Sami Strutt says farewell after 30 years with BIGGA

6 December 2023 Feature Article

Ahead of joining the Bernhard Academy as education director in April 2024, Sami Strutt is saying farewell to BIGGA following a career spanning more than 30 years.

Sami Strutt bids farewell after 30 years with BIGGA


My first day with BIGGA was in the old offices at Aldwark Manor, with my mum waiting in the car while I went in for an interview. I can still remember what I was wearing – a yellow cardigan and a cream top. It was the first day of what turned out to be a very long and interesting part of my life.

I have loved working for BIGGA and I anticipated spending my entire career with the association. Being able to have so much input into a business that I joined when I was so young was amazing, but I’m certain that this move is the right decision. This opportunity with the Bernhard Academy is one that I never imagined would be made available to me, so it is one that I couldn’t turn down. My certainty that this is the right decision is testament to what I have achieved with BIGGA, as the association has given me the experience and ability to take this next step.

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Sami in the early years at BIGGA


The BIGGA team may think they need me, but they will go on and prosper. We’ve got a great team that will step up and build their own legacy. BIGGA will become theirs and not mine anymore.

Over the past 30 years, I have seen BIGGA make its mark on the industry. The work we’ve done over the years to promote what greenkeepers do and make sure they are equipped with the professional skillset they need to do their jobs and deliver what golfers want – BIGGA has played a very big part in that.

I remember my first BTME, when we had greenkeepers there in overalls, wellington boots and flat caps – their work gear. That progressed to people very proudly wearing their BIGGA jackets and ties. Now, as time has gone on, dress codes have changed again and most are professionally dressed, proudly displaying the logo of the club they work for.

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John Pemberton and Sami at the Golf Industry Show


I never in a million years thought that I would be chief operating officer of BIGGA. When you come in as administration assistant and you are answering the phones, sending faxes and opening the post, you never think that your voice is going to be heard and what you say will help shape the strategy of the association. That is testament to the people I’ve worked with who have championed me throughout my career. BIGGA has enabled me access to education, although I had to do the hard work! People like Neil Thomas, the first executive director of BIGGA, John Pemberton, who was the next leader of the business, and my mentor Ken Richardson, who played a massive role in my career.

When Ken retired, I took on responsibility for organising Continue to Learn. I can remember sitting there on the first day and thinking, I’ve got to put together a programme of my own? How do I do that?

Back then there were seven or eight classes, some seminars and the conference. Today we have 49 classes alone, in addition to the two-day conference, the Young Greenkeepers Conference, the Breakfast Session and 14 seminars.

Every year I would try to do something a bit different and the seminars being delivered by the exhibitors was an idea I had early on. I can remember there being a bit of scepticism regarding us offering free education. But today the seminars are a very strong learning opportunity and we now have hundreds of people enjoying free education at BTME. The seminars are a gateway that shows them what Continue to Learn is all about.

When I became chief operating officer in January 2022, I handed responsibility for organising Continue to Learn over to Deb Burnett. That was one of the easiest things to do because I knew she was a safe pair of hands. Deb has been embedded in Continue to Learn since she started working at BIGGA and so she understands what it is all about. She’s used my guidance, but it’s her programme now and I’ve had very little to do with it. It’s very humbling when someone says ‘I don’t need you any more, I’ve got this’. That’s brilliant and as a manager, it’s what you hope happens.

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The chief operating officer role is very different to what I had previously done. In the past I was constantly achieving things like BTME, Continue to Learn, FTMI,Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year or the BIGGA Delegation with Bernhard and Company. I was always involved in something that had an end date. But as COO, I was supporting people to achieve those targets for themselves. It’s very different, with a much wider outlook on what’s going on across the industry.

The opportunity to work with Bernhard and Company as education director of The Bernhard Academy was one that happened very quickly. BIGGA already works closely with Bernhard and Company as they are one of our valued premium partners. The Bernhard Academy is proof of their investment in developing greenkeepers and it enhances what BIGGA has been doing for the past 30 years, which is providing accessible education for greenkeepers and those who work in the sports turf industry. When I join The Bernhard Academy in April 2024, I will be working hard to ensure the two organisations work closely together to provide opportunites for people who are coming through and into the profession and building their career to reach the top.

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Sami and her husband Lee at BTME 2016


BTME 2024 will be my final event wearing the BIGGA jumper. I’ve seen BTME grow from just two and a half exhibition halls to six halls with an international conference alongside it. People come from all over the world to attend BTME and it has become the heartbeat of our industry.

I’m excited to see everyone there. I think there’s going to be lots of cups of tea, lots of chats, lots of hugs and probably a few tears along the way. But I’m not leaving the industry and I will continue to attend BTME.

Although this isn’t goodbye, I just want to say thank you to everybody for being so amazing. The members, all the people I’ve worked with, those who are no longer with us; they have turned me into the person I am today and I am so grateful. It’s been an amazing journey with BIGGA and I look forward to seeing how the association continues to thrive over the coming years.

Sami Strutt
Chief Operating Officer, BIGGA
December 2023


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