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.
First ever greenkeeping management course at Elmwood College in 1982
In 1980 an interesting comparison was made in an editorial, comparing subscription rates against wages between the 1940s and the present time. When a head greenkeeper’s wages were £5 to £6 a week, subs to the British Golf Greenkeepers' Association (BGGA) were £1 plus an entry fee of 2/6d. Relating that to a head greenkeeper’s wages in 1980, the subs should be £15 plus a £2 entry fee. With subscriptions like this, it was claimed the association would be able to employ a full-time administrator.
Education and training were a topical discussion in meetings and letters sent to the association regarding the lack of training and competent teachers were frequently aired.
At a Scottish and International Golf Greenkeepers' Association (SIGGA) Executive meeting, Elliott Small, who had moved to Scotland's central belt in 1977, after talking with fellow greenkeepers in that area, proposed that a new section be formed, called the Central Section. This was agreed on and in April a meeting was held with Small, Chris Kennedy and Jimmy Kidd with interested greenkeepers. No decision was made but after further work by Small, a meeting was held in Stirling Golf Club on 20 November and attended by 39 people, where the Central Section was formed. The first chairman was Joe Oliver and secretary Elliott Small. The brief was that the section would cover an area between the Tay and Forth rivers from Cumbernauld to the Fife coast, but that members from just over both rivers would have the option of joining the Central or the East or North sections.
In June 1981, the Scotec examination for certificates in Greenkeeping and Groundmanship part 1 was started.
The Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) made an informal approach to SIGGA and the Golf Club Stewards’ Association (GCSA), suggesting a possible tie up, to counteract moves being made by the secretaries’ association for their members to be in complete control of all aspects of a golf club. The meeting took place on Wednesday 14 January at The Belfry and was attended by representatives of the PGA, BGGA, SIGGA and GCSA. It was felt by SIGGA that the PGA was suggesting that the professional would become the golf club manager, whereas SIGGA wanted a management team of greenkeeper, professional and secretary, all on the same level. Talks petered out.
SIGGA was struggling to keep a reasonable newsletter going in Scotland and when the publishers of the Greenkeeper magazine offered to fit a four-page centre section supplement for SIGGA at a cost of £150 per issue it was decided to go ahead with this.
During this year SIGGA was approached by Bill Beveridge of Ransomes who was speaking on behalf of the trade, asking the association to support the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) (Scotland)’s trade show as the lack of support in recent years meant it would probably cease to exist. A meeting was then held between IOG (Scotland) and SIGGA where the IOG asked SIGGA to support its Scotsturf show, which was struggling to survive. After discussion, SIGGA went back to IOG to agree to include the show in its winter programme for each section and to encourage as many greenkeepers to attend as possible. In the first years, the Ayrshire and North sections actually ran buses to the show. Perhaps a closer partnership could have been negotiated as it was certain the show would have finished without greenkeepers attending.
A meeting was held on 1 December at Turnhouse Golf Club between SIGGA and 17 trade companies, where SIGGA proposed a patronage scheme. In return for SIGGA advertising those patrons at every SIGGA event during the year, patrons would not be asked to donate prizes at all golf events, rather the prizes would come out of the SIGGA central fund. Instead, the patrons would pay one sum at the start of the year, which would help them to budget for events. The trade agreed to this and a sum of £150 per company per annum was agreed upon. This turned out to be an excellent proposal that suited both parties and the scheme is still in operation today, having been replicated by regions and sections all over Britain.
It was agreed at the AGM to appoint a part-time secretary and John McKean, a retired schoolmaster, accepted the position.
Membership of SIGGA was now 492 full members, 19 life and 25 trade. Seven years ago there had been only 190, so the hard work of the last few years was paying off.
In October 1982 the first lady member of BGGA was accepted. Tracy Ruane was a trainee at Gotts Park Golf Club.
In 1982 the first ever Greenkeeper Management course was run by Elmwood College and in March, following a joint effort by SIGGA and Elmwood, 170 people attended a greenkeeping seminar. There were the start of future greenkeeping courses and seminars.
At the AGM in that year BGGA membership was announced as 1,378 greenkeeper members and 238 Class E members, making a total of 1,616. Membership was growing but not all members were happy, especially in the south of the country where the feeling was that the association was oriented to the north. Not enough emphasis was placed on education, training and becoming a more professional body.
