Turf’s Up have been fortunate to get a guest post from James Bledge, Course Manager at Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club.

Here he reflects on his experiences talking to the Icelandic Green and Groundskeeper Association.

Taking the first steps in to management can be incredibly daunting and it’s so important that we have the skill sets to get through these intimidating situations. Especially when you have to stand up and talk in front of your team, the membership, the board or even your peers.

For me, public speaking always filled me with an intense fear and nervousness. I used to play in a band and the day of the gig I’d have butterflies in my stomach all day. Was this because I doubted my ability or because I cared too much about playing the wrong notes? Both of these are probably true and although I’d play plenty wrong notes anyway, so did the rest of the band so that was fine! The butterflies would disappear after the first few bars, exchanged with adrenaline just like when I do public speaking. My singer once fell through the drum kit halting a gig for 10 minutes. Similar things have happened to me during talks with computers crashing. A little less rock and roll but a great comparison, nevertheless.

Public speaking really started for me around 8 years ago when Lee Strutt took me on a recruitment roadshow around Colleges, to talk about a golf course we were building (gWest). The aim was to talk to students in order to promote our course as a fantastic place to start their career after college. One of us would talk about the course and the positions available and the other would do a talk on golf course construction and grow in. The next day we would swap. This was the start of a new direction and a newly found confidence for me, which led on to speaking at bigger events, on something I knew a little more about. My place of work! Over the last 6 years I have done many talks on Royal Cinque Ports. There is always so much going on so I have quite a few in rotation.

This skill started me off in great stead in my first few years as Course Manager. I believe communication is the key to running a happy and successful team and being able to stand up in front of a team of 10 – 20 and confidently explain tasks in detail is a great tool to have.

As well as all of this, public speaking has enabled me to meet some incredible people and travel to some fantastic venues. Most recently I was asked to do a talk at Reilir Golf Club in Reykjavik for SIGI (Icelandic Green and Groundskeeper Association). I absolutely jumped at the chance. I have always wanted to visit Iceland and because of public speaking this fantastic opportunity arose.

The first thing I’d like to point out is that Icelandic people are some of the friendliest and kindest people I have ever met, so proud of their country and they went beyond the call of duty to make sure the speakers were always fed and watered (probably too well fed and watered!). From the moment Icelandicair touched down I was utterly amazed at how beautiful the country was. Everywhere you look is a picture postcard and the times surrounding my talk will never be forgotten. Arnaldur Freyr Birgisson, Steindor Ragnarsson, Einer Gestur Jonasson and Bjarni Por Hannesson put this fantastic conference together but special thanks had to go to Arnaldur for his unbelievable hospitality.

The talk itself could not have gone better. There were many hard acts to follow and although mostly in Icelandic I still really enjoyed them, often very entertaining when the odd profane English word creeps in! The Icelanders speak perfect English and this put me at ease. There were many questions asked during and after the talk, and there is nothing more satisfying when people are so engaged in what you are talking about that they have the courage to stand up and ask a question in front of a crowd. I love it.

On this occasion I talked about my career, the history of Royal Cinque Ports, recent project work carried out and I finished off with 10 things that have always been important to me throughout my career, dashes of their native tongue thrown in to keep the crowd from nodding off!

I feel incredibly privileged to have been asked to do any talk in the past and especially this most recent adventure. I think another important factor to stress is the fact that although you are talking to a crowd of people who hopefully might take something away from your talk, the person who is really learning is yourself! You learn things that will surprise you about yourself. Not only that but networking and socialising with other speakers pays dividends. The other 2 International speakers in Iceland were William Boogaarts (NL) and Andrew Lipinski (USA), William’s knowledge on future Greenkeeping technologies was astounding and we have since been in touch since working on a few things. He is defiantly someone I would love to see talk at BTME in the coming years. Andy works at The Pittsburgh Steelers ground so being a new fan of NFL I took an instant interest in what he had to say. Two guys I’m pretty sure I will keep in contact with for the rest of my career.

There are many top speakers in the industry and I really enjoy attending conferences and BTME. One of the Greenstaff at Royal Cinque Ports, Nick Machin, has carried out a few talks since winning Toro Student Greenkeeper of The Year. I am very proud to watch Nick write and perform these presentations and I see what it has done for his confidence. I would encourage the rest of the staff to do the same in the knowledge it will do so much for their careers and confidence. It’s probably time to let someone else do the talking as the membership at the club are probably sick of my dulcet Scottish tones!

Go ahead and jump in, you won’t regret it!

James Bledge
Course Manager
Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club


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