Meet John Keenaghan, BIGGA's next president

11 September 2023 Feature Article

The head greenkeeper at Chipping Sodbury Golf Club in Gloucestershire has been appointed vice president of BIGGA.

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John Keenaghan. Picture by Lucy Sellick

John Keenaghan has been appointed vice president of BIGGA and will become president of the association ahead of the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) in January 2024, succeeding Shirley Golf Club’s course manager Andy Smith.

John began his career at Filton Golf Club in Bristol and has worked at various venues in the area, including The Kendleshire, The Players and The Manor House. In 2002 he joined Chipping Sodbury, becoming head greenkeeper in 2006.

John said: “I’m absolutely delighted and honoured – I just hope I do a good job. I have been fortunate to have met so many quality greenkeepers in my career, which has spanned over 30 years, and it will be a privilege to serve them in my role as vice president and then president of BIGGA.

“I just hope that if there’s one thing I can do in my role as president, it will be to instill some of my passion for greenkeeping into those young people who are just starting out.”

Throughout his career, John has volunteered at various events including as part of The Open Volunteer Support Team. He also served on BIGGA’s South West & South Wales Region board and was the region’s representative on the BIGGA National Board.

As vice president and president, John will act as an ambassador for the association, representing BIGGA at various events throughout the year. He will also be part of the Board of Management and utilise his experience to guide the board in their decision making.

John will continue in his role at Chipping Sodbury throughout his terms as vice president and president, representing the club on an international scale.

BIGGA CEO Jim Croxton said: “In his 30 years within greenkeeping, John has shown an unwavering commitment to supporting the activities of BIGGA and his fellow members, particularly in the South West & South Wales Region, and so I’m delighted that he has accepted the invitation to be vice president of the association, becoming president in January 2024.

“John’s enthusiasm for greenkeeping is infectious and I’m looking forward to working alongside him as the association enters a particularly busy period and seeks to provide a clear vision that helps our members overcome the challenges they face, such as the recruitment and retention of quality staff.”


The Bristol native who is set to become BIGGA President

From BTME 2024, John Keenaghan will serve as BIGGA's president – and he is thrilled at the prospect. It represents the culmination of a journey that started a little later in life than for many in the industry, but John has certainly made up for lost time. 

Greenkeeper International spoke to John about his career and his affection for BIGGA and its members.

Congratulations on landing the new role – how does it feel? 

I'm absolutely delighted and honoured – I just hope I do a good job! I have been fortunate to have met so many quality greenkeepers in my time as a greenkeeper, which is now over 30 years, and it will be a privilege for me to serve them in my role as vice president and then president of BIGGA. 

This is not only a job to me, but a passion and I love talking about greenkeeping and meeting other like-minded people. 

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Members hailing from the South West & South Wales Region at The Open in 2013


How did you get started in greenkeeping? 

I didn't start in greenkeeping until my 30s. Before then I was in the building trade, but we had a recession and I was doing odd jobs at Filton Golf Club in Bristol, where I was a member. The head greenkeeper there was putting down a concrete base for a driving range and asked if I'd like to do it, which I did. As the days passed and I was doing that, I was watching the greenkeepers go about their work and I thought, 'This isn't a bad life'. I quite enjoyed seeing them work. The head greenkeeper, Nick Wilson, asked if I wanted to come in and work on the green staff. It was a big decision because the money wasn't great at the time, so I talked it through with my wife and decided to go for it – I haven't looked back since. 

When did you become a member of BIGGA? 

I was fortunate that at the club I joined, all the staff were members and Nick got me signed up and gave me a great start. He put me through all the training I needed and sent me to college. I did spraying courses, chainsaw courses – I just took in as much learning as I could in those early days and I'm still doing that now. 

Can you sum up the importance of BIGGA and the opportunities it provides? 

BIGGA is incredibly important and it provides huge value to all its members. I'd say it's especially valuable for any young greenkeepers starting out now and I'd encourage them to use the tools BIGGA provides. There are so many opportunities you can take advantage of, experiences you can gain, things you can volunteer for and learn from. 

If you see something you want to be involved in, ask your head greenkeeper or your course manager. Don't miss out on things, don't deny yourself an opportunity to learn and experience new things. 

It's also a tremendous tool for meeting new people – I go to section events and always meet different people and we share stories and knowledge; it's invaluable. Networking is so important and I find it fascinating to hear how people at different courses deal with certain problems. They're not always the same problems you might face at your course, but there's always something to learn from it. 

As I said, I'm still learning now and I'm basically three years from retirement. Nobody ever knows it all in this job and there's no such thing as asking a stupid question. I just hope that if there's one thing I can do in my role as president, it will be to instill some of my passion for greenkeeping in those young people who are starting out. 

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John was presented with a salver in recognition of his commitment to the association by then president Sid Arrowsmith at BTME 2017


What are some of the challenges facing greenkeepers and course managers now? 

Climate change is a big one and I started to notice some of the impacts probably just before COVID. 

We don't seem to have distinct seasons anymore and the weather is a lot more extreme, so that brings up all sorts of challenges – things like water use, chemical use; it's all changing and making people think about how to deal with it. 

This is why I love feeding off other greenkeepers because we all have ideas about how to deal with these challenges and it's another opportunity to learn from others. 

Does the job still bring you satisfaction? 

Absolutely. Don't get me wrong, winters can be tough, particularly here as we're on a clay-based golf course. We're really good in the summer, mind. But I can honestly say there hasn't been a single day when I've woken up in the morning and thought, 'I don't fancy it today, I'll throw a sickie'. I'm passionate about what I do and that's what gets me out of bed every morning, no matter the conditions or whatever the day throws at me. It's been a pleasure to do this job and it still gives me that same satisfaction now. 

What have been some of your highlights? 

I went to The Players Club and helped construct USGA-spec greens and that was a wonderful experience. That was such a good learning curve for me and I'm quite into construction as well – that's the sort of thing I love to get involved with, so that was great. 

I've been fortunate enough to be part of support team for BIGGA at various Open Championships and I've volunteered for The Senior Open and did a week at Porthcawl in 2017. I was back there this year on the support team for Ian Kinley and those are the things that keep you striving to improve your own course, when you see these top-class courses up close. 

One final thing – you often wear your collar up, why is that? 

(Laughs) Now there's a stupid question! I don't know. It's something I've always done for some reason. I get called Elvis at my own golf club. Everybody knows me for wearing my collar up. Thinking back, maybe I got sunburned really badly on the back of my neck one year and ever since then I've put the collar up. We were thinking about introducing a new line into the BIGGA range – the JK range. I do fold it down when I've got a shirt and tie on! 

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John has been head greenkeeper at Chipping Sodbury near Bristol since 2006


John's greenkeeping career 

  • 1992 – Assistant greenkeeper at Filton  
  • 1995 – Greenkeeper at The Kendleshire 
  • 1999 – Greenkeeper at The Players 
  • 2001 – Deputy course manager at the Manor House 
  • 2002 – Deputy head greenkeeper at Chipping Sodbury 
  • 2006 – Head greenkeeper at Chipping Sodbury 
  • 2023 – Vice president at BIGGA 
  • 2024 – President at BIGGA 




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