Our Head Groundsman meets old boy Angus Roberts for 18 holes at the prestigious Roxburghe Golf Club.
As we approached half term the trees on campus began to show their autumn colours at their radiant best. Our very own Merchistonian Angus' Jimmy' Roberts invited me, to join him and his boss Ross Ovens at the wonderful Roxburghe Golf course in the outskirts of Kelso, to talk all things grass and about Jimmy's journey from Merchiston to Deputy Course Manager at the Roxburghe.
'Jimmy' as he is affectionately known was introduced to me in Chalmers East in 2012 by the then Master in charge of golf to ask me what subjects he should study to become a Greenkeeper. Well, that was music to my ears, without hesitation, I furnished him with the following, biology to understand the soil and plants, chemistry to see what can be used to enhance the soil and the plants within, geography to understand the environment and of course English to communicate. As I left this chance meeting, I thought wow a Merchistonian greenkeeper, how joyous, well for those in the stables at least, something to look forward to and the chance to exchange knowledge and experience from the world of turf. A leading light in The Merchiston Golf Academy and a regular in the 1st XV a true all-rounder indeed, when not on crutches or in a sling.
A part of my invitation was to play the fantastic course. I partnered Jimmy against Ross and one of our supply partners Daryl from Rigby Taylor this gave the afternoon with a nice little edge to the proceedings, three and half hours on a golf course gives you plenty of time to talk. Jimmy is hugely energetic and passionate about his chosen path, and he is even diversifying by helping out Kelso cricket club, showing the close correlation between greenkeeping and groundsmanship.
As we moved around the course on the buggy, we saw some beautiful scenery. Below is a view of the 14th tee looking up to the viaduct with the Tweed on the left.
On leaving Merchiston in 2016 Jimmy started his apprenticeship at the golf course, he had been doing seasonal work over his summer holidays at the golf course over the previous two years. Of course, with his farming background, he was well versed and ready to take on the challenge ahead of him. Jimmy speaks fondly of the School, and his mentors, Mr Moffat, Mr Deans and of course Mr Murdoch came up in conversation. He does keep in touch with a few of his year group, mainly the local border lads, so he doesn't need a translator to sift through his increasingly strong borders accent!
Jimmy sailed through his apprenticeship and qualification in only seven months due to some club rugby injuries helping along the way (growing trend this). In 2017, he was the winner of the 'Toro Young Student Greenkeeper of the Year Award' for the entire UK which indeed is a great testament. Qualifying through regionals and then to the national finals, lots of goodies came his way, but the main was to spend two weeks at Vidauan Golf Club in the South of France, learning a different style of greenkeeping.
On his return from France, Jimmy received a promotion to 1st assistant, and he learned to lead teams and manage colleagues. He quickly completed his Level 3 from 2018 through to 2019. So where next? He left the course to return to the family farm. Jimmy was meant to head Stateside to work on the Ohio State program for 12/18 months in March and be able to work on a few of The PGA Tour events, shadowing superintendents and leading teams as well as experiencing American life! Sadly like the whole world, COVID intervened, and Jimmy's flight to America was cancelled. Fortunately, the old deputy at the course moved to Muirfield and with the door always open at The Roxburghe for Jimmy to return, he seamlessly moved into that role which has invigorated and motivated him to continue in the industry. America is still very much on the cards, but unfortunately like all of us, COVID-19 will have a large say on many things, including golf.
The golf ended in a friendly win for the Merchi lads! My extra shots managed to enhance Jimmy's impressive four handicap to get us over the line narrowly. We finished by having a quick look in their shed, and it looked not dissimilar to ours, well with a few more machines but impressive all the same.
As we finished up and started to pack up the cars, Jimmy regaled some stories from his recent few days working at the Scottish Open at Renaissance Golf Club. Saturday's weather being memorable if not overly enjoyable with a squeegee in hand on the 18th green making his debut on Sky sports!
It is great to see such energy and youth coming into the turf industry, and with the Merchiston connection, we will continue to follow Jimmy's progress with a keen eye.