As befits a Scotsman, Iain Macleod wears his colours on his sleeve. A Greenkeeper for more than 30 years he is as enthusiastic and as passionate about his profession as anyone I have met in the industry.
For 27 of those years he has been the Head Greenkeeper at the picturesque Tain Golf Club alongside the Dornoch Firth, a place where the North Sea winds can whip up quite a gale.
Tain is a traditional links course, designed by Old Tom Morris, which has been developed during Iain's tenure from a standard scratch par 70 to a 71, with a longer-term aim of getting to 72. "We have extended every tee on the course, revetted all the bunkers and added one new hole (the ninth) in the mid nineties. As far as we are concerned the main development work on the course is now complete," said Iain.
In 1998 the clubhouse was rebuilt and refurbished, and the club is now benefiting with an increase in member and visitor numbers. "The course and club facilities have a good reputation," added Iain. "Membership-wise we are around the 560 mark, including juniors and country members, and visitor numbers are increasing each year. We benefit from being close to Royal Dornoch and, being the only links course in our immediate area of Ross-shire, we can be open when many other courses are closed."
When we spoke, Iain had just been to check on his greens. In August they were all over-sown with a bent/fescue mix. "Our greens are push ups, with a combination of mainly bent and poa grass. The aim is to gradually increase the fescue content, maintain the bents, and reduce the poa. This is the first year of introducing fescues for a while and we are getting some good results, we have some nice lines of fescue coming through. However, the test will be if they are still there this time next year!"
With major development work on the main course completed, Iain and his team have been concentrating on providing a range of facilities for juniors, of which they are justly proud. "Over the last couple of winters we have built two short par 3 holes for junior coaching, and we have put in artificial matting across the full width of the practice ground. Out on the course, at holes 1-4 and 14-18, we have constructed 9 junior tees. They now have a junior course of their own which is mainly used by beginners before they get their handicaps."
Being alongside the Dornoch Firth provides the course with some spectacular views, but it does occasionally create a problem or two. "The course drains very well," said Iain. "Recently, however we had an inch of rainfall in just over 24 hours. The fairway on the first hole is actually below the high tide level. A drain flows into the river, but when the tide is in the river rises and blocks the drain, so the water can't get away. Once the tide went out, the water disappeared."
Education and Training
"Education is crucial to the development of any industry, not just greenkeeping. Learning and improving is the only way to progress our profession. If you stand still you go backwards."
And Iain is not just content to spread the gospel; he actually practices what he preaches. In November he attended a presentation evening at Elwood College where he received the Institute of Learning and Management Level 4 award. Just 8 people received the award, the first ones in Scotland to achieve this.
" I try to get all my staff on courses so I thought I better do some myself," said Iain. "Each year I sit down with each member of staff and we talk about additional training or skills they wish to develop. For example, my former assistant said he felt he needed to know more about irrigation so he was booked on a 2-day workshop at Harrogate. My new deputy does not have his assessor's award so he will be doing the GTC's course so that he can become certified and help me with assessments of the trainees in the workplace."
Developing future greenkeepers is another area that Tain and Iain are committed to. "I produce a training plan every year which is presented to the club committee for approval. The plan then goes to a local enterprise board for funding. The young lads get level 2 training when they start; they work for 6 months then go off to college. We generally keep them for another year and, if there is a vacancy on the team, they will have the opportunity to be taken on full time."
Not all the lads can be taken on, but using his contacts at other clubs Iain tries to place as many as possible. With his help some have been accepted on the Ohio State programme where the trainees gain valuable experience for 18 months on greenkeeping American-style. The first lad on that programme came back to Scotland, got his HNC, and is now working at St Andrews. "Giving people a start is what we are trying to do," commented Iain.
The thought of returning to college, particularly for older members of the profession, can be rather daunting. Iain agrees but says any fears are largely unfounded, "Going back to the college environment for someone in their mid forties can be quite frightening, but once you get into it, it is very enjoyable. You tend to find that you are doing the course with like-minded people, everyone joins in and you help each other out.
"You always have to be open to learning no matter how old you are. There is so much out there for you to learn, and so many courses available via BIGGA, the GTC and colleges. The more you learn the better you will be able to do your job. In the end it helps you produce a better golf course, which is what everyone wants."
"The club has a contract with Scottish Grass Machinery on a full maintenance basis, whereby they do the general maintenance and we just do the basic checks. Any problems we give them a call and they sort it. We do not own the machines; we pay a fixed amount every month so we are not hit with any hidden costs. The deal we have is for 6 years; after 3 years all the machines are replaced with brand new ones, so the machines we are working with are a maximum of 3 years old and therefore more reliable. The smaller equipment, such as the strimmers, we buy and maintain ourselves."
2 Iseki compact tractors
1 Jacobsen Greensplex mower
1 Jacobsen LF3400 fairway mower
1 Toro 3200D greens mower
1 EZGO workhorse buggy
1 1M Multi-core aerator
1 SISIS TDS 24 spiker
4 Ransomes Marquis hand mowers
4 Honda 4-stoke strimmers
1 Articulator rough cutter
1 Vicon top dresser
1 Hardi 300litre sprayer
3 Allen blowers
1 Greensward back lapper
1 set of Thatchaway reels
1 set of sarrel rollers
1 set of top dressing brushes
1 Graden scarifier
1 Scotts accupro fertilizer spreader
1 EZGO golf cart