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Seventy years of keeping the greens (18th April 2012)

Seventy years of keeping the greens

FOR many gardening is an enjoyable hobby, but for two greenkeepers with more than 300 acres to look after it is a way of life. Mike Evans and Roger Millington have been looking after the extensive grounds of Hill Valley Spa, Hotel and Golf, including two 18 hole golf courses, since they were teenagers.

Now the duo has worked at the Whitchurch hotel for 37 and 36 years respectively and have no desire to throw in the trowel.

“I love the outdoors, I think we both do, and looking after the machinery we use is great fun for us,” said Mike, who lives in Norbury

After working together for so long Mike and Roger have developed a unique working relationship.

“It’s like we’ve grown up together and we can nearly read each others minds,” said Roger.

Mike started working at the hotel when he was 15 as it was preparing to be opened and although he began with no experience or qualifications he has risen to become the Head Greenkeeper.

He is also Golf Course Manager, looking after the two 18 hole courses that make the resort one of the top 10 golf venues in the UK.
“When I first started there were no machines like strimmers, no sit-on mowers – we had hand mowers cutting the greens and it took about five hours, now it takes half that time,” said Mike.

”We now have a team of five and we build the bunkers and tees on the golf course, carry out general landscaping and maintain all the machinery, it is never boring which is great.

“Its hard work to keep the courses at a high standard but it’s just such a fantastic job, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Roger, 54, began working at the hotel less than a year after Mike, as an 18-year-old and both men were there when Welsh golfing great Ian Woosnam worked there helping to look after the fairways.

“He still comes back now and then to play on the courses and he shakes our hand and is just the same as he always was,” said Roger.

In his early days Roger also helped the boss with duties off the greens, such as driving his Rolls Royce for weddings or other special occasions at the hotel – however it didn’t always go to plan.

“One day I had gone to pick up an elderly lady and ended up in a head-on crash, thankfully no one was hurt but the car was a write-off,” said Roger, who lives in Loppington.

“Ringing your boss to tell him that is something else but he said ‘We can renew the car but we can’t renew you, as long as you’re ok its fine’.

“A fortnight later he got a new car, threw me the keys and said to have a drive because if I didn’t do it now I never would.”

Terence Southward, General Manager at Hill Valley Spa, Hotel and Golf, said: “Mike and Roger are absolutely passionate about what they do and it is rare to find people with their dedication to the job.

“After all these years they know the job inside and out and they are great to have on the team at Hill Valley.”