How you can help us by NOT being a greenkeeper

6 January 2020 Feature Article

Grant is course manager at gWest in Perthshire

Organisations such as BIGGA, often supported by some of the larger companies with a presence in our industry, have taken massive strides forward in raising our professional image, promoting career progression and helping to prepare the next generation of greenkeepers for the transition into golf course management.

This is all to be applauded and can only be viewed as a positive, but the elephant in the room remains the same – there are simply not enough course manager jobs to satisfy everyone’s ambitions.

It is the nature of our workplace that a career bottleneck is created and the further up the ladder you go, the tighter it gets; so my question is, do you have an exit plan and when should you consider implementing it?

I am not suggesting that people should be turning their backs on greenkeeping in the pursuit of alternative careers, in fact quite the opposite. I view greenkeeping as the nucleus for all industry-related career paths and believe strongly that anybody working in our sector would benefit greatly from some hands-on experience of the work and challenges that are involved in maintaining a golf course.

I myself have benefited from this, having been faced with this decision almost 10 years ago. Options for progression within my workplace at the time were limited and I considered many possibilities, some of which included leaving the industry altogether. However, with some consideration I eventually decided that my particular skillset would be suited to a move into golf course construction, a move which ultimately allowed me to kick start my career again and on reflection it remains a decision that I would not reverse.

Nevertheless, the problem of ‘good guys’ leaving the industry has become commonplace, so how do we fix this?

Should greenkeepers look outside the box when planning their next career move? Picture by Ash Youd

In my opinion we can start by taking the blinkers off and understanding that the road to having a long successful career in the golf and sports turf maintenance industry does not have to be drawn as a simple straight line, starting with apprentice and ending at course manager, with all the boxes ticked in between.

Have you thought about roles in product sales, machinery sales, golf course construction, contractor, mechanic, product research and development, teaching golf course management or ecology?

These are just a few of the potential career paths that spring to mind as I write this, all of which are perfectly achievable and respectable choices for anyone with a good solid background in greenkeeping.

An understanding of the importance and value of the golf course as the core product and a respect for the resources required to maintain it would give any candidate an advantage to perform well in each of these jobs and many more!

It is inevitable that staff will come and go and, of course, it is always rewarding when they can tell you that they are leaving because they have secured their first deputy or even course manager position. But the reverse is also true in that it is equally disappointing to hear that they are leaving not just their job but the industry as a whole. Perhaps this is due to a lack of opportunities to progress, low wages, unfair pressure from unrealistic member expectations or lack of quality time with family and friends due to unsociable working hours.

These are all perfectly legitimate reasons and concerns for seeking a change in working conditions, but greenkeepers are some of the most resourceful and hard working people I know. 

Would it not be better if all of the time and investment that has gone in to gaining this knowledge were retained within our industry, even if not within a traditional greenkeeping role? The alternative is allowing them to walk out the door and have other industries benefit from these attributes, as is currently happening in many cases.

Why shouldn’t a greenkeeper become a salesperson, general manager, golf course architect, or even set up their own business as a contractor?

In my opinion, this variation is essential to the success of our industry being viewed by future generations as an attractive career choice and if we are to create more opportunities for young greenkeepers entering our industry to progress themselves and go on to find long term value in their careers, then awareness of these sectors as ‘legitimate’ options needs to be improved and even encouraged.

As with all opinions, there will be some who agree and there will be some who view any deviation from the path towards becoming a course manager as a failure and that is fine, debate is healthy. 

But to conclude, my advice to any greenkeeper out there who feels they are approaching a crossroads in their career is do not ignore the elephant in the room! 

Consider your exit plan and work towards achieving a job which will give you satisfaction. It could be that this plan still ultimately leads to becoming a course manager, but before you consider leaving the industry altogether, regardless of the reasons why, ask yourself where your particular skill set lies and what it is about this job that you have a passion for. I am certain that our industry will be diverse enough to provide an opportunity for you to pursue that passion in a different role that is supported with the skills and values you have gained through greenkeeping.

You might just have to look a little harder to find your opportunity and for some, it may even mean being prepared to look beyond the confines of the greenkeepers’ shed!

Grant was writing for Greenkeeper International, the monthly magazine of the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association, which seeks to support the needs of golf greenkeepers and other groundsmen, both in the United Kingdom and overseas.

Author

Grant Frogley
Ochil Developments - gWest | Course Manager

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