As an ambitious young man in the turf industry, I always wanted to be at the peak of my game and produce a world class product. From the beginning, I started to learn the trade at Rishton Golf Club and Fishwick Hall Golf Club in Lancashire, but seeing world class turf facilities on TV ignited the passion to succeed and, from then on, it's been an addiction.
Gaining employment at Terre Blanche Golf Club at the Four Seasons Resort in the South of France as part of my studies, I worked with world class greenkeepers and aspired to achieve the goal of being the best at what I do.
Therefore, I pursued my education and achieved a National Diploma in Sports Turf and a Bachelors Degree In Turfgrass Science.
The education opened a door to spend some time in the USA as part of the Ohio State University internship, which was an invaluable experience that allowed me to work at many fine golf courses, such as The Kirtland Country Club, Saucon Valley Country Club, Isleworth Golf & Country Club and Lake Nona Country Club which are part of The Tavistock Group owned by Joe Lewis, the owner of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
After working and preparing various golf tournaments in America, such as The Pennsylvania Open, The US Collegiate Invitational and the annually televised Tavistock Cup at Lake Nona, I made great connections globally from networking with guys in the turf industry and, today, I still make sure I grab a beer with them when we get together at the turf shows.
After working in the States, I was awarded an excellent position in Stockholm, Sweden at The Vallentuna GolfKlubb, where I fulfilled two seasons and earned enough stripes to climb the ladder to a senior member of staff.
When my contract was expiring, I phoned my old buddy and boss, Brett Harris, The Tavistock Group Agronomist and Director of Operations, who is an awesome guy and a great cook! I simply asked him if he knew of any jobs available and, to my surprise, he said there was a Deputy Superintendents position at Albany Resort in Nassau, The Bahamas, and said "Do you want to go?" To his reply I said, "Are you effing joking, get me a flight!" And, within six days, I was there.
My role was to supervise twenty-five Bahamian employees on an 18-hole championship golf course, alongside Jay Shipley, The Golf Course Superintendent. Prior to Jay working in The Bahamas, he was the Assistant Superintendent at Lake Nona where we had previously met (small world!).
Albany was created by Tavistock Group, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. Its name is inspired by the historic beachside mansion in the heart of the community that was originally owned by French film maker and Inspector Gadget creator, Jean Chalopin. Albany House made history as the site of two movies, most notably the James Bond film Casino Royale.
Albany is nestled on approximately 600 ocean front acres on the south western end of New Providence in The Bahamas. It is one of the most desirable resort communities in the world.
Amenities include a mega-yacht marina, an 18-hole championship golf course (designed by Els), a full-service spa and fitness centre, casual and fine dining restaurants, seaside bars, a family water park, a kids' clubhouse and an adult pool and lounge. A collection of fully furnished three to five bedroom villas make up Albany's boutique hotel, offering some of the finest accommodations in the islands.
Albany offers 350 residences that include beachfront, beachwalk and golf course custom homes, equestrian ranchettes and luxurious marina residences.
The championship course has a desert links feel, which is totally unique; no other golf course can compare. With an extreme climate ranging from scorching sunshine to hurricanes alerts, it was a weird place for a "funny talking white boy" to be working, as my crew said.
The turf maintenance facility was kitted out with Toro equipment - pedestrian greens and tee mowers, triples, fairway units, rough units, ProCores, sweepers, Workmen, boom and hawk sprayers, Sandpros, and numerous gadgets and tools and, on paper, it sounds great!
However, being based on an island in The Caribbean measuring just twenty-one miles by seven miles, meant it was hard to get parts in fast, and ordering parts, tools, chemicals and fertilisers took up to three months to get on the island, so good planning was needed!
Occasionally, there were times when we needed to improvise, like the time we had a pipe break and couldn't get the part for two months! Fortunately, Jay was an irrigation guru with many tricks up his sleeve and we overcame the problem.
The crew consisted of the superintendent, myself as the deputy, a head mechanic and his assistant, four spray technicians, two irrigation technicians, two 'bunker guys', two operating fairways mowers, three on tee and detail mowers, six on greens mowers, one handyman and three edgers and detailers; all had a good solid understanding of their roles.
Like every job, there were good and bad times trying to manage people but, from working with the superintendent, and having witnessed various management techniques from different places in the past, and talking about management with my mates around the world facing similar situations, I developed my own management technique.
The golf course staff were all good hearted guys, but come from a different background than us 'regular greenkeepers' are used to. I felt these guys needed a new technique of management, so I tried to treat them as equals and personally get to know and understand each individual, something that larger establishments tend not to do. With a large crew it is difficult to man manage, but I feel this technique worked in this situation and allowed for a better working relationship. By taking this route, I earned their respect, and vice-versa, and we worked together and produced a consistent quality product.
A regular working week was Monday to Sunday, where I averaged a seventy hour week on the course and around the resort. Albany required fast greens and we maintained the speed around eleven on the stimp - when we had the PGA guys down, we normally jumped them to thirteen. We did this either by double cutting and/or rolling, and monitored the water levels to keep them nice and crispy without getting too hot.
