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STUART RUNCIMAN. (HEAD) GREENKEEPER,

WOODFORD GOLF COURSE SINCE 1970. RETIRED 2013.

I was born in 1948 in a small maternity home opposite Chingford Golf Course, and my classroom at senior school also overlooked the Golf Course! I never imagined I'd end up keeping greens. At school, I especially enjoyed art. In fact, at primary school, I won a competition sponsored by Fry's Chocolates with my painting of the Nativity. I remember really enjoying eating the prize!

But I wanted to be outside, so I left school at sixteen, and found work at Pipers cattle farm in High Beech. We used to take the cattle down to Wanstead Flats by truck, let them graze, then walk, or to use the correct terminology, drive them back to High Beech. When we crossed Woodford Golf Course, again I never imagined I'd be keeping the greens there! Those were the days when 'commoners', who owned land adjoining Epping Forest, were allowed to let their cattle roam free in the Forest area, which of course included the roads around Wanstead, Woodford and up to Epping. The cows certainly slowed the traffic down when they walked along the Epping New Road, but the privilege was removed in 1996 after the Foot and Mouth, and BSE outbreaks.

Back on the farm, I showed my boss some of my art work, and he persuaded my Mum to send me to study art and three years later I gained a Degree in Textile Design. I won a couple of bursaries from the Royal Society of Arts, which enabled me to travel across America and later, Turkey and Persia (Iran). I had fun travelling and seeing different societies, with lots of colour in fabrics, and unfortunately, witnessing the poverty in Turkish fishing villages, which are now popular tourist traps. However, in the States, I picked pears in California to earn some money, and also met the boxer Rocky Marciano, who was a charming man. In fact I travelled with him on the way to the airport, where he caught the plane which crashed, so I was one of the last people to speak with him.

After college I made some money through textile and greeting card design, but at twenty two, I realised that I needed to earn a wage, and the outdoors called again, this time through an advert for an Assistant Greenkeeper at the Woodford Golf Course. Ernie, the Head, taught me until he retired at the age of eighty. As this was in the days before automation, he was very fit, because we walked fourteen miles a day, mowing, pruning, and digging. Ernie lived until his 98th year, and one of my memories of him was when we were clearing ditches. A weasel clamped it's jaws round his boot, and he was hopping around, hollering and trying to shake the animal off, looking like something from a Monty Python sketch!

I still like cattle as they are very gentle animals, but I must admit I got irritated with them when they walked across the course (including Pipers' cows). They are naturally inquisitive, and would come up to a flag on the green, nudge it, then dance around it! It took an age on my hands and knees to dig out the hoofmarks. But I do miss them really.

Ernie used to be a bit brutal with the perimeter of the 34 acre Course, but I'd like to think I've been more creative with the surroundings to make it a pleasant place to play golf. I've been working with my assistant Steve for twenty nine years now, and together we use our experience and expertise to try to keep the greens in perfect condition, resiting the holes regularly, and maintaining the fairways and perimeters. Fortunately I haven't provided him with a laugh by been attacked by weasels! I love the outdoors and the surrounding forest, and it feels more like a hobby rather than a job. Steve (who is holding the flag in the photo), will take over from me this year when I retire from full time work, but I'll carry on a couple of days a week.

I was made an Honorary Member of the Golf Club in their Centenary year in 1990, even though I don't play golf! However, I created caricatures of the Members for the Centenary book, and I plan to get back to some art appreciation in my 'retirement'. As well as continuing to enjoy the peace of the forest in this area, where I've always enjoyed living.