Looking back at BIGGA National 1987

Looking back at BIGGA National 1987

This year we celebrate 30 years of hosting a national tournament for greenkeepers, and we met up with Mel Guy, the first ever BIGGA National champion.

A national golfing event for the country’s greenkeepers has been held since 1923, but only came under BIGGA’s authority in 1987, when the association came into being. Back then it was known as the News of the World trophy, and the venue was Verulam in St Albans. We’re marking the 30th anniversary of the BIGGA National Championship by returning to Verulam for the 2017 edition of the competition.

A parkland course dating back to 1905, Verulam is steeped in history. The course is known as the home of the Ryder Cup, as it’s where Samuel Ryder was playing his golf when he had the idea of a match between golf professionals from America and Britain.

Another part of Verulam’s great history was written in 1987, when the club hosted BIGGA’s inaugural national championship. The winner was Mel Guy, who was head greenkeeper at South Leeds and was appearing in his first national competition.

“I remember brilliant weather, it was absolutely fantastic,” recalled Mel. “There was no rain, just glorious sunshine.

“I enjoyed the course, from what I can recall of it. It was in perfect condition, but then I would say that, for the simple reason that I walked away the winner.”

The 1987 event was played across 54 holes ??“ the event has subsequently been reduced to 36 ??“ with many of those involved bringing their families along in caravans to enjoy a holiday while the event took place.

“The lads were there for three days of golf,” said Mel. “But it probably wasn’t as intense as it is now, it was a really great social event.”

More than 70 greenkeepers played the course, kept in top condition by head greenkeeper Geoff Smith and his staff.

Using Ping irons and a crookshank head set of woods built by JH Onions, Mel shot 231 over 54 holes.

He said: “I completed the third round and one of the lads came up to me and said it looked like I might have won the 54-hole scratch. I said, ‘you must be joking, not with these scores’.”

Dramatically, Mel finished one shot ahead of Richard Barker of Longcliffe, who missed a six-foot putt on the last green.

He was also a member of the victorious Northern Region team, which claimed victory in the team competition.

Mel was presented with the BIGGA National Championship trophy, the same one golfers will be competing for at this year’s event. It’s a large cup, and Mel said his first thought after being presented with it, was where he would keep it.

“At the time I lived in a single bedroom flat,” he said. “And I’m thinking, that’s huge and expensive. It won’t fit in my flat, and what if I get robbed?”

As it happened, Mel would only have to worry about looking after the trophy for one year, as he left his role at South Leeds to move into sales, meaning he was unable to defend the cup the following year, when the event was held at Ayr Belleisle.

But in 1987, Mel returned to South Leeds to a hero’s welcome. He said: “Shortly after I came back it was presentation night at the club and they insisted that I take it along.

“So I got presented with it again and I had to make a little speech. I said ‘I would like to thank Dennis Sidebottom for allowing me to take time off. When I asked him if I could go to the competition, he told me not to come back empty handed.

“‘Well there you are Dennis, I couldn’t have brought you anything bigger, are you going to fill it?’

“And to his credit, he filled it. He went to the bar and said ‘give us a handful of straws and some serviettes’.”

Mel was club champion nine times at South Leeds, where he played for 53 years, before hanging up his clubs in 2012.

His time at the club could have been much shorter after he was made redundant from his role as an engineer and went to the committee to ask about suspending his membership. Instead, they offered to help him out and asked if he would be interested in working on the course.

When a greenkeeper left, he took on a permanent role. “I had no greenkeeping

qualifications,” Mel said. “Then one day the head greenkeeper left. I was used to organising people on the job and that’s what was needed.

“Being a member at South Leeds, it was also a case of knowing what the members wanted.”

The members at South Leeds were delighted that Mel had been able to bring the prestigious trophy back to the club following his Verulam victory.

He would bring the club further renown his performance at the BIGGA National qualified him for the greenkeeping team entered into the Kubota Challenge at The Belfry.

This annual event saw a team of greenkeepers go up against teams from the Golf Foundation, club secretaries and the English Golf Union, and the BIGGA members were again victorious.

One of the major differences Mel has noticed about the BIGGA National Championship since he took part is the improving standard of golfers taking part. He won the championship while playing off a handicap of six, whereas in 2016, the best ranked player was two-time winner Gordon Sangster, who played off +2.

For that reason, the Challenge Cup was introduced, which takes handicaps into account and is played over 18 holes on the second day of the tournament. It means that everyone who takes part in the event has a chance of winning.

The 30th anniversary of the BIGGA National Championship will be held at Verulam on 2-3 October. If you would like to take part in the event, fill out the application form opposite and return it to Rachael Duffy at BIGGA House.