worked hard from Monday to Friday to make sure that the course is ready for the weekend and, when you see members out laughing and smiling and having a good time, that means the world.
In my previous job, it was all numbers on a computer screen, which isn't the most enthralling. Nothing like making someone smile at the work that you have done.
What is next for Dudley Golf Club?
The BIGGA First Green initiative is something I am keen to get involved in. As soon as I heard about it I signed up. I left the conference, went online in the car park and signed up for it.
As a club, we struggle with our junior membership. I think we've got four members under the age of 17. We need the next generation to keep golf courses going in the future.
Getting children involved from local schools and colleges will help to safeguard Dudley Golf Club for years to come. It will also educate those kids who come over and vandalize or mess about on golf courses about the work that goes in and hopefully, that will reduce the amount of incidents that we see.