Arboga GolfKlubb lies approximately 120 kilometres due west of Sweden’s capital, Stockholm. It is here that Head Greenkeeper Reece Harvey – or to give him his correct title, ‘Banchef’ – has recently made his home. In this question and answer session, he charts his career to date.
Reece Harvey, the recently installed Banchef (Head Greenkeeper) at Arboga GolfKlubb in Sweden has just completed his ﬁrst year at the club. In this Q&A, he discusses his career to date and how he ended up working in this delightful country.
Pitchcare: How did you get into the industry and where did you work prior to your current position?
Reece Harvey: I ﬁrst worked in the industry when I started my apprenticeship at age sixteen at The Grove in Hertfordshire (2012-2017). After over four years there, I moved onto Sandy Lodge Golf Club in Hertfordshire. I spent just over one year there and I left the country to work for the ﬁrst time (2017-2018). I went to Ingarö GolfKlubb, Stockholm, Sweden. I spent ﬁve months there as a seasonal (2018). Then went onto be a seasonal at Jacks Point Golf Club, Queenstown, New Zealand for six months (2018-2019). After this, I went back to Ingarö GolfKlubb as Foreman (2019-2021). I then moved onto my ﬁrst Head Greenkeeper position at Arboga GolfKlubb, Sweden (2021-Present) which is where I am to date.
What training and education did you undertake?
I have achieved my level 2 and 3 NVQ in greenkeeping. All spray certiﬁcates (PA1, 2 and 3). Lots of in-house training, forklift license; chainsaw licence is the next thing.
Was there one person who inspired you?
I don’t think I can just pinpoint one person, I had so much help, especially in the beginning. So I would say the people that had the biggest impact for me to be where I am today were the people who went out of their way to help me.
Are you responsible for budgets or do you report to someone else – for example a greens chairman or committee?
I work with the treasurer and general manager off the base of last year’s budget and what I would like to maybe change or add, we will then settle on a ﬁgure and then present this to the board and they would then either say ‘yes’ or the more common, ‘why are we spending more on this?’. They are very understanding and we would talk about it and come to an agreement.
What inspired you to make the move abroad?
My dream was to always travel around and I think I was always looking from the minute I found out that it was possible through the job we do. It was a very spontaneous decision and I really didn’t have to think about it too much.
What aspect of the UK do you miss most?
Not the weather. Although I didn’t really pick the best country for that either, as I’m sat here waiting for the ice/snow to melt on the greens. The obvious one is family and friends, but I think having things like Facetime helps with that a lot.
What do you think is the biggest difference in course management between the UK and overseas?
The different cultures are sometimes a challenge for sure. Over here it is really all about keeping your greens alive going into the next season, it certainly is nerve-racking but you have to trust your gut and hope it is right.
What type of course is Arboga?
The club was founded in 1988 and used to be farmland. I would describe it as parkland, with some beautiful backdrops of forest.
How many courses and what size?
One 18-hole golf course – 5880m par 72 – with a 6-hole par 3
training course. The total area, including all forest areas, is
around 80 hectares.
Greens = 1.2 hectares
Tees = 0.5 hectares
Approaches = 0.7 hectares
Fairways = 7 hectares
The rest is made up of rough, lakes and forests.
What additional staff do you have?
As the seasons are very short and we are closed from around early November to around early/mid April, we employ mostly seasonal staff. This is difficult as you normally have some different people each year. We have a newly starting mechanic called Tomas who has a background in farming.
We will then normally have someone for nine months and then two for six months, we also have a junior or two work with us for the holidays.
Do you employ a workshop technician?
Yes we do, we have just had our long time mechanic retire, but he still helps out and will show the new mechanic the tips and tricks.
Is servicing and machinery maintenance carried out in-house or outsourced?
We service our machines in-house, mostly straight after the season before winter. We do not have our own grinders here so whenever we need it we will take them to a local golf club and they will do it – for a price of course.
What additional help do you get (part time, consultants, agronomists, contractors etc.)?
We try to get some of our junior section to work on the course during the holidays and you never know they might love it and want to become a greenkeeper full time.
We try to do everything in-house to save a substantial amount of money.
How would you describe the soil proﬁle generally?
Mostly clay all over the course, some areas have more topsoil than others, but not much.
How were the greens and tees constructed?
Greens are USGA spec, tees are generally drainage if needed and depending on how much topsoil we need.
Do they require any special maintenance techniques?
