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 email@example.com and use the subject title History of Greenkeepers' Associations.
1930-1939 A Golf Monthly article from around 1935 detailing the Scottish Greenkeepers Tournament, Elliott's father is on this photo
There was sad news in April 1930 following the death of Martin Sutton.
Martin, whose family business was founded in 1863, was credited with pioneering the cultivation of turf from seed and founded the Grass Garden at Reading, which became Suttons Grass Advisory Station.
The title of ‘The Modern Golf Greenkeeper’ was the chosen subject for the essay competition and the prizes would be: 1st - £6-6/-; 2nd - £4-10/-; 3rd - £3-3/-. It appears the competition was not held every year, but when it was there was always a good number of entries from greenkeepers.
In 1931 F G Hawtree held a meeting with the Northern Section in Leeds to discuss concerns about the running of the association. He reported back to the executive that it had been a successful meeting, where he had managed to allay their worries.
It was agreed at a meeting later this year to have 500 rule books printed and distributed to the members. It was also agreed that 3 gross (432) coat badges should be purchased and sold to members at 1/- each. From these entries we can assume that membership was growing, although it still appears to have been restricted to head greenkeepers and first assistants.
A most interesting item from the minutes in November was that golf matches would be arranged for the next year with both Cambridge and Oxford universities and also with the Metropolitan Police. We know these games were played, but there is no record of how many took place. Suffice to say, it showed the confidence and attitude of these greenkeepers and it has been noted that they more than held their own, both on and off the course.
At this time it was noted that relations with the Northern Section remained uneasy. Obviously some of the northerners had not been pacified completely.
A ‘coming of age’ dinner, to celebrate 21 years, was held at Hendon Golf Club.
One of the recurring themes at meetings was the question of handicaps. At various times over the years the association invoked the assistance of the English Golf Union to set up a handicapping system. This was never truly successful as too many guys were not members of clubs and every section appeared to handicap in different ways. This argument carried on throughout the years and has never been completely resolved.
At the end of 1932 a delegation from the Golf Greenkeepers Association (GGA) travelled to Cardiff to speak with greenkeepers there about the possibility of forming a Welsh section. This was a successful meeting and on 1 December 1932 a section was formed.
This was a good month as the executive also approved the formation of a Sheffield section and the secretary was also instructed to write to a North of England greenkeepers association, not to be confused with the Northern Section that was mainly based around Manchester and Leeds. The North of England group was based in Northumberland and Cumberland.
The secretary explained to them the objects of GGA and the advantages of joining the association en bloc. No reference is made to how many greenkeepers there may have been involved.
It was obvious that the association was spreading to different areas and numbers were growing. The executive was clearly working hard to encourage greenkeepers from all over England to join the association and another section came into being on 3 December 1933, when the Midland Section was formed with 15 members.
Interesting items from earlier in 1933 included: “the executive agreed that the Secretary should have the telephone installed to save him walking 1 mile to a phone box. The GGA would pay for the installation and for any GGA calls.” This was an important decision as there was so much happening as the association was growing fast.
In an effort to encourage greenkeepers from Wales to join, it was decided to play the national tournament in the principality, with Swansea chosen as the host city. The secretary informed members that “a number of coaches will be reserved on the 12.30pm train from Paddington for members travelling to Swansea for the National tournament”. I wonder how many used it and how much it cost?
In those days the association’s AGM was always held at the national tournament venue. A proposal that the GGA should withdraw support from the Board of Greenkeeping Research (BOGR) was soundly defeated by the body of the hall.
As the quality of essays on the subject ‘Acidity treatment on putting greens’ had been so good, it was decided to hold another on in 1934 on the subject of ‘The management and maintenance of a golf course”.
Over many years the different bodies in golf have often made approaches to each other suggesting exploratory talks with the possibility of amalgamation. Usually this was a case of one group wanting to take over the other to make their group stronger and with more clout in the golfing world. Most of these talks had no practical results, ending with the usual statement “the associations agreed to work more closely with each other for the benefit of golf”, which never happened either and they would each carry on their merry way.
