When Accrington Golf Club's head greenkeeper (briefly) led The Open

10 July 2020 Feature Article
Battling for the Open Championship lead

The 1988 British Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes is remembered for Seve Ballesteros capturing the Claret Jug for the third time and for being the first Open to finish on a Monday after heavy rain wiped out the Saturday’s scores.

What’s less remembered is that early on Thursday morning a little‑known amateur from Accrington, who also happened to be head greenkeeper at the town’s golf club, had briefly overtaken the famous Spaniard at the top of the leaderboard.

Trevor Foster and his wife Debbie have both retired now, having both spent 40 years working at Accrington & District Golf Club. Debbie worked in catering, while Trevor was employed first as assistant professional, then head greenkeeper, then bar manager.

In 1988, aged 28, he was a regular on the Lancashire county team and won both the Lancashire Open and Lancashire Amateur. During Open Qualifying at Blackpool North Shore he shot a course record of six‑under and earned a place at that year’s Open Championship.

“I wanted people to pinch me,” said Trevor. “It’s definitely the ultimate. I thought, I’m just a young lad from Accrington. I can remember my wife asking me how I was feeling as we walked to the fifth tee and I said ‘I wouldn’t wish how I feel on my worst enemy’. I was so nervous it was a joke.”

Trevor’s wife, Debbie, would usually have been on the bag alongside him, but at that time she was heavily pregnant with their first son. In her place was 14‑year‑old Ryan Dône, who had been with Trevor all season and so he kept him on for this challenge. “People asked me if I would use a professional caddie, but I said no chance, Ryan is as excited as I am,” said Trevor. “And he did brilliantly.”

Playing out of the rough as caddie Ryan Dône watches on

Ryan went on to become a PGA professional at Heysham Golf Club and for the past four years has been coaching Trevor, reuniting the partnership. During that time Trevor has won the Irish Seniors Amateur and the Seniors Amateur at Royal Porthcawl, both in 2018.

And in honour of his teenage caddie, Trevor and Debbie named the son she was carrying during The Open, Ryan.

After a nervous start at Royal Lytham, Trevor overcame the nerves on the 5th hole to hit his tee shot within 15 feet. In strong winds he lost his tee shot on the 7th, but made an eagle with his second ball to hold par – an incredible feat considering the conditions. Then, on the 9th, he holed out from 30 feet for birdie, taking him above Seve on account of having played more holes.

“I got this cold shiver down my spine,” said Trevor. “It was the most amazing feeling and I’ve only ever had it once in my life. I just stood there and thought ‘I’ve gone above the legend’. The only thing was, he knew it was a 72‑hole competition and there was plenty of golf to be played!”

It was the ability to overcome pressure that Trevor has credited for much of his success, as well as the determination to constantly improve. This mentality served him well both as a golfer and during his time as head greenkeeper at Accrington.

“I was my own worst enemy because I was always a perfectionist,” he explained. “That means you end up working 70 hours a week, getting paid for 40. But I never thought the course was good enough and I could always make it a bit better. That’s where I’ve always been with my golf, just working that bit harder to get better. When I was greenkeeping I knew I could just spend those extra hours on the golf course and make it a bit better. That’s how I’ve always been. I got a good name for my course for fast, good greens, and I’m passionate about what I do.”

Although he’s retired, Trevor still returns to the golf club to help out around the course. But sat in the Royal Lytham clubhouse in 1988, Trevor got the opportunity to meet a golfing great and talk to him about life as a Lancashire greenkeeper.

He explained: “We met Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and it was just amazing to be in people’s company who are world famous. For them to treat you like you’re just one of them, it was amazing. I’m just Trevor from Accrington and yet they were talking to me like I was one of their friends, it’s unbelievable.

“Debbie told Barbara that I was a greenkeeper from a nearby club called Accrington and she said she’d keep an eye out for how I did and wished us all the best.”

Trevor alongside BIGGA officials including David Golding and Jack McMillan

That appreciation for the hard work of greenkeepers is one that appears consistent among those at the highest levels of the game. It helps that some have family who are greenkeepers – such as Sam Torrance, who Trevor was level with on the scoreboard after the opening round in 1988 and whose father, Bob, had been a greenkeeper at Routenburn. But for others, there’s just an appreciation of the effort that goes into maintaining a course to enable them to play the game they love.

Trevor was reminded of this after qualifying for the Seniors Open in 2018 and playing alongside both Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle.

