International Women's Day: Here come the girls
Gemma St John, Katy Castle, Sophie Bulpitt, Melissa Winkworth
They may be outnumbered, but these female greenkeeping students won’t let that hold them back.
Berkshire College of Agriculture is one of the latest education establishments to have launched a programme for trainee greenkeepers, with former course manager Rob Phillips taking the helm as lead tutor. Of the 24 students who signed up to the college this year, four are female.
Katy Castle, 18, of Caversham Heath GC and Melissa Winkworth, 26, of Goring & Streatley GC are both studying towards their Level 2 Certificate in Greenkeeping.
Sophie Bulpit, 22, of The Berkshire GC and Gemma St John of Brokenhurst Manor GC are enrolled on the Level 3 Work Based Diploma in Sportsturf.
We caught up with them to see how they are finding life in the traditionally male‑dominated industry of golf greenkeeping.
BIGGA: Gemma what was the greenkeeping industry like when you first got into it?
Gemma: When I first got into greenkeeping, back in 2000, there weren’t many ladies about. Actually, I didn’t know of any. When I first started out I got really bad stick. But I just ignored that and through the years, getting my qualifications, they see you can do the job. Having both genders in an industry is the way the world works now, as it should be.
BIGGA: Katy you’re the youngest here and you’re in your first year as a trainee greenkeeper. What made you want to get into the greenkeeping industry?
Katy: It’s quite a random story actually. In the summer holidays when I finished school I wanted to earn a bit more money. My uncle works at Caversham Heath and I went in to work with him for a few days. A year later and I’m still there because I’ve enjoyed it so much.
BIGGA: Sophie, how did you get into the greenkeeping?
Sophie: I’d always wanted to work outside and when I dropped out of university I started looking around for what to do next. This came up, so I went for it, really enjoyed it, and I never looked back!
I’ve been really inspired by most of the people I’ve met and have worked with. I’ve never met anyone in this industry who hasn’t enjoyed their job. They always push you to go further with it, and that is amazing.
I don’t think being a female in the industry has held me back and I hope I’ve got a fair shot at success in the industry.
I did feel for a while that this would only be temporary because, as a female greenkeeper, progressing further would be quite hard, but from what I’ve learnt at college I’m not sure that’s the case, and there’s no reason why I can’t make a great career from greenkeeping!
Sophie and Gemma are studying towards their Level 3 Work Based Diploma in Sportsturf
BIGGA: Gemma have you ever felt in the industry that you’ve had to work harder to prove yourself?
Gemma: No not really. I love my job so I do as much as I possibly and physically can. Maybe sometimes I try to lift more than I should, but I’ve never felt that I stand out because I’m a woman. I’m just one of the team.
At first it was uncomfortable going to things like BTME when you know nobody and they’re all men. I found that at first people didn’t realise that I was a greenkeeper, they thought perhaps I was there to make tea or something, which was a bit awkward!
BIGGA: Katy, were you nervous going into a male‑dominated industry?
Katy: Yeah, when I first walked in, the first week I was there I thought ‘God, what am I doing?’ It was quite intimidating, I’m not going to lie, because obviously I’m still quite young and they are all older than me. At the start I was like, I don’t know if I want to do this. But having my uncle working with me has helped me and I am able to get on with the other greenkeepers a lot more.
BIGGA: Melissa, was the existing team at your club welcoming when you became a greenkeeper?
Melissa: They tried really hard to make me feel like part of the team! I knew them for years before, so it was easy for me to walk in and be part of the team.
The only thing I’ve noticed that I struggle with is heavy lifting, but on average men are physically stronger than women so it’s unavoidable. But there are so many other things to the job, where there’s no difference between what a man or a woman can do.
BIGGA: What is it about greenkeeping that you really enjoy?
Katy: I love it. I don’t really know how to describe it, but you know when you find a hobby that you love, and you just want to stick at it? That’s how I feel about it now.
Sophie: I really enjoy hand cutting the greens and presenting the golf course as best as you can. With hand cutting you’re striping everything up and making it look good and people appreciate that more because they can see it immediately.
Gemma: I think if greenkeeping as a career was put out to schools more, there would be more girls seeing that there’s a career out there for them. Because unless you play golf, it’s not something you think about.
BIGGA: Would you recommend greenkeeping to your mates?
Sophie: Yeah, they are all jealous of my job. In the summer anyway!
How have you found the job in winter?
Melissa: It’s all right, you’ve just got to wrap up and get on with it.
Katy: I think one thing that would put boys and girls off in general is the winter. This was my first winter and it was hard. That was the test for me to see that if I still enjoyed it, I would stay on no matter what the weather was like. And it was fine, you just had to wrap up.
It was a new experience for me. When it’s warmer you’re out cutting more, but in the winter you’re doing different jobs so it was fun.
BIGGA: What about the banter within the team? Greenkeeping teams are close knit, so are you able to join in with the team bonding aspect?
Gemma: Yeah you have to just give as good as you get!
Sophie: I enjoy it to be honest. I know it’s probably very different if I’m not there and they’re probably having a lot more banter than they normally would because they can be a bit more extreme, whereas when I’m around they might tone it down a little bit. But they don’t need to because it’s funny, it’s enjoyable and it makes the day go faster.
BIGGA: When you encounter golfers, what’s that like. Are they shocked when they see you out on the course?
Katy: In my second week I was raking bunkers and one of the members walked past and he asked me if I was a greenkeeper. I said yes, and he started asking me about it. He was quite friendly towards me and I was quite shocked by it because I didn’t think golfers would talk to us greenkeepers. But they are all really friendly and don’t treat me any differently to the men.
BIGGA: Have you ever worried that being a female will hold you back in your career progression as a greenkeeper?
Gemma: It hasn’t so far and I’m a first assistant. I’m not sure what’s next in my career, but I hope to get to course manager at some point in my life, one day.
BIGGA: What advice would you give these younger guys based upon your years in the industry?
Gemma: Just give as good as you get, always speak up and don’t be afraid to speak your mind!
If you're interested in becoming a greenkeeper, you can find all the information you need on the BIGGA website. You can also get in touch if you have any questions about pursuing a fantastic career in the golf course maintenance industry.