New beginnings at BTME 2015

“My two young daughters count down to Christmas in sleeps and I do the same with BTME. This year was even more exciting knowing I was becoming Chairman”

It’s quite surreal to be sat drafting my first Chairman’s Word column for Greenkeeper International, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in this position and I find it an incredible honour to have been chosen to represent BIGGA in this role.

As a young greenkeeper starting out in the late eighties when BIGGA was still in its infancy, I worked at Kibworth Golf Club in Leicester where my passion for greenkeeping was driven by the Head Greenkeeper Chris Butlin. If I am completely honest, my dream was to be a golf pro, but I wasn’t good enough. However I retained the love of the sport and fell into greenkeeping, firstly as a temporary summer employee, then full-time and I haven’t looked back since.

The industry has given me over 25 great years of employment and I have loved every day (well almost every day!) - it’s offered me some fantastic opportunities and I have made so many amazing friends along the way.

The build up to BTME is always filled with excitement. My two young daughters count down to Christmas in sleeps and I do the same with BTME, I know it’s a little bit sad but I’m sure I’m not the only one. This year was even more exciting than normal, knowing that I was becoming Chairman on the Wednesday evening.

The Continue to Learn programme this year was bigger and better than ever and was matched by the largest number of delegates in its history. A massive thanks must go to the team at BIGGA House for all their hard work before and during the event, also thank you to all the members from across the UK and abroad for continuing to support the fabulous education programme.

With the exhibition again filling four halls there was a real buzz around the place and with the three big machinery manufacturers committed to exhibiting on a larger scale in 2016, I feel it is clear that BTME is fulfilling the industry’s needs and the future is very strong. Please be assured that the board and senior staff will never become complacent and will continually strive to make BTME better.

The AGM as usual was held in the Queens Suite of the Harrogate International Centre. I appreciate that BTME is an incredibly busy week for everyone, but it would be great to see more members attending what is a very important event.

The most crucial part of this year’s AGM was the vote on the new Articles of Association which went through unanimously which was very pleasing after all the hard work that went into producing them over the last 18 months.

The adoption of the new Articles gives the Association a modern governance structure and ensures our compliance with the Companies Act.

It is the intention of the Board of Management to review this document on an annual basis. It will become a living document that can be tweaked on a regular basis if necessary, and voted on by the members at the AGM.

This should save us going through the long process of overhauling the constitution and governance which has taken up much time and effort over the last couple of years.

The AGM also marked the end of Arnold Phipps-Jones’ time on the Board of Management. Arnold has been heavily involved with BIGGA for many years and has served as South East Board of Management member for the last four and a half years.

In this time he has devoted many hours to the Association and his input will be missed, on behalf of the Board I would like to thank Arnold for all his hard work and dedication over the years.

He has been replaced by Andy Baker, Head Greenkeeper at Ely City Golf Club. I know he will bring lots of ideas and enthusiasm to the table and I look
forward to working with him over the coming year.

The AGM went very smoothly with a slightly emotional Chris Sealey giving a heartfelt speech in his final moments as Chairman.

I was moved by the support of past Chairmen, Board members and all who attended the AGM. This continued later in the evening when I went for a celebratory drink in the well-known pub located in the Old Winter Gardens. My entrance was fairly normal – my team wanted to carry me in on their shoulders like Cleopatra but decided I was too heavy despite my recent weight loss! It was an unforgettable day for me.

During my year as Vice Chairman I got to know last year’s Chairman very well and what an honour it was. Chris Sealey is a true gentleman, has been a credit to our Association for many years and has guided the Board and BIGGA House team in a truly professional manner over the last 12 months.

Chris has carried out a huge amount of work behind the scenes that most members just don’t see. He has been the perfect role model for me and I will endeavour to carry on all of his good work.

So, what does the business of Chairman hold in store for 2015? Well at the last Board meeting we held a session where it was decided that a new strategic plan for the Association was required. This will not be rushed, and member feedback will be needed to ensure the plan is in line with member and industry needs and expectations.

Initially it will require member involvement in a survey with possibly more to follow. We will endeavour to make these surveys user friendly, and I urge all members to take part and get involved in shaping the future of greenkeeping for the greenkeepers now and the future.

Education is a matter close to my heart. I’ve benefitted from many BIGGA training courses over the years and I can see 2015 being a very important year for the L&D department.

Last year saw BIGGA invited to sit around the table with the GTC and government departments to discuss and plan the new trailblazer apprenticeships.

The very fact we were invited to the discussions table is a massive step in the right direction for our Association. We are currently developing our own accreditation scheme, which will eventually encompass all levels of education from Apprentice to Master Greenkeeper and form the backbone of a professional registration system.

The new CPD scheme has also been up and running for over 18 months now and we are now approaching 1000 registered members. We will be working hard on the other 5000 in the year ahead!

I must also thank everyone at Richmond Golf Club and the team of greenkeepers that work with me. Without the support of the club and the team, taking up the role as BIGGA Chairman would not have been possible.

I have every confidence that when I am away on Association business the course will be in good hands and their pride, passion and dedication for the job will not waiver. In fact they always say they get more done when I am not there! I usually respond with “it’s all down to the leadership”…the reality is, it’s down to sheer hard work.

As we move in to February and towards the spring, winter projects are coming to an end, you start to see welcoming pictures on social media of daffodils in flower and the focus changes back to course conditioning. I sincerely hope the weather is kind and we can all get our courses in great shape early in the season to provide our members, guests and visitors with a fantastic golfing experience.

Remember, if you have any problems BIGGA offers an extremely extensive support network through the various helplines and the section committees and Regional Administrators. Support from your RA is one of the many benefits of membership. However, all too often they are called in too late to be of any real help, so don’t be afraid to use their skills at the first signs of a problem.

All that remains is for me to wish everyone the best for the forthcoming season, and I hope to see as many of you as possible at forthcoming events.