Meet the ladies’ captain: Jacky Popiolkowski

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick April 6, 2023 15:24

The ladies’ captain of Uttoxeter Golf Club in Staffordshire talks about why the club has employed its first ever professional head greenkeeper and partnered with two chefs in the last few months.

Can you tell us a bit about Uttoxeter Golf Club?  

Uttoxeter Golf Club, a members-run club which is nestled in the heart of the Staffordshire countryside, offers fair challenges to both low and high handicap players alike. Overlooking Uttoxeter racecourse, the views from many of the holes are truly breathtaking and the 18 holes are a pleasure to walk in themselves.

It has operated as a golf club since 1970 and currently has just under 400 members across a number of categories. The highly active and successful men’s and men’s seniors’ sections are well established and play a strong part in the running of the club. The ladies’ section is a growing category and has a full playing calendar throughout the year. It takes a strong role in supporting the fundraising for the club and local charities.

In terms of membership and visitor numbers, what changes have you seen in the last three years?

Visitor numbers have been largely static, although we did see an increase during the months of Covid when people were permitted to play golf. Whilst we are currently focused on increasing our membership, we are also working on plans to increase our visitor numbers to Uttoxeter Golf Club. In the past we have perhaps been a little shy in publicising our course and unless you know where it is you can be forgiven for assuming it does not exist, but we want to share our beautiful course with other people and so activities on social media have increased and we will be endeavouring to see ourselves published in more publications.

Last year the club decided to employ its first ever professional head greenkeeper – can you tell us what led to that decision and what results you’ve seen since?

The board knew that in order to progress and remain viable in the future we needed to improve the quality of our course and what it could offer to golfers, both members and visitors. Whilst the greenkeeping team did a good job on a day-to-day basis, it was acknowledged that we needed a professionally qualified head greenkeeper to take our course to the next level. Taking the decision to recruit and appoint a head greenkeeper was not one the board made lightly as it was a significant investment, but since James Bland joined in August 2022 the course has gone from strength to strength. Nowadays we receive only good comments about the course – and plenty of them. People are truly looking forward to the potential we know James can unlock.

How did the course cope with the heatwave last year?  

The basic infrastructure was in place, but there were issues regarding hydrophobic and anaerobic soils. This was a reminder that we should not take water for granted and showed that a new approach must be implemented. Better understanding of water management is volatile and a detailed report has been carried out to help find improvements. Improving wetting agents’ applications, controlling moisture content and adding more sprinklers have all been highlighted as needs for the future. Plans are already in place to respond to the environmental pressures on the sports turf for this season, and we will build on that going forward.

You’re the ladies’ captain – what is the ladies’ section at Uttoxeter like?

The ladies’ section is incredibly friendly and hard working for the club in organising activities, fundraising and generally assisting in work when volunteers are required. We are members of the Staffordshire Alliance which means we are fortunate enough to be able to not only entertain guests at our own club but also visit others within the area to enjoy a variety of matches. We are also pleased that in 2023 that in addition to being my vice captain, Ann Tweddle is also captain of the North Staffordshire Ladies Captain’s Society for 2023. We really want to grow our section and as such would welcome ladies to our club whether they are beginners or seasoned players. If anyone would like to sample our course delights then they are welcome to contact me and we will arrange for a game and some refreshments afterwards.

What plans does the club have moving forward?  

In addition to the appointment of our new head greenkeeper we are also partnering with 2 Chefs Catering and although they have only been with us since late December 2022, the quality of their food and the welcome they provide is excellent. Both Gavin Evans and Steve Stack are professionally trained chefs with experience ranging from Claridges to Formula 1. We are enjoying a lot of social activities for which they cater and believe that the combination of a superb course, a warm welcome and outstanding food will take us to the next level and beyond. We fully intend to capitalise on our new relationships and build for the future.

What does the club do for its marketing?  

At the moment any marketing we undertake is done internally by either myself or another member of the board with support from other members who have expertise in social media outlets. We have just recruited a new person to look after our membership and finance and in time are looking to them to support our marketing needs so that we can ensure we are reaching as many people as possible.

What are your predictions for the next few years for the UK golf industry?  

We think times are going to be quite tough and we may see some smaller clubs and courses close which will be really sad. We may all find ourselves fighting for those people who love the game of golf and wish to participate. This is why, in part, we have invested in our head greenkeeper and partnered with our new caterers, whilst still keeping our membership fees at attractive levels. We do believe we can weather the potential storm ahead but no one club will be immune to its impact. One of the biggest problems is going to be getting young, qualified greenkeepers to come into the industry and stay. This is often overlooked and without them doing so much unrecognised work, standards will fall for a lot of clubs.

 

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick April 6, 2023 15:24
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