The tees, approaches and fairways were cut every other day on a continual loop system, with detailing of the bunkers and fairway surrounds undertaken all the time to produce the clean and tidy Albany look.
My position would be best be described as a "Trump Card". If there was something that needed doing that no one else could do, Luke would do it! Whether it was triple-cutting and rolling the green if we had a PGA guy down, or our greens mower was off sick, or if it was unloading topdressing shipments at 7:00pm at night, or fixing a broken sprinkler on a Sunday evening, my role was to do everything and anything. At the time I found it exhausting and frustrating but, in hindsight, it was very rewarding.
After my first year in The Bahamas, I was acknowledged with an excellent standard of work and an incomparable success rate to previous employees in my position, and was promoted to a different department of the company to become The Head Of Landscaping Turf, as well remaining as the Deputy Superintendent, where I was responsible for producing superior fine turf lawns around the resort with the use of a ten man crew.
Albany, having had Casino Royale filmed on their lawns, take huge pride in their appearance and the job certainly wasn't overlooked. We treated the landscaped turf like greens and maintained them to a high standard. Battling against nature, with Hurricane Sandy coming over to shake things up, and all the worms and grubs consistently chewing away, times were sometimes a little stressful.
The summertime heat was possibly the hardest challenge to overcome, with temperatures pushing into the 40s and, with humidity that could drown a fish, the work was tough.
During the summer off-season, it was a little more quiet and gave us time to prepare the course for the following season. We undertook three hollow core passes and a single, solid aeration, all followed with the usual processes of topdressing and fertilising to specific requirements, pending our soil sample results carried out by our agronomist, Brett Harris.
September to May was our playing season, when the temperatures were at a perfect heat - in the high 20s, with a cool breeze. It was great golfing conditions.
We were fortunate with having some of the top tour professionals regularly dropping in to practice, including for The Masters at Augusta, which gives you an indication of the high standards we maintained on the course.
We had to be always ready and always 100% perfect - hard and fast ... which wasn't easy, but we did it!
Following the PGA Tour has never been my main focus sporting wise, but having to deal first hand with many of the touring pros, I always kept a close eye on who was winning and who was losing. I always prayed for "The Albany Boys" to do well and play in as many tournaments as they could, so they would stay away from Albany and give me some time off; which wasn't often!
Living in The Caribbean offered me some fantastic trips when I got some spare time, and I was fortunate to fly to lots of the outer islands of The Bahamas and experience snorkelling with sharks, swimming with the famous swimming pigs (see below), fishing trips for monster fish and becoming an expert in rum tasting and singing karaoke.
Along with the golf course and landscaping, came an extra job, where the golf course superintendent and myself had to renovate The National Stadium of The Bahamas football pitch for a Tottenham Hotspur Football Club end of season game against the Jamaica national team.
We worked under the guidance of Darren Baldwin, Tottenham's Grounds Manager, who was in regular contact with us via email, to help us accomplish the tasks.
On the pitch, we removed debris, re-levelled the surface with various grooming and topdressing techniques and applied Bermuda grass seed, followed by applications of chemicals and fertilisers to try and jump start growth.
The game will be played on May 25th 2013 which, unfortunately, I will miss because, once again, out of the blue another job was offered, which I accepted.
During that period, having three jobs in a bizarre country was surely the craziest time of my life, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
On the whole, I am proud of my achievements of "Conquering the Caribbean", and can definitely see myself back there in the future at some of the new projects being built.
I am writing this back in Stockholm, Sweden, where I feel most at home and about to start a new Deputy Course Manager position, which I could not turn down. It will offer new responsibilities and challenges and I am excited to see what the future holds.
Pigs might swim!
These amazing pigs swim every day in the crystal clear waters of the Bahamas - on their own tiny island where they live in luxury.
They show off their piggy-paddle to visitors who flock to their beach to see the extraordinary site of wild pigs making a splash in the beautiful azure sea.
Their exploits have been captured on camera by photographer and ocean guide, Jim Abernethy, 52, from Florida, who first stumbled across the feral creatures a couple of years ago.
The pigs are remarkably well adapted to their beach bum lifestyle of frolicking in the water and lazing on the sand.
"Whenever I show my photos of these pigs, people are just blown away," explained Mr Abernethy. "They uniquely live in complete harmony on their island paradise. They are surprisingly strong swimmers. Even the younger piglets are totally at home in the water. They're even happy to swim alongside people."
Pig Island, or Big Major Cay as it is officially known, is blessed with a natural water spring and is sheltered by a string of neighbouring islands that protects it from waves caused by tropical storms.
The pigs are thought to have been introduced to the island by passing sailors who may have thought they would make a good food source.
However, the sailors never returned and now all the lucky porkers have to worry about is where their next meal is coming from.
The pigs have worked out that the crews of passing yachts regularly dump excess food into the sea and manage to survive by scavenging and being fed by the locals and holidaymakers.
The hungry pigs eagerly plunge into the waves when they see a yacht and will swim a few hundred feet up to the vessel in the hope of a free meal.
The pigs are so successful in their enterprise that they are now living the dream by raising their family of eight with nothing to do but eat, sleep and swim.
Read more at: www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1350337 or search for 'swimming pigs'
Images ©Jim Abernethy