Greenkeeper Education and Training

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 protected] and use the subject title History of Greenkeepers' Associations.

Greenkeeper Education and Training 


From the start of greenkeepers’ associations, education and training were recognised as a route for improving knowledge and skills.

The Golf Greenkeepers Association (GGA) published a journal intermittently, with three between 1912 and 1915. Greenkeepers were encouraged to write articles for this journal and also to enter essay competitions on specialised subjects. In 1915, in the light of the First World War, the subject was ‘Economy in Golf Course Management’ and the standard of entry was very high. Note how even in those days the use of the term ‘golf course management’ was used.  Lectures were also held during the year in the various areas.

The journal was almost completely composed of technical articles, which were a font of knowledge for greenkeepers.

In Scotland during the 1920s a series of usually six lectures were held during the year, which were attended by a considerable number of greenkeepers from all over Scotland. This was in the days of train travel, which meant quite a few hours of travelling for some as they were mostly held in the evening. At the end of each series of lectures they were all made into a booklet, which was sent out to head greenkeepers. An examination was then held on the contents and the pass rate was reckoned to be over 60%. The subjects of these lectures covered everything from ‘Greenkeeping problems of today’, 'Potash for the golf course', phosphates, drainage, grasses, seeds and weeds of the golf course.

In 1927 Mr Norman Hackett, a Yorkshireman with an interest in agronomy, asked GGA for support to form a Scientific Greens Committee, as he was concerned about the lack of scientific knowledge of finer grasses. However, the executive of the GGA decided this was not a good idea. At the AGM of the association the members overturned this decision and agreed to support the idea, but by this time Hackett had already started doing his own trials at Keighley Golf Club.

In 1929 the Board of Greenkeeping Research (BOGR) was formed this later to become the Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI). Hackett became the first secretary of this board. This was formed with the backing of The R&A who gave a grant of £303 13/6d and a promise from the four golf unions to provide a sum of £2,000 per annum for five years.

In 1930 the BOGR proposed a scheme for an educational programme but no further details of this have been found.

In 1939 BGGA held its annual tournament at Ayr Belleisle Golf Club and in conjunction with this they held a symposium, which is believed to have been an educational event.

During the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, both the Scottish Golf Greenkeepers' Association (SGGA) and British Golf Greenkeepers Association (BGGA) soldiered manfully on, providing lectures and educational opportunities for their members. What should be noted was that with one or two exceptions, the associations had practically no help from any of the golfing organisations in the education and training of greenkeeping staff. The people who benefited the most from all the dedication and hard work of the greenkeepers turned a blind eye to their needs. These included the golf unions, secretaries’ associations, golf clubs and, of course, all the players. All the organisation for training and education was done by the greenkeeping associations themselves.

An interesting suggestion was made in the 1950s by William Bradford, head greenkeeper at Buchanan Castle Golf Club. He proposed that 1% of all prize money at professional tournaments should be given to the greenkeeping associations for education and training of greenkeepers. It was a splendid idea but was scorned by the powers that be.

Through the 1950s and into the ‘60s, BGGA and SGGA continued to appeal to all the golf authorities that the lack of good wages, conditions and education and training meant that fewer and fewer young men were entering greenkeeping, but there were still no efforts from the authorities to do anything about it.

Strangely enough, the most backing and support for greenkeepers came from the press all over the country. Golf correspondents wrote of the importance of the greenkeeper to clubs and golf in particular and of how the greenkeeping associations were not getting the support they deserved in their efforts to encourage young men to join the trade.

In 1951 the BOGR became the STRI and it soon began courses for greenkeepers and groundsmen. These were week-long courses held at the STRI at Bingley, usually in the spring and autumn of each year.

In 1956 it was announced that F G Hawtree, who had died the previous year, had left £100 to be used to help greenkeeping education. The BGGA set up a memorial fund from this with the aim of helping young greenkeepers attend STRI courses at Bingley.

Prior to all this an apprenticeship scheme had been mooted by the greenkeeping  associations in 1954. A scheme started in Scotland produced the first qualified apprentice greenkeeper in 1964.

In 1963 the Joint Council for Golf Greenkeeper Apprenticeship (JCGGA) was set up. The council was composed of representatives from the BGGA, SGGA, BGGA Wales, English Golf Union (EGU), Scottish Golf Union (SGU), Welsh Golf Union (WGU) and the STRI. The aim was to provide for the systematic recruitment and training of greenkeepers on golf courses.

In 1964 The Apprenticeship Scheme for Golf Greenkeepers was approved by the Ministry of Labour and included in the official list of schemes open to young men in Great Britain.

Contributions towards the running costs of developing the Scheme were 100 guineas from the EGU, 75 from the SGU, 25 the WGU, 25 from SGGA and 50 from BGGA.

In 1967 the first ever golf greenkeepers course recognised by the City and Guilds was run by Woodburn House College in Glasgow thanks to Cecil George and Bob Moffat and Charles Crossan, head of horticulture at the college. Now the ball was rolling, but one of the main drawbacks of these courses was that a large percentage of the content was still based on horticulture. Older head greenkeepers remembered apprentices asking if they really needed to know how to prune roses and plant out borders. Strangely, in these modern times where the entrances and surrounds of clubs are often planted out, it is quite useful to know a bit of horticulture.

