This document is intended to be a living history of greenkeepers' associations in the United Kingdom. If you have any information or photographs that you would like to add, email firstname.lastname@example.org and use the subject title History of Greenkeepers' Associations.
In the 1920 Golf Greenkeeper’s Journal, the first issue after the 1914-1919 war, the Golf Greenkeepers Association (GGA) committee welcomed the reformation of the Scottish Section under its old chairman, Mr W Thomson of Baberton and Hon. Secretary, Mr G Alexander of Prestwick.
Although we are pretty sure of the formation of the Scottish Greenkeepers Association (SGA) before the GGA, we do not know whether the SGGA continued between 1912 and 1920 or became a section of GGA.
We don’t know when it started, but from the 1920s until the 1970s, the association ran a benevolent fund. This was used to assist greenkeepers who had fallen on hard times. Regular payments were made from this fund, some to help those who had lost their jobs and others to help people suffering through illness or payments to help bereaved families. Money in the fund came from part of each member’s subscription.
In 1922 after 10 years as secretary, F G Hawtree resigned. There was no question that he had been the guiding light, putting the association on a firm foundation. However, he was not to be lost as he accepted the post of vice president and would attend meetings to assist and advise.
WH Smithers of South Herts intimated that he would be willing to accept the position of secretary and was duly appointed. One of his first duties was to write to all golf clubs asking them to provide financial support to the association. Over the years this request was made on a number of occasions, but sadly the response was never very great at any time.
It was also agreed that one pound should be paid to the Artisans’ Association for affiliation, so greenkeepers could take part in artisan competitions. This was a great help to many greenkeepers who were not allowed to be members of the clubs they worked at.
A Northern Section had been established but at some time, possibly during the war years, it must have lapsed. As early in 1923 the GGA secretary reported that several members in the north desired “the revival of the Northern Section of the Association”. At meetings held later in both Manchester and Leeds between the chairman and secretary of GGA and northern members, the response was favourable. In October 1923 the Northern Section was revived.
At the end of 1923, the secretary was asked to obtain 200 members’ passes, which we presume to be membership cards. This may have been the first time they had been ordered, suggesting the association had fewer than 200 members at the time, or it may have been a repeat order.
A series of booklets from 1923, 1926 and 1928 on lectures given to members of the SGGA, both in Edinburgh and Glasgow, detailed topics that were covered included ‘greenkeeping problems of today’, phosphatic manures, potassic manures, ‘the grasses, seeds and weeds of the golf course’ and drainage. These were all well-attended and people travelled from all over Scotland to hear them. These booklets show that SGA was very much alive in the 1920s.
From these booklets, we also learn that the SGA had support from outside the greenkeeping profession. The president was James Mark, who was the greens convenor at Pollock Golf Club and the secretary/treasurer was a chartered accountant. Far from just being names at the top of the headed paper, they actually attended lectures, AGMs and golf outings. One of the honorary presidents was the aforementioned J L Forbes.
At the 1924 annual general meeting it was noted that membership was increased, but details are not provided. Also noted was that the association had funds of £54. A sum of £7-10/- was allotted to purchase books to start a library. Like today, it seems greenkeepers had a thirst for knowledge.
Though Scotland and England both had associations from earlier years, the spread of the game – especially throughout America and the countries of the British Empire – saw the development of new courses; where there was a golf course, a greenkeeper was required.
It wasn’t long before they would get together, both in friendship and especially in their efforts to learn as much as they could about greenkeeping. These gatherings eventually led to the formation of associations and in 1924 the Ontario Golf Superintendents Association was formed in Canada, eventually leading to the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association (CGSA).
At the National tournament in 1925, the company of Shanks Ltd offered a prize of a day out at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley.
At the AGM that year it was agreed that third class railway fares be paid to executive members attending meetings.
In February 1926 the secretary reported the death of the chairman of the GGA, George McNeice, who had been chairman since 1922 and possibly before that.
Other snippits from that year include a discussion that took place on the possible formation of an advisory committee. The secretary was asked to write to the Royal and Ancient, requesting that the GGA be represented on this. There appears to be no further discussion on this subject in other minutes, while enquiries made to The R&A records department in 2011 show reference to an advisory committee but no record of correspondence with the GGA.
Also in that year a complaint was made to Suttons Seeds for awarding second prize in their essay competition to a professional golfer/greenkeeper.
In 1926, 60 greenkeepers met at Sylvania GC in Toledo, Ohio to form the National Association of Greenkeepers of America (NAGA). This was the forerunner of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA).
Staff employed as both greenkeeper and professional were very much part of golf throughout the first half of the century. Clubs employed men to be both the head greenkeeper and the professional. Usually this was a greenkeeper who was a reasonable golfer and could do club repairs while also running a small shop. Sometimes they would sell golf balls from the greenkeepers’ house.
The income derived from this was a big help to some of these men, who were on very small wages. This gave rise to some discussion, even arguments, among greenkeepers, especially at tournaments. Professionals should play off scratch was often an argument put forward, even though some were only 4 or 5 handicappers. This was resolved in 1927 when an edict from the GGA executive stated that “greenkeepers who sell clubs and balls are deemed eligible for membership of the GGA, those teaching and playing are not.”
However, this was not enough for some and arguments about the eligibility of greenkeeper professionals to play in GGA tournaments raged for many years.
In this year Norman Hackett, a businessman and amateur agronomist from Bingley in Yorkshire grew concerned about the lack of scientific knowledge of grasses for golf courses and asked the GGA executive for support to form a Scientific Green Committee. However, the executive of the GGA replied that they did not welcome this. There appears to be no reason given for their decision, except to say they did not think it a good idea.
At the AGM the following month the members overturned the executive’s decision. In the meantime, Hackett had conducted his own trials at Keighley Golf Club and when the Board of Greenkeeping Research, the forerunner to the STRI, was set up in 1929 at Bingley, he was appointed honorary secretary.
In 1928, the GGA received correspondence from the New Zealand Golf Greenkeepers Association and the Victoria Golf Greenkeepers Association of Australia, with both groups asking for advice and information about forming associations. The secretary was asked to assist if possible and to offer affiliation to the GGA at a cost of £1-10/- per year.
It is obvious that as soon as golf courses came into being, greenkeepers began to form groups for the purpose of furthering their knowledge.
A motion was proposed in 1928 that first assistant greenkeepers were not eligible to become members unless they had been employed under a recognised greenkeeper for at least three years. It would appear, then, that most of the members were head greenkeepers, as ordinary greenkeepers are not mentioned at all.
In the following year the age limit was for members was set at 21 years.
Early in 1929 the board received a letter from the PGA asking for a subscription to the expenses for the Ryder Cup team. As the PGA supported the GGA prize fund, it was decided to give the sum of £3-3/-. The event was held at Moortown Golf Club near Leeds and Great Britain won by seven games to five. The greenkeepers’ association can claim to have helped Great Britain win the cup that year!
A request from the Board of Greenkeeping Research (BOGR) asked for four nominations from the GGA, with only one to be chosen to act as a consultant to the new research board. It is unclear who was eventually selected.
Later that year it is recorded that a member was called upon to resign for “putting in incorrect cards for handicapping, which constituted a grave and unwarranted offence likely to bring discredit to the GGA”.
A discussion at a board meeting on the merits of extending invitations to club secretaries to attend lectures brought a statement from the honourable secretary that “the policy was wrong and a grave departure from the prime objects of the Association”. This is a complete turnaround from today, when we are trying hard to get more secretaries or greens chairmen to attend educational events to further their knowledge in the hope they will have a better understanding of the work of the greenkeeper.
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