Also at the AGM, a proposal was made that the national executive would be given the authority to review the constitution and make costings and negotiations to employ a full-time administrator by August 1983.
In the November issue of the magazine, the BGGA secretary, Walter Heeles, said he and past chairman Colin Geddes had produced figures for the employment of a full-time and part-time administrator and these were £14,000 and £10,000 per annum respectively. They stated that these figures would be looked at by the executive and that they were taking the directive from the AGM very seriously in their efforts to modernise the structure of the association.
As well as all these problems, with rumours of breakaways and obvious dissatisfaction from some about the running of the association, a further blow was felt with the announcement that the BGGA chairman, Harry Hetherington, had been made redundant from his position as head greenkeeper at Lindrick Golf Club.
This was a complete shock to the greenkeeping world as the Hetheringtons were seemingly synonymous with the club. Harry’s father, George, had been head greenkeeper before him and their service extended to over 60 years. The club stated he would not be replaced and the greenstaff would be controlled by a greens committee, chaired by E N Park.
The club put out a document to all its members, explaining its reasons and policy for the upkeep of the course. In this document was a paragraph that must have caused consternation to all greenkeepers:
“Head greenkeepers have relied almost entirely on practical experience for their training. To implement policies relating to this subject (course maintenance), it is now clearly necessary to have a thorough understanding of complex scientific principles. The past and present training of head greenkeepers has not allowed for this and therefore such personnel are not sufficiently qualified to handle implementation of policy.”
How were greenkeepers to get this understanding if not through education and training, which clubs and unions had steadfastly refused to help the greenkeeper’s associations to attain? The committee was stating its belief that greenkeepers were not competent to do their job and suggested that other clubs should do the same. One has to wonder how many of the greens committee, including Park (a dentist), were qualified to implement that policy.
The first ever week-long management course was held at Elmwood College in February. This took place after much hard work by Walter Woods, who as chairman of the College Liaison Committee put in a tremendous amount of time and effort on behalf of SIGGA, not just working with Elmwood but also on his work with The Greenkeepers' Training Committee (GTC) and other educational areas. The course was a success, although the tutors were still geared towards horticultural thinking and it would take a few years for this to be corrected.
A one-day seminar was also held in March at Elmwood, again a partnership of the college and SIGGA, with 170 people attending.
The fourth Ransomes International was held at Ipswich Scotland.
A friendly match was played at St Andrews between a team from SIGGA and the Golf Course Superintendents' Association of America (GCSAA). It ended in a tie.
A suggestion was made that SIGGA should run its own pro-am.
SIGGA had its own stand at Scotsturf and it was noted that there had been a dramatic increase in attendance since SIGGA became involved.
It was also noted that the GTC was still in a poor financial state.
The first issue of the SIGGA supplement, printed by Greenkeeper magazine, came out in July. This was another step forward in providing a regular publication for members. Jimmy Kidd and Elliott Small were the joint editors.
Seventy-eight members attended the SIGGA AGM.
During 1983 it was announced that a breakaway group had been established under the name of the English and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (EIGGA). The organisers claimed that members would receive regular issues of Greenkeeper magazine, a 24-hour insurance scheme, a national headquarters, optional private medical care, an internal course advisory service, a national education programme and a wage structure recognised by the National Wages Council and the Association of Golf Course Secretaries (AGCS). The final claim was a step too far for the secretary of the AGCS, who said he had never heard of the EIGGA and asked who they had negotiated with in his association. A hurried apology had to be given, followed by a retraction in the next edition of Greenkeeper.
In February 1983 it was noted that five sections were to leave BIGGA. Accusations were made that EIGGA had attended BGGA section meetings to attract members. However, their defence was they had only attended meetings to which they had been invited.
Meanwhile, the BIGGA and the Institute of Groundsmanship set up a working party to look at “How best to promote the interests of their respective memberships” and a discussion document was published that April.
Later in 1983 there was a call from the National Turfgrass Council for rationalisation in golf and closer contact in areas common to all.