“I sat with both of them afterwards and had a drink,” Trevor said. “They’re genuine, normal people and they realise the effort we greenkeepers put into the game they’re so passionate about. You see that whenever someone wins an event and they thank the groundstaff for everything they do.”

In playing alongside those two Major champions, Trevor was correcting a regret he had carried for 30 years, having turned down the opportunity to play a practice round alongside Jack Nicklaus.

“I bottled it and I’ve always said I’d take that to my grave,” said Trevor. “So last year when I qualified for the Seniors Open I said to my wife, ‘I’m playing with some Major winners’.

“I played alongside Bernhard Langer and he was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever played with, it was brilliant.”

What separates the successful golfer from a competent one is a combination of greed and dedication, explained Trevor, and it’s a lesson that carries over into the profession of greenkeeping.

“You get out of life what you put in,” he said. “There are too many people out there who think they are naturals. They may be talented, but that will only get you so far. You’ve also got to be a person who is able to handle pressure and the only way to learn that is by putting yourself in situations where you’re uncomfortable, such as bigger events against people who are better than you. If you’ve got to walk down the last hole and make a four to win but you can only make a five, you’ll never be a winner.

"You’ve got to be able to go out and handle that pressure. If it’s a day you’re swinging well, you’ll handle pressure better. But if you’re not swinging well and you feel pressure, you’ll struggle.”

The same could be said of greenkeepers who have gained the knowledge to be able to perform when conditions aren’t ideal.

“To all the BIGGA members out there and officials, keep up the great work you do,” he added. “To all the greenkeepers, keep going through the hard times because the good times overshadow the bad. You get a lot more pleasure out of it than you do suffering. It can’t all be pleasure so grit your teeth and get through it, because it’s a great profession to be in and BIGGA is a great organisation to be a part of.”

Trevor, for his part, has passed on that ability to handle pressure to his daughter, Nikki, who is an England international and who played in the Ladies British Open at Carnoustie, making them the only father and daughter amateur pairing to play in both the Men’s and Ladies’ Open Championships.

Nikki Foster is a full England international

At Accrington & District, the club honoured Trevor with life membership at the age of just 42, after he played his 100th county match for Lancashire. He was only the club’s second member ever to receive the honour, made all the more special as he was also head greenkeeper.

Back in 1988 the club was also cheering him on, with some members gathering along the 18th hole as he walked down it and starting an impromptu chant of “Foster for England”.

“I wasn’t right bothered about going back to work though, I wanted to play a few more days if I could!” said Trevor.

Unfortunately, his lead of the championship lasted just until the 12th hole. and he eventually finishing with 74, while Seve showed his class and shot 67.

A 79 on the second day meant Trevor missed the cut and by the Monday, when Seve was lifting that famous piece of silverware, Trevor was already back at the golf club.

However, he did have the opportunity to speak to his idol before leaving, having walked down the last three holes with Seve one day. But he wisely decided not to mention the fact he had briefly led the Spaniard.

“He’d have probably said to me, ‘there’s been a lot of people who have been ahead of me, but who never beat me!’” said Trevor.

Greenkeeping’s other golfing greats

While researching the History of Greenkeepers’ Associations in the UK, which is now available to read on the BIGGA website, Elliott Small discovered that Trevor is far from being the only talented golfer to have a close connection with BIGGA and greenkeeping:

  • JT Dobson, East Renfrewshire GC, won the Scottish Amateur in 1925;
  • BIGGA Patron Sir Michael Bonallack won five Amateur Championships, five English Amateurs, four Brabazon Trophies and played in nine Walker Cups;
  • Former BIGGA staff member Emma Duggleby played in three Curtis Cups and won British, English, European, South African and Scottish Championships;
  • Sandy Pirie, Hazlehead GC, played in the 1967 Walker Cup;
  • Tom Craddock, former chairman of the Eire Section of BGGA, also played in the 1967 and 1969 Walker Cups, winning the Irish Amateur in the late 1950s;
  • Malcolm Latham, the former head greenkeeper at Hexham GC, was an England Boy International and in the 1970s played alongside Nick Faldo and others on the European Tour;
  • Stuart Taylor, BIGGA board member and course manager at Glasgow GC, was Scottish Boy Champion in 1977, and was a Scottish Youth International alongside his twin brother, Alistair.

If you’ve got a story to add to our History of Greenkeepers’ Associations, email info@bigga.co.uk

Author

Karl Hansell
BIGGA | Communications Executive

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