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Families in Greenkeeping
Throughout the history of greenkeeping you will find many instances of multiple members of the same family being involved in the industry, often at the same golf course and over a span of many years.
As clubs usually had a small staff, some had to move on and we find that fathers, sons and brothers often worked on courses within close proximity to each other. Sons followed in their father’s footsteps, in some cases it was a job to start with on leaving school with the intention of looking for something better and – for a long time – this meant better paid.
When I left school in 1956 my father gave me a summer job on the course, but warned me it was just until I found a better job as there’s no money in golf. He was right at the time and I did find another job, but the attraction to the golf course never left me and eventually I was drawn back to it.
It is well-nigh impossible to record all of those families who have been involved in greenkeeping, but in my trawls through minutes and magazines from the past there have been numerous references to long-serving families.
Two families had a big influence on the early days of greenkeeping associations. In Scotland there was the Forbes family, starting with John L Forbes, a partner in the Stewarts of Edinburgh (Seedsmen) company. He was noted as being the secretary of a group of greenkeepers who in 1908 became the Scottish Greenkeepers Association (SGA).
John was succeeded by his son, Ian Forbes, who as managing director of Stewarts gave unconditional support to greenkeepers, both on a personal basis and through the company.
Ian’s successor as managing director was his son, Graeme, who carried on the support that his grandfather and father had in the same willing manner.
In England there was a similar situation with the Hawtree family. Recognised as the founder of the Golf Greenkeepers Association (GGA), Frederic G Hawtree was unswerving in his lifetime, not just supporting the association, but also for his work as secretary for two periods and his service on the executive. There can be no doubt that his connections through golf were responsible for the association getting the help they needed in 1945 after the Second World War.
His son, Frederic W Hawtree, followed in his father’s footsteps on the executive of the British Golf Greenkeepers Association (BGGA), as the BGGA representative to the English Golf Union and as editor of the BGGA journal for many years.
One of the original members of the GGA – he may even have been a founder member – was George McNeice, from a club in the London area. He was followed into the trade by his son, S T McNeice, who finished his career as head greenkeeper at The Leicestershire Club. They are one of the few father and sons who were both chairmen of their greenkeeping association.
In the west of the country another chairman of the BGGA was Henry Fry, whose son Harry also served many years at Clyne Club and also served as BGGA Chairman.
Another father and son who served as Chairmen of the BGGA were George and Colin Geddes, from Moor Allerton, and also from the North of England were the father and son pair of George and Harry Herrington of Lindrick, both chairmen of the BGGA in their respective eras.
In the north west of England one of the best known families of the time was the MacAvoys, who at one time were in charge of some of the best courses in Lancashire. Father George was at West Lancs, his brother Tom served 30 years at Formby, another brother spent 40 years at Hesketh and George’s son, Ted MacAvoy was first at West Lancs and then at Hillside. I wonder what they talked about at family gatherings?
Another well known, much respected father and son further south at Hoylake was Tom Bridges and his son, Jim, who eventually moved to the Malone Club in Ireland.
Gilbert Woodward was a regular attender at BGGA meetings and his brother and father were greenkeepers and his son David had more than half a century’s service at the club.
In the latter half of the 20th Century and still going, the McMillan family will probably set the record for all time. Father Jack had over 50 years and was joined by Stewart, Billy, Bobby, the late Ian and Cameron.
For longevity of service at one club, the Jones brothers from Little Aston must take some beating. When Cecil Jones retired in 1967 after 49 years, he had succeeded his second eldest brother who had 46 years’ service and who, in turn, had succeeded the eldest brother who was at the club for 40 years. I would think this must be a record for one family at one club.
The Mitchell brothers, Bill and John, both spent their entire working lives at Perranporth Golf Club in Cornwall.
One interesting point about greenkeepers back in that era was how fit and healthy they all were. Many worked for between 35 and 50 years, with many still working at 70 years of age. Of course, in these days there were no ride-ons and it was walking everywhere. There were no loaders, only hand shovelling.
In Scotland there are also many instances of family members following in their father’s footsteps. And it isn’t just fathers and sons, as can be seen at Elie Golf Club on the Fife coast, where long-serving head greenkeeper Brian Lawrie has worked alongside his daughter, Sharon, for a number of years.
Russell Brown, who sadly passed away while head greenkeeper at Turnberry, originally started at Craigie Hill where first his grandfather then his father had long spells as head greenkeeper.
The Fergusons at Troon, Norman and his brother William, spent many years tending the hallowed turf there, following on from their father, who had 40 years’ service.
Of the Robbs from the West of Scotland, brothers John (46 years), Jim (50 years) and Bob (33 years) have worked at various courses in their careers.
Also from the West of Scotland, the Millar family of Alec, at Denham and Lachlan (or Jock as he is better known) at Burnham and Berrow have been joined in the second generation by Jock’s sons Lachlan, formerly at Hayling Island and now at Worlebury, and Kelvin at Churston. But their extended family of brother-in-law Rab McGill at Erskine Golf and his son Lachlan at Cochrane Castle meant they were one of the biggest families in greenkeeping.
My own family, the Smalls, also has many years in the trade. My father, Bob Small, worked for approximately 36 years in the industry. His son George had 38 years and myself, Elliott, I also had 38 years. My son, Craig, has more than 30 years and is presently at Wentworth Club. Two other brothers were also greenkeepers before doing National Service but did not return to greenkeeping.
Over the water to Ireland, where the Crawford brothers, Eamonn and Noel, can be found at Royal County Down alongside their nephew, Gary.
Other greenkeeping families of note include the Woods, McNivens (Kenny, Graham and Ian), McIndoes (David, Alec and David), Goldings (David and Allan), Phipps-Jones (Arnold and Mark), Connells (Alistair and Gary), Bullochs (John and Sandy), Smiths (Stanley, Raymond and grandson Gary Scruton), Scoones (Ivor and Jonathan), Taylors (John, Stuart and Alistair) and too many others to count.
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