It also came to light that the GTC, set up in 1978, had run out of funds. This led to an editorial in the BGGA journal on the “Dire Straits of the GTC” and condemning all the authorities in power in golf. The editor went on, “in every other industry, including agriculture and horticulture, the employer has a statutory obligation to train and finance training of employees”. But this wasn’t the case in golf. It was suggested that a 10p levy on every club member would provide sufficient funds to ensure the continuation of the present scheme and its development. As he put it, 10p was the price of a packet of crisps or 10p in the fruit machine. The GTC required £5,000 to keep going, equivalent to £2.50 from each club in the UK.
On a lighter note a firm called Marshall Concessionaires sponsored a tournament for greenkeepers, the winner of which would receive a trip to the GCSAA show in the United States. The winner was Paul Pearse, from the North West Section.
Also, that year a greenkeeper member of the BGGA from Scarborough, David Morgan, became the first man to swim Loch Ness both ways, a feat that took him 23 hours and 5 minutes – although he never saw the monster.
Meanwhile, a lady called Liz Smith became the first registered female head greenkeeper, when she was appointed at Lingdale Golf Club.
There was sad news with the announcement that a former chairman of the BGGA, Vic Smith, had died at the premature age of 49. Vic was a tireless supporter of the association who, after many years at Handsworth Golf Club had taken over at The Belfry.
In November, SIGGA invited the BGGA and EIGGA to have discussions of mutual interest, especially training. Both associations welcomed the invitation and a meeting would be held early in 1984 in Edinburgh.
The Scottish PGA was informed that SIGGA was no longer interested in running a pro-am and a great deal of dissatisfaction was expressed with the magazine.
The start of 1984 saw a new wage scaled produced:
- Head greenkeeper (36 holes): £9,415
- Head greenkeeper (27 holes): £8,893
- Head greenkeeper (18 holes): £8,374
- Head greenkeeper (9 holes): £7,843
- First assistant: £6,802
- Assistant: £6,277
At the AGM the executive were pleased to announce that despite the EIGGA starting up in 1983, membership had only dropped by 317 and new members were still coming in.
Marshall Concessionaires ran their tournament for a second year, with members of SIGGA taking part as well. The winner was Mike Jones from Ingo Club in Wales, who won a trip to America.
A meeting was held at Haggs Castle in Glasgow between SIGGA, BGGA and EIGGA to discuss the possibility of amalgamating the three associations. The meeting was noted as being “constructive and harmonious”. A second meeting was held in April at Heworth Golf Club in York. These meetings were the first of many that took place over the next three years on the subject of amalgamation, which eventually led to the formation of BIGGA in 1987.
One of the interesting proposals that came from one of these meetings was that the name of the new association should be the British and International Federation of Golf Greenkeepers Associations (BIFGGA). And you thought BIGGA was a mouthful!
At the AGM it was proposed that proxy votes be allowed.
For the first time SIGGA was responsible for raking bunkers at The Open and The R&A provided a tent in the tented village for the use of greenkeepers. This was held at St Andrews and again Walter Woods was the driving force in making this possible and since then greenkeeper associations have been supplying support teams to The Open.
At the executive meeting in September it was proposed that SIGGA should have a permanent office. The secretary was instructed to investigate further.
A conference was held in Cambridge called Golf '84 and SIGGA had four speakers involved, with Chris Kennedy, Jimmy Kidd, Alan McDougall and Walter Woods presenting papers.
Scottish team, runners up in Ransomes International Tournament over the Old Course at St Andrews in 1985. Canada were the winners.
At a meeting in January the SIGGA Executive agreed to spend £1,000 on setting up an office in the old ladies’ clubhouse at Haggs Castle and on 6 March the first executive meeting was held there. Amalgamation talks were in their early stages and SIGGA was planning for the future if talks broke down.
The Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) made proposals to both SIGGA and BGGA with view to amalgamation. The PGA approached the BGGA for talks to discuss the possibility of their coming under the umbrella of the PGA and being based at The Belfry. This meeting took place in June and a second meeting was held on 6 July. Agreement was reached on most issues and the BGGA said they would consult their sections.
Meanwhile the PGA spoke to other greenkeeping associations. In August a meeting was held between the SIGGA and the PGA. After the SIGGA consulted their sections, their verdict was not to go ahead with a merger. It was believed the greenkeepers would be under the rule of the PGA and the offer was turned down.