The City and Guilds qualifications for trades were first instituted in 1878 and it had taken nearly a hundred years before they recognised turfcraft as a trade or profession.

Eventually, in 1974, the Golf Development Council realised that the shortage of well-qualified greenkeepers was adversely affecting the game – exactly what greenkeepers’ associations had been telling them for years. Yet it took until November 1975 to set up the Standing Conference for Golf Greenkeepers with a training coordinator. This ran until December 1977 when it became The Greenkeepers Training Committee (GTC).

The Standing Conference was formed with aim “to achieve a fully qualified greenkeepers’ service in the future, to standardise the training of greenkeepers and to establish a register of qualified greenkeepers, but this would only be possible with the full co-operation of all clubs”.

 In 1976 Elmwood College formed a committee consisting of industry members, including head greenkeepers who would advise on the type of training needed, but there was still too much horticulture included in the courses.

In 1977 the Standing Conference became the Greenkeepers Training Committee. In his final remarks the chairman of the Standing Conference stated: “It is clear that although there is a hard core of dedicated greenkeepers, the turnover of staff is very high. It also emerged that a very large number of clubs have shown little interest in the training of the greenkeeping staff.”

In January 1978 The Greenkeepers Training Committee (GTC) came into being and appointed as administrator and secretary was Nick Bissett. Nick had worked at STRI for nine years and was now tutor on greenkeeping at Askham Bryan College in Yorkshire. The committee was composed of representatives from the four home unions, the BGGA, the SIGGA, the Irish Golf Greenkeepers Association, the Association of Golf Club Secretaries and the Golf Development Council.

The first problem the GTC had in England was trying to persuade City and Guilds to allow more greenkeeping content in the courses as they were still horticulturally-based. In Scotland, however, a government decision that the courses would now be run by Scotec and not City and Guilds meant SIGGA and the GTC had more say in the course content.    

In 1981 the first Scotec examinations for certificates in Greenkeeping and Groundsmanship were held.

In the mid 1980s SIGGA set up a liaison committee with all the colleges teaching greenkeeping in Scotland under the chairmanship of a greenkeeper. This brought them together to teach the same syllabus at all colleges throughout Scotland. This was a great step forward and the jewel in the crown was the fact the courses were completely greenkeeping based.

As well as these developments with the colleges and government recognising the need for college courses to train apprentices, the 1980s saw the start of more seminars and conferences for the more senior greenkeepers.

In 1982 Elmwood College, in partnership with SIGGA, ran the first week-long Greenkeeping Management Course, primarily for head greenkeepers and first assistants. This was very much a guinea pig course as the college lecturers were still the original horticultural lecturers, who were having to learn about fine turf as well. However, it was successful in that their expertise in management, planning work programmes, budgeting and disciplinary rules were of great benefit to the attendees. As it was a management course, cultivation and maintenance of fine turf was a smaller part and the feedback that the lecturers received was invaluable to them to improve courses for the future.

In March 1982, in a joint effort by Elmwood and SIGGA, 170 people attended a greenkeeping seminar.

Meanwhile, in England what was seen as the lack of effort from the BGGA to push for more education and training for greenkeepers led to the formation of the EIGGA, who in April 1983 held a conference attended by over 100 delegates. This was good news and in 1984 a conference under the title Golf Course ‘84 was held with speakers from all aspects of golf courses – again a successful event. However, when it was announced that a Golf Course ’85 event would be held in April under the auspices of associations representing the golf course industry, first the BGGA declined an invitation to take part and then EIGGA stated that they would hold their own event in March 1985. It was no surprise that at the AGM the chairman expressed his disappointment at the poor turnout for the EIGGA conference.     

The liaison committee formed between the colleges and the SIGGA was proving very successful as it paved the way for greenkeepers to be fully involved in the makeup of the college courses and these courses were more or less completely greenkeeping based. The Scottish framework developed by this committee has been widely admired and most of it adopted by the GTC throughout the country.

One problem remained in that most of the teachers and lecturers were horticulturalists. The obvious answer was to find greenkeepers capable of reaching teaching standards who would be able to teach the technical subjects to all students, as well as the present college lecturers having to learn the subject of greenkeeping. Gradually both these things happened and many college lecturers nowadays are former greenkeepers. Some of the previous horticulture lecturers made a point of studying fine turf in all its aspects and some even spent their holidays working on golf courses to further their knowledge.

So from the early struggles of greenkeepers after the Second World War, through endless and sometimes seemingly hopeless battles with golfing authorities during the 1950s and ‘60s, eventually all the efforts put in by greenkeepers themselves paid off and  an education system was evolved that has led to the excellent comprehensive education and training system we have today.

BIGGA provides everything from local section training courses through regional seminars and conferences to all the seminars and workshops held at Harrogate. The association can also provide financial assistance for those wishing to further their education. Alongside the BIGGA, the GTC provides a strong educational lead to all the colleges in their training programmes.



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