‘I was going to be a solicitor – but now I’m a greenkeeper!’

The Belfry’s Anna Nilsson on her greenkeeping role at the world-famous Ryder Cup venue

‘I was going to be a solicitor – but now I’m a greenkeeper!’

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The Belfry, set in the heart of England, is synonymous with hosting prestigious tournaments in its relatively short life. It offers three courses and its world-renowned championship layout, the Brabazon, has held four Ryder Cups and a number of DP World (European) Tour events, most recently Richard Bland’s unforgettable victory in the British Masters on his 478th start.

This year Danny Willett will again host the British Masters and newly-promoted deputy head greenkeeper Anna Nilsson will manage the iconic flagship course. The Swede joined the Belfry team in 2019 having worked across several courses in Sweden.

‘I was going to be a solicitor – but now I’m a greenkeeper!’

"A career in greenkeeping was never planned. I never went to a school career day and thought I wanted to be a greenkeeper. I was always going to be a solicitor and I did that at university for a bit. I was then at Farrier School at the Swedish University of Agricultural Studies before I went into golf course maintenance. I had accidents with my horses and I lost my best horse, but I have always loved being outdoors and so I went into greenkeeping.

I’ve been able to transfer some of those equine studies into greenkeeping. For example, we had a lot of studies on the ground reaction force on horses and their limbs on the different surfaces and sands and what we would then use and I was able to transfer those to the bunkers on the course. Greenkeeping is a very scientific job and it is getting more and more advanced and sustainability is huge now, so we need to know things like the chemical compounds in depth.

I don’t know many women greenkeepers as there aren't many. I have become more active with BIGGA and they have helped me to connect with some women. With Covid we’ve not had the trade show recently so we haven’t been able to mingle much, but hopefully that will change. My advice to any women who might consider greenkeeping would be to go for it. If you’re worried about strength you can always build that and it is a fantastic job to boost self-confidence. If more women were to give this job a shot, they would absolutely love it.

I’m so passionate and proud of The Belfry and the people at the resort have been very supportive, the messages have been so positive and it’s actually very humbling. You realise how nice the greenkpeeing family is. I work under Angus Macleod, who is the director of the courses, and the head greenkeeper, Jamie Wade, and I’ve learnt so much under them. It really is a case of the more you learn, the more you realise how little you actually know.

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Every day is a learning day so I’m very fortunate to be here. I’ve worked for a lot of different course managers and I’ve met some fantastic people, but their knowledge is unparalleled to anyone else that I’ve met.

Hopefully I bring a lot of passion and a willingness to learn as an extended hand and am their eyes and ears on the course. I do play golf, but not as much as I’d like. I would describe myself as shockingly bad. The pros at The Belfry have offered me lessons, I have a target of playing off around ten but, at the moment, my handicap is my clubs!

We have a plan for everything and then we have to change our plans, we are working with nature and biology and we have to be flexible. In the UK we get a range of climates and we are always working hard on getting the course ready for any eventuality. In 2021, April was the second coldest month and we had a hard spring to get any grass and then during the British Masters we finally got the rain that we hadn’t had at all. It was definitely tricky and it put the team’s skills to the test, but we definitely succeeded. This year hopefully we’ll be even better and the weather will do us some favours – we have been preparing for the worst but are hopeful for the best.

During the week of the tournament, I’ll probably be working with the roller and doing a bit of everything. We do like a challenge so that’s why we’re working at a resort where there is a lot of pressure to deliver daily. It is completely different to some courses as we are trying to deliver a product every day that is almost a Ryder Cup experience. That’s part of the beauty of working at a parkland course as it combines the flowers and shrubbery, as well as the course. I’ve not been to Augusta National yet but it is one of my big dreams to go one day."

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Mark Townsend
Contributing editor

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.