Greens are velvet bent grass so they really do not need much in the way of fertiliser, it will become very thatchy very quickly. We do not use any PGR and will only cut on average four times per week in the summer – and we roll the other days. We maintain a good 10-11 on the stimp meter on a daily basis, I am interested to see what we can do with the velvet bent grass this year.
Do you have any additional equipment/systems at your disposal?
We have a full irrigation system with recently replaced pumps in 2019. There are green covers for us to use but, due to the green type, we do not use them very much at all.
Does the course suffer from any regular natural occurrences such as ﬂooding, high winds, excessive snowfall/frosts, drought etc?
Where we are located is known as the ice belt of Sweden, we can have severe amounts of snowfall which will then turn into the more dangerous ice. Since I have been here, it has got down to -25 Celsius and can get colder so you really need that protective layer over snow if it is going to be that cold. The worst thing is when the temperature ﬂuctuates and you get melting and freezing.
How do you cope with this?
Sometimes it is hope for the best. We monitor how long it has been under ice for and, if we have to, we will break it up and push it off.
Are there any issues with shade and air ﬂow?
We have taken lots of trees down around one of the problem greens to attempt to help. It seems like we have some cold pockets around the course where the ice will stay a lot longer too.
Do you use temporary greens?
The course closes for winter, greens and tees are not used. We do set out a winter course for people who want to brave the freezing temps; not my idea of fun.
Do you have a driving range/practice facility?
Yes we have a driving range, big putting green and a smaller chipping green. We also have a studio for simulator golf and club ﬁttings.
Are there any other facilities available to members for example tennis courts, croquet lawns – and who is responsible for their maintenance?
There currently is a studio for simulator golf in the winter, a lot of golf clubs in Sweden are getting in on the ‘paddle’ craze in Europe. I do have to say it’s a lot fun.
Do you have speciﬁc tasks for speciﬁc staff or is it an ‘all hands to the pump’ approach?
We try to split the jobs up so it doesn’t get repetitive, trying to keep everyone engaged. I will do most of the fertilising.
Where does presentation rank?
Presentation is very important, I feel like the ﬁrst thing a golfer sees is that. First impressions play on the mind from the very beginning.
What end of season and ongoing renovations do you undertake?
Our tees are very uneven, so we are undertaking a tee renovation where we are doing the worst tees ﬁrst. We are planning on doing this over three or four years by just stripping the tops and levelling it off, and moving the sprinklers from the middle of the tees to the outside to give us more area to place the tee markers. We also are looking at drainage in some of the problem areas.
Are renovations affected by budgets?
I think most clubs have to deal with budget restrictions, we try to do everything in house if it is possible.
How have changing weather patterns affected what you do?
I feel like we seem to get more severe weather. This winter has been an exception so far but, if we get rain, it seems to be torrential or, if it is hot, it will be super dry for an extended period of time.
Do you take regular soil samples to ascertain what work is required?
Yes we do, we will have samples taken at the beginning and about two-thirds of the way through the season to see what progress we have made and what we can do to prepare better for winter.
How do you interact with your club members – for example, social media, regular newsletters, notice board or course walks?
I started an Instagram account; ‘ArbogaGreenkeeper’ and we send out emails to all members with some important information when it is needed.
Are you working on any special projects at the moment?
We are levelling tees at the moment; its a long term plan. We also have some problems with a European spruce beetle attacking our forests so we have to keep an eye on that.
What projects have been undertaken in recent years?
I think the main one was the new pumphouse, which every club realised it was super important after the summer of 2018.
Do you have any additional areas to maintain – for example, woodland, heathland, gardens?
We have a lot of forest between holes and around the course. We also have an electric fence to keep out the wild pigs.
Do you source additional help or is the work done in-house?
We have a lot of help from the last Head Greenkeeper who retired in 2020, he has all the equipment to help with the forest. This is incredible to have.
How were you/your club affected by Covid-19?
I wasn’t affected too much by Covid apart from not really being allowed back to see family as often as I would like.
Golf in Sweden went boom! Every club experienced a massive increase in play, which then meant an increase in wear and tear on the golf course but also an increase in incoming money.
Were you or your staff furloughed at any stage?
No, the only restrictions we had on golf were no competitions in 2020 and some of 2021 but, apart from that, golf was on full go.
How did this affect you, both personally and at work?
On the contrary to most places, our work doubled. It certainly took its toll as we were not prepared for that to happen.