There has always been a hierarchy in golf, with certain bodies believing they should rule the roost and dictate to others. Unfortunately, the one group that was the most important in golf – greenkeepers – who made it possible for all the other groups to exist, was always at the bottom end of the ladder. The assistance they received from any of the other organisations was practically non-existent until the 1980s, when The R&A gave its support to bring all the individual greenkeeping associations together.
There were exceptions over the years, mainly by individuals who recognised the worth of the professional greenkeeper to the game. The first approaches to GGA came in 1933 when the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) asked to have talks with GGA to discuss possible benefits for both associations. This was the first of many moves by the PGA to take greenkeepers under their wing.
F G Hawtree, whose primary aim was to further the education of greenkeepers, suggested that small research stations could be set up at different golf courses around England to trial fertilisers, wormkillers and other ideas. At the same time, an invitation from the BOGR for greenkeepers from different sections to sit on the Greenkeeping Advisory Board, to be chaired by Hawtree, had been received.
Later in the year permission was granted from the following golf clubs for the establishment of experimental plots at their clubs. The clubs were Sudbury, Woodcote Park, Camberley Heath, Brancaster and Frilford Heath. I wonder whether there is any record of these experimental plots?
At an executive meeting in April 1934, the secretary was instructed to write the Scottish Greenkeepers Association (SGA), inviting them to amalgamate with the GGA. A letter was received from the SGA in May stating that they did not consider it practicable to amalgamate and stated their desire to remain independent.
In the minutes of the 23rd AGM of the GGA, under a heading ‘Scottish Section’, was the following:
“Overtures were made to the SGA with a view to their amalgamation with the GGA. This was discussed at the SGA AGM and did not meet with much favour. Your committee (GGA) therefore considered that Scottish members of the GGA would be better served if a Scottish section was formed. Your chairman and secretary visited Scotland on 30 June last and attended a meeting, where it was unanimously resolved that a Scottish section be formed. Our membership in Scotland is now approximately 40.”
It would therefore appear that there were two groups of greenkeepers in Scotland at that time – the SGA or SGGA and a Scottish section of the GGA. What had happened between 1920, when the GGA welcomed the reformation of the Scottish Section of the GGA and 1934 when they decided to form a Scottish section after the SGGA declined to amalgamate with the GGA?
After discussing this, it was proposed that the GGA should start up a Scottish Section and that Mr Wood, head greenkeeper at Glenbervie Golf Club, be asked to form this section. Wood requested that representatives from GGA HQ should travel to Scotland to form this new section and it was agreed that the chairman and honorary secretary should do this.
At a meeting in July the chairman gave a report of the meeting held in Scotland, where a Scottish section of GGA was formed on 30 June 1934, whereby the overall membership had nearly doubled and he was confident that this would be a strong section.
As a result of the GGA becoming involved in Scotland at the AGM on 14 August 1934, a new constitution was adopted that brought into being a new name for the association, which would become the British Golf Greenkeepers Association, or BGGA.
Also during 1934, the Sheffield section asked that they be allowed to stand on their own and not come under the jurisdiction of the Northern Section. Later in the year it was proposed that a new Southern Section should be formed.
At the SGA AGM in 1935, there was a change of heart by the members and it was decided that the SGA should amalgamate with their counterparts south of the border.
Quite a bit of discussion took place on the viability of the BGGA having its own regular journal. It was felt that the association could not afford this and so F G Hawtree suggested that they approach the PGA for permission to allow material relating to BGGA to be printed in the new PGA journal. Failing this, it was suggested that at least lectures given during the year be printed and distributed to members.
