As you stroll around Royal Lytham & St Annes during The Open, you are hard pressed to spot a single piece of litter. This is not, as you might assume, because there isn’t any. The reason you will have trouble finding so much as a discarded cigarette butt is thanks to the hard work of Jim Leach – or “chief Womble”, as he describes himself with a smile – and his 270-strong team who scour the course all day every day, checking that no shred of rubbish is blotting the landscape.
Leach, a long-standing member at Royal Lytham, adds helpfully: “You can say I’m chief environment officer, if you prefer.”
Leach, along with two fellow club members, run the clearing-up operation from “Litter HQ”, a mobile office at the northernmost point of the course, bordering Beauclerk Road, which gives rather a good view out on to the 17th tee. Two large maps are pinned up on the walls, showing the entire course split up in to five sectors, each allotted its own patrol group of “litter pickers” recruited from local schools. Each person on the team does a three-hour shift with the rest of the day free to watch the golf if they choose. What that means is that at any one time each sector of the course has around a dozen eagle-eyed litter pickers whose sole mission is to banish all rubbish from sight.
“We’re in charge of what you call ‘flying litter’ here, so not the big bins you see around the place, but the stuff which people might drop – crisp packets, paper cups and so on. Each litter picker carries a brown paper bag about the size of a regular bin bag, and also a pick-up stick to skewer the litter, so there isn’t too much bending and stretching. Including the practice days, we fill about 1,500 bags over the course of the week. Quite a lot is collected from the 22 grandstands around the course, because people feel less guilty about putting down a cup or a sandwich wrapper there.”
Leach says he was “honoured to accept” the job when the chairman of the tournament committee asked him to do it.
“When Gary Player won here in 1974, the chief litter officer was also called Jim Leach – because that was my father. Gary Player used my father’s locker in the clubhouse that year, and left behind six golf balls as a ‘thank you’. I still have those balls to this day. He also signed the door of the locker, which was a wonderful memento – although when the lockers were updated a few seasons ago, I’m afraid it ended up in a skip. But I’ve had a look this year and Louis Oosthuizen is using my locker, so I’d rather like it if he won.”