An interesting aside to the PGA’s proposal was how much some of the golfing press were against it. Their proposal was for the greenkeeping associations to have an office and a secretary based at the Belfry and for this the PGA would charge the greenkeepers £10,000 per annum and the secretary would report to the general secretary of the PGA. The Golf World in an article slammed the PGA proposals as having “sinister undertones” and accused them of trying to form greenkeepers into a trade union.
Ransomes held its fifth international tournament and also a two-day conference at St Andrews. The tournament had an exciting finish with Scotland being pipped at the last hole in the dusk by one stroke by Canada.
The steering committee from BGGA, SIGGA and EIGGA were holding regular meetings under the chairmanship of Peter Wilson from the England Golf Union (EGU), to develop a constitution suitable to all.
The BGGA sent out prepaid voting cards to all embers to give the BGGA executive an idea of the thoughts of its members. Only 28% of members bothered to return the cards, but of these 88% were in favour of amalgamation. However, there was some criticism at the suggested name: BIGGA.
At the AGM in August, Peter Alliss resigned as president after five years in the position. He was thanked for his efforts in trying to get the golfing establishments to recognise problems arising through the lack of training of greenkeepers.
The newly-elected president was J Hamilton Strutt, the well-known golf course architect.
It was also noted that the membership was continuing to grow, with over 100 new members this year. The EIGGA also said their membership was growing. The BGGA balance sheet showed healthy returns, with assets of £240,000 at headquarters and £10,000 in the sections.
In September, the proposed constitution for the new association was sent out to all BGGA members, along with a prepaid voting card with two resolutions:
- That this association supports the amalgamation of the BGGA with SIGGA and EIGGA
- That this association do empower its executive committee to create a trust fund with the initial sum of £15,000 for the purpose of assisting the training of greenkeepers and any costs that may arise as a result of the proposed amalgamation
In October the results from the three associations regarding the amalgamation were: BIGGA, 80%; SIGGA, unanimous; EIGGA, 90%.
And so the end of the BGGA came at the end of 1986. Seventy-four years since it was first formed and through all the trials and tribulations of two world wars, with practically no assistance or support from any of the golfing authorities or even their employers – the golf clubs – the BGGA had managed to carry on.
However, it was not all sad news, as the new association would hopefully bring together all the greenkeepers’ associations in the UK under the umbrella of the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA).
Scottish members set up a liaison committee with all the colleges in Scotland. This was to prove one of the best moves made as it very successfully paved the way for greenkeepers to be fully involved in the make-up of college courses, which were now completely greenkeeper-based. This committee still meets today and has formed a successful and standardised syllabus across every college.
The Scottish framework developed by this committee has been widely admired and most of it adopted by the GTC throughout the rest of the country.
Today’s greenkeeper education system is excellent, covering all aspects of training and knowledge. The GTC is in good health and does an excellent job, while BIGGA itself provides everything from local section training courses through to regional conferences and all the great seminars and workshops held annually at Continue to Learn. BIGGA is also able to provide financial assistance for those wishing to further their education.
From the early struggles of greenkeepers after the Second World War, through endless battles with golfing authorities during the 1950s and ‘60s, the hard work of greenkeepers and colleges lead to the excellent and comprehensive education and training we have today.
Over these years many people have been involved in pursuing our dreams of a complete greenkeeping education system. There are too many to mention here, but one or two names must always be remembered. Probably one person who more than others devoted his time and energies to the education cause is Cecil George, who was head greenkeeper at Lenzie Golf Club.
Cecil was probably the first greenkeeper after the Second World War who enrolled on a course run by the Scottish Agriculture College to improve his knowledge. He did this by paying for his own courses. Every greenkeeper who has gone through a college course owes thanks to Cecil for his great love of learning and greenkeeping.
Others who spring to mind are Walter Woods, who was responsible for much of the liaison work with Elmwood College; Jimmy Neilson, who was head greenkeeper at Murrayfield and spent many hours travelling to GTC meetings on behalf of SIGGA; and Bob Moffat, formerly Cathkin Braes, who attended GTC meetings and helped Cecil set up courses at Woodburn House.
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