Thorpeness Head Greenkeeper Ian Willett

A lifetime of love for the links - Ian Willett

Growing up as the son of a chef at Wentworth Golf Club, home of the European Tour and venue for its flagship PGA Championship, Ian Willett was destined for a career in golf.

He didn’t seek to play the game for a living, like his namesake Danny Willett – the 2016 Masters Champion – instead, Ian chose to keep greens and devoted himself to the art of golf course management.

For the past 22 years, Thorpeness has benefitted from Ian’s service and expertise as our Head Greenkeeper, in charge of our James Braid designed heathland course in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Now, with retirement edging closer on the horizon, Ian has been recognised by BIGGA (British & International Golf Greenkeeper’s Association) for his lifetime achievement and excellence in caring for golf courses and the environment.

He was made a lifetime honorary member of BIGGA at a special presentation held at the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition at Harrogate Convention Centre in January.

Ian Willett, course manager at Thorpeness, said: “This award is beyond all my expectations. It’s been a pleasure to spend my days outside, among nature, working with beautiful landscapes and striving to deliver an exceptional golfing environment wherever I have worked.”

Surrounded by natural beauty and working in a site of Special Scientific Interest, Ian’s love affair with Thorpeness has seen him develop into one of the UK’s foremost experts in managing a golf course in harmony with the natural environment.

Under Ian’s leadership, Thorpeness has twice won the highest award for environmental excellence, beating all other UK golf clubs to be BIGGA’s environmental champion in 2005 and again in 2012.

Along the way, he and his team picked up many regional awards and commendations, adding to their experience and building an impressive body of work that includes:

  • Rejuvenating and managing heather and gorse habitats
  • Establishing a large scale recycling centre for the residents of Thorpeness village to use
  • Developing hibernation habitats (hybernaculars) for toads and adder snakes
  • Working in partnership with ecologist and Thorpeness member Ray Hardinge to chronicle and archive species of wildlife, flora and fauna and build an extensive network of bird and bat “Hotels” – boxes housed on trees
  • Adding a windmill to his home at Thorpeness, which supplements electricity drawn from the national grid
  • Creating a composting and wastewater management system

Ian Willett and bird boxes at Thorpeness

“I’m privileged to work in an area of outstanding natural beauty and to help conserve a rich habitat for a variety of flora, fauna, bird and wildlife, from orchids to adders, bats, Woodlarks and Nightjars.

Contrary to popular belief golf courses do little damage to wildlife. In fact, they are an oasis for wildlife within urban and built-up areas.

I take our environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and have always worked hard to ensure the golf course remains a haven for wildlife,” said Ian.

If you happen to be playing late in the evening, you’ll likely see Ian walking his dog Buddy and checking on the huge numbers of hedgehogs that wander around the heathland.

It’s also not uncommon to see him rescuing toads that are perilously trying to cross the road which borders Thorpeness course.

Thorpeness Golf Club and Hotel would like to congratulate Ian and place our thanks on record for his outstanding excellence and service to our course and golf club.

To find out more about Ian’s career and his thoughts on greenkeeping, follow our golf blog, where you can read his regular updates from the golf course.

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