How do you purchase machinery and whom do you purchase from?
The club prefers to buy things outright. We look for good deals in the secondhand market of course, sometimes you ﬁnd gems out there.
We buy mostly from the local dealers as they are the ones with all the traded in machines from people who purchase new.
Are you loyal to one manufacturer, where possible?
Each of the manufacturers have their pros and cons; we will buy from what is best and not because it’s the easiest.
Are there any new pieces of kit that have signiﬁcantly helped to improve your playing surfaces?
Having a newly purchased roller and Toro Pro Force blower has dramatically improved the playing surfaces for sure.
Do you hire in any machinery (inc. operator if applicable) for speciﬁc tasks?
We are looking to hire some machines in this year. One is the Air2G2. This machine is awesome for over here because the season is so short, any sort of disruption to the playing surface is seen as a huge negative, so the Air2G2 is something that you can get the best of everything. Another machine is something to cut and collect the native rough to try and thin out these areas.
Do you have a wash down area that is compliant with current legislation?
Yes, we have just recently put in an oil-separator and we will change/clean the ﬁlters when necessary.
What would your wish list include?
Toro ProCore 648 and a 5 tonne digger. I believe these are the two things that can really make a difference to smaller clubs.
Are you and your staff compliant with current legislation?
Yes, we try to keep up to date with all legislation changes as soon as we can. We have introduction booklets and are looking into a new system that should make it easier for both employer and employee.
Do you offer ongoing training to your staff?
We offer what we feel is needed and then ask for any recommendation of what each employee would like.
Are you considering employing or do you currently employ apprentices?
Apprenticeships don’t really exist in Sweden, not that I have found anyway. I would love to employ apprentices as it is how I started.
It is difficult to ﬁnd employees over here full stop for golf course work as it is very seasonal, people do not want a job for 7/8 months. It is also difficult to employ people when there is no money coming in.
Do you employ a health and safety officer?
We are working on bringing in a system that will aid us with this but currently we do not.
Who is responsible for ﬁrst aid?
We have a few ﬁrst aiders in the team.
How do you undertake pest and weed control?
Pest control is tough over here. We have an electric fence around the entire golf course that is mainly to keep out the wild boar, but the deer and moose cannot be kept away. We also cannot spray any pesticides.
I am trying to ﬁnd a local farmer that will blanket spray our fairways and roughs for next year with a selective herbicide.
Does your course suffer from speciﬁc disease outbreaks?
On greens, it is very uncommon on the velvet bentgrass to have any disease. When coming out of winter here it is very difficult to have no snow mould on fairways, approaches and tees unless you have a big enough budget to spray them all.
The biggest problems we have are with either deer, moose or wild boar… or golfers of course LOL.
How important do you consider the local ﬂora and fauna?
I think it is super important, I am looking at possible wildﬂower areas and maybe a bee hive area for the future.
There are also things we can do like going organic and not spraying any fungicides which is a goal of mine as I think in three to ﬁve years time we will have no choice.
Also trying to go electric with mowers and hand tools is also something we can do as a club. We already have a substantial solar panel system in place so it would make sense for us to go with more electric powered things, especially with rising fuel prices.
We do not currently have an environmental policy in place, but we do work with the local council for some things regarding the course. We have previously placed bird boxes on certain areas of the course and all of our drains eventually lead to the irrigation lake.
What would you consider to be the state of our industry?
Tough question, I have been given an opportunity here in Sweden that I would never have been given in the UK. I do believe it is a mix of both my age and the level of competition for jobs.
I think making younger people realise you can make a career and travel the world is really important for the future of greenkeeping.
Are we undervalued?
I believe we are, but I also believe that many of us are at fault for this. The fact that all greenkeepers do not want to make a bridge between them and the members is a big factor over the years. It is much easier now with social media to explain what we do and why we do things to a larger group of the members at once.
How would you raise our profile?
I think the tours, pros and people with a big following in golf can really make a difference, just by putting out a small post with why it is important to punch holes in greens and things like this. We are doing a good job of growing the game; the challenge now is can we grow the interest in how to make the game possible?
John Deere triplex mowers x 4
Toro 5610D Reelmasters x 2
Toro 4000-D Groundsmasters x 2
Toro 4700-D Groundsmaster
Toro Pro Force blower
Tru Turf roller
John Deere tractor
Volvo front loader
Valmet big tractor
Cushman utility vehicles x 2
Club Cars x 2
We are currently in the market for a new sprayer