At the AGM in August, Sir Robert Webber was appointed president of the BGGA. His predecessor, Sir George Riddell, had passed away in December 1934. Sir Robert, a Welshman from Glamorgan, had served as Sir George Riddell’s private secretary in his newspaper empire until he went back to Wales, where he eventually became joint managing director of the Western Mail.
It was also proposed that the association should have an official tie.
This year saw the production of the first official magazine for the BGGA, under the editorship of Mr G A Philpot, who already edited and published a magazine called the British Golfer.
An interesting comment from Mr Wood in the Scotland East Section reported that “complete harmony exists in East of Scotland section”. One has to wonder if there had been suggestions or rumours to the contrary. He also reported that the section now had 103 members, including 46 associates. At the same meeting, the following membership numbers were recorded: Sheffield had increased from 11 to 18, Northern had 71 plus associates and Midland had 35 plus five associates. This was all good news for the association as the increases were steady and seemingly countrywide.
A letter was received from the New Zealand Golf Greenkeepers Association requesting affiliation with the BGGA. This was wholeheartedly agreed on, but no further mention made as to whether it happened or not.
The question of greenkeeper-professionals as members has been a sore point with members over many years. But it was pointed out that most of the people in these positions were working greenkeepers who spent most of their time working on the course and most of their professional duties were carried out at night and weekends. The majority of them were not making a living through playing golf, but had the chance to add to their income through the sale of golf equipment. After much discussion, it was agreed they could be members of the association.
The AGM brought forward a proposal that all committees be dissolved and a new system introduced to give every section representation at all levels. This was carried unanimously.
A year on from the production of the first BGGA magazine and Mr Philpot reported reasonable success, but that not enough firms were advertising, which meant the magazines had to be cut to suit the income.
Proposals were put forward, firstly to initiate a superannuation scheme for members and secondly to consider either forming or joining a union. Unfortunately, after much consideration and discussion, it was resolved that the financial state of the association does not lend itself to superannuation. On the question of forming a union, it was decided that this would not be workable.
At the AGM Sir Robert Webber resigned as president and he was succeeded by Lt Col Brabazon.
At the end of this year a letter was received from the North of England Greenkeepers’ Association regarding amalgamating with the BGGA. A letter had also been received from a Mr R G McRae asking that the BGGA form a North of Scotland section and also from a Mr Geo Lister regarding forming a section in the West of England. Gradually more and more areas were looking to join.
This year saw the formation of a South West Section. However, everything was not all good news as a letter was received from Mr R B Dawson, head of the BOGR, stating the Welsh Section had not paid a bill of £3-17/4pence. Investigation showed the Welsh Section did not have enough funds to pay this and it was decided the General Fund would settle this debt.
At the AGM the secretaries honorarium was raised to £50.
A three-day tournament and symposium were held at Ayr Belleisle Golf Club. In 1988, the first BIGGA three-day tournament and conference was also held at Ayr Belleisle.
The 1939 to '45 war curtailed activities in all aspects of life and greenkeeping was no different. During the war, food parcels were sent via the Red Cross from contributions from the greenkeeper associations to any greenkeeper in the prisoner of war camps. One such recipient was John Campbell, who eventually became links superintendent at St Andrews. Later, as a consultant, he wrote articles for magazines and was well-known for his humorous cartoons about greenkeeping and golfers.
When Campbell first joined SGGA in 1935 he recalled that assistant greenkeepers had their own separate golf tournaments from head greenkeepers. Even in those days, trade firms were involved with SGGA. I have already mentioned Stewarts of Edinburgh and the Forbes family, who through J L Forbes were involved from the beginning.
J L’s son, Ian, and grandson, Graeme, were extremely well known throughout the greenkeeping fraternity, with both speaking regularly at seminars and lectures. Others at that time were Ransomes and the Morton Engineering Company in Edinburgh. In the West, the firm of Austin McAuslan was well-known to greenkeepers. This company later became another great supporter as Richard Aitkens, with first Dick Aitken Sr and then his son Richard at the helm.
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