I started my greenkeeping career in August 1979, and have been a head greenkeeper since I was 24 years old. During that time, I have had the pleasure of meeting some really passionate and hard-working greenkeepers, wherever I have been.
It has always intrigued me about the ways clubs have staffed their courses and the constant battles for resources between greenkeepers and their managers. It has always been a mantra for me to never judge the standard of courses I play or visit without an idea of the resources available at the club, be that staffing or materials. Every task, particularly in the winter programme, was focused on eking out resources to get tasks done to the best level affordable. This would sometimes mean that several tasks would be partially completed because we had an excavator on hire, then prepping several jobs for turf and before laying it all in one go. Complaints that we looked like a building site every winter were not uncommon, nor unjustified. Now we will not start a job unless the budget is available and we try to get each job finished before moving on to the next, even though that costs more.
For my own part, I have always tried to get the most out of every pound of my budget and have frequently been commended by club’s for not exceeding budgets. But, occasionally, over the years, I have also been criticised for not doing the best job, because I was shackled by a seemingly, ‘cast in stone’ budget. Now, something strange has happened coming out of the whole Covid and lockdown fiasco. Many clubs have moved to increase staffing, order extra equipment and increase budgets. Staff wages are going up, still not enough, but going in the right direction, and even new initiatives to bring young people into greenkeeping - applause!
This isn’t happening everywhere, but as we have noticed, when one club raises the bar, others follow so as not to be left behind. Here on the Wirral, we have quite a high proportion of clubs, given the land area, and we certainly have some clubs at the top and bottom of the income bracket. One club has always been at the top end income-wise, with everyone else happy to toil in their wake. Then almost miraculously, and something that I have observed numerous times over the years, clubs that have restricted spending for one greenkeeper, open the floodgates for the next. You may remember a club, in the London area who were the subject of a documentary about their treatment of female members and staff. The club were mortified about how they were portrayed and made serious strides to address their shortcomings. The new greenkeeper was showered with riches, for machinery predominantly, but his spending became the brunt his of local peers’ mockery. Some of it was probably envy on their part, but some of the spending almost looked gratuitous. An exorbitant sum was spent on a ditch clearing machine, I seem to remember, when a mini excavator would have more than sufficed, and it didn’t end there.
Anyway, timing is everything they say, and sometimes, a club is just at the right point to try and put right what years of underspending has left them with, and wake the sleeping giant as it were. I have had occasion to feel sorry for the previous incumbent of a position, when a club makes this quantum leap, but I have benefitted from it twice in my career. Sometimes it may be that the club didn’t think their ‘man’ wasn’t worth the investment, or a regime change within a club has freed it from restrictive practices, or even Covid bringing in new members and increasing the uptake of golf again.
So back to the Wirral, where an influx of greenkeeping talent and the awakening of clubs’ management to the benefits and rewards of resource provision to match their expectations, have created a small rising tide, raising all boats, so to speak. As the bar has been risen, so has the thirst by some clubs to see how good they can be, and so long as this is prudently financed, the whole industry benefits. Our main problem, currently, seems to be getting and keeping quality staff members, and competitive wages should help, then getting the machinery to place their bums on. Whilst we saw a major supply issue, this has then been exacerbated by a worldwide surge in demand, ordering now for 2025?
From the Yin side of greenkeeping talent, and matching resources to expectations, is the Yang of charlatans, overbearing owners and misguided committees, that come and go at clubs. My experience of owners covers both ends of spectrum, a German Count and Countess, vs a self-made Yorkshiremen who stole the company from under his two brothers. Both great experiences, but I’d only want to repeat one.
I have seen many greenkeeping friends, lose their jobs whilst standing up for their greenkeeping principles, whilst other have fleeced their clubs, or left a wide swath of poorly executed jobs for others to put right. What I’ve never been able to understand, is why these bad apples are not rooted out of the industry, because we are all tarred by the brush of their misdeeds. Incompetency should never be accepted, and some are promoted to their own level of this. Alcoholics, thieves, fraudsters, have been moved on for other clubs to deal with, and perpetuate their misdemeanours wherever they turn up. If someone has a real problem, then they need support, and there now many ways that this can be provided. But we should not allow incompetency to be shuffled on to another employer as this helps no-one least of an industry that has allowed me to work abroad, paid my mortgage and befriend some great people along the way. I would hope that I would be welcome at any club that I have served, even my previous club who, due to a change in the guiding influences within the management, made my final decision to leave quite easy. Fortunately, it was only a blip, and the club is in much better hands these days.