Last week I published an article in TurfPro - A CRISIS IN GOLF- on the current state of golf, considering how greenkeeping staff can often be treated poorly and undervalued. The article inspired many turf professionals to get in touch or respond to the article, both via TurfPro and social media, with many agreeing with the points I made as well as adding to the debate.
The real issue, as I see it, is the fact that it doesn’t seem to matter what qualifications a worker has, or indeed the amount of money they are paid, rather it would seem that plenty of employers still regard the job in the main, as a grass cutting operation.
It is about time that everyone appreciates the skill sets that are required to deliver a quality golfing facility, that meets the expectations of its members 365 days of the year - regardless of what the weather throws at them. People need to understand how there are so many varying factors that come into play in the daily maintenance of a golf course, sports ground or school playing field.
It is sad to think that after all these years of promoting the industry and seeing in the last couple of decades the vast progress that has been made in the quality of playing surfaces, that the role of a turf professional is still held in such low esteem.
Frank Newberry posed a question after reading my piece last week that said, “Taking the points you make at the end of your article Laurence, how would you go about what you say is needed and where would you start?”
I thank Frank for his question and would respond that it is now up to a collective response from a number of organisations who represent these professionals, to come together and finally agree a way to alter this perception. We need to get these people recognised and valued in the same light as plumbers, engineers or electricians for example, but more importantly, they must be treated as equals to others who work alongside them.
I believe we require several key organisations, such as the GMA, BIGGA, R&A, RHS, Landscape Institute, Parks Management Forum and BAGMA to finally work together to deliver a pathway and a plan to promote the value of the work delivered by these professionals.
Take professional sport for an example. Without the production of excellent playing surfaces, there would be no game. No game, then no money for the professional sportsperson and, crucially, no money for the owners who enjoy profits from these games.
Millions of pounds can be generated from a single premiership football match and even more from international sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup, golf tournaments, Test Match cricket and of course the Wimbledon Tennis championships.
Without the skills, dedication and passion of these turf professionals working tirelessly, these sporting events could not take place.
Even considering grassroots and community sport, thousands of people’s lives would be affected without the dedication and work of both paid and volunteer grounds staff.
So clearly there is a great value in what these turf professionals and volunteers bring to the table.
The industry must come together
Maybe we need to set up a new national trade union that supports the rights of turf professionals?! That would certainly get people to sit up and take notice.
Can you imagine the disruption if all the professional grounds people suddenly went on strike and there was no golf, football, rugby and cricket being played across the county?! I am sure there would be uproar and attitudes would start to change.
I would be most interested to hear from some of the top turf professionals as well as the heads of the trade organisations mentioned, as to what their thoughts are on this issue.
I know from working in this industry for many years both Jim Croxton at BIGGA and Geoff Webb at GMA have been working hard for their own specific organisations - however, I would argue we are still not seeing any significant, cultural change in the attitudes towards grounds professionals.
I personally think we need several key organisations to come together and collectively seek a way to change the mindset of people, raising the profile and respect of those who choose to work in this diverse industry.
Primarily, we need the top trade organisations to come together to discuss this issue, and come up with a collective set of recommendations or strategies to solve this problem.
This coming together of organisations could also collectively solve a number of problems we are currently facing in our industry, including:
- Pay and conditions.
- National apprentice/ academy scheme
I have said in previous articles we need a national campaign to go into schools to inform 15–18-year-olds of the opportunities and careers available within this industry globally.
We need a new career pathway into the industry, creating a national apprenticeship / academy scheme where we get 2000-5000 per year coming into the industry.
An ambitious plan but I one that I believe is well needed, Yes, we may already have sporadic apprentice schemes running, but alas not a national one that brings us all together, singing off the same hymn sheet.
I know Lantra are developing a new Pathway scheme for agriculture, so maybe we need to work together on developing this scheme to facilitate the amenity sector and sports turf apprentices?
Let’s just hope we can finally come together and find a way to embrace the whole industry and get the respect we deserve as turf professionals.