BIGGA – British and International Greenkeepers Association

The eleventh BIGGA Delegation to GIS, ten British Greenkeepers talk about their life-changing experience in San Diego

Posted on May 03, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Timothy Johnson has been Assistant Greenkeeper at the Wilmslow for 5 years and loves his job. “The satisfaction of working on something everyday and see it improve for the members is very rewarding. There is always more to learn and I knew this trip would be a chance of a lifetime and a good opportunity to test myself.

What I saw was a different world, a different way of life. The Greenkeepers we met have the same problems, issues and expectations as us, but a very different climate to work with and a lot more people to do the work.

The highlight of the trip for me was visiting the golf courses. La Costa, Torrey Pines and Las Encinitas were really amazing and we were made to feel so welcome. Thank you so much to Steve Auckland, Kent Graff and Paul Cushing.

Everyone we met at GIS was genuinely friendly and nice. I think the trip has changed me already. I learned so much about myself, feel more confident and have made new friends for life. The whole thing was such a privilege.”

Rob Clare, Course Manager at Brough Golf Course, Humberside said, “Everything happened so quickly I’ve not had time to process it yet. The courses were really fantastic, but the main thing for me was the discussions with the other 9 guys. Managers, Greenkeepers and Deputies but amongst this lot – no egos and no elitism… it was such a great experience. They were all top-notch fellas at the cutting edge and are people who are going somewhere – so they all had some interesting things to say, informative and inspirational and made some good observations. The talent in this country is unbelievable. I felt humbled by the younger guys too. They are going to achieve so much, and I think they appreciated some career advice from me too. I told them to have the confidence to do the Foundation Degree. I like to talk shop, but don’t get much of a chance.

I was amazed to have open access to Torrey Pines which was incredible, and I enjoyed the seminars and trade show.

It was nice to dress up at GIS and I felt proud to be representing Britain.

Lots of the US guys came and talked to us… curious to know why we were there. We talked everything from pesticides to food.

The Show? I thought it was quite inventive. There were things that are not available in this country, things that were interesting to learn about and things that we are not allowed to be used in the UK – chemicals for example. I have mixed feelings about that. Some are very useful, but others can be dangerous.

Every time I think back to the trip it makes me smile… I will always have what I took away from it.”

James Parker, Deputy Head Greenkeeper from Close House Golf Country Club, Durham said, “I was desperate to see how things are done in USA, and relieved to know that we are not that far behind. At Close House we have a course staff of twenty six which is high, so I was interested to learn about the training and see if there were things I could take back home to help us train more efficiently. Meeting the guys has been wonderful. Every one of us gets on so well and we’ve already fixed up to meet again."

After working for 4 years in the NHS as a nurse James became disillusioned with the system and knew he wanted a change. His father in law, Club Pro at Durham Golf Course suggested Greenkeeping. "I wrote to 40 clubs. Had one reply, and knew straight away it was for me.

I love my job. Love everything about it - in fact it doesn’t feel like work at all. I was overwhelmed to be offered a place on the trip as I’ve not been in the industry very long. I have tried to catch up with everyone by going above and beyond, volunteering for tournaments etc. My boss, Peter Newton influenced my career hugely because he’s so driven and expects everyone that works with him to give 100% every day. He is a bit of a pioneer, so he’s hugely respected and I’m very lucky."

Derrick Johnstone, Deputy Head Greenkeeper at Wentworth has been in the business for 17 years and also loves what he does. “I love working outside and I love golf.

I was very happy and excited to be chosen to come on the trip and really looked forward to working with the group and meeting as many people in the industry as possible.

I really enjoyed the education seminars. They were well organised and very interesting. The visit to Torrey Pines was absolutely amazing. What a place; and La Costa and Las Encinitas were fascinating. GIS was vast – all 175,000 sq ft of it and so much to see.

The other 9 Delegates are a great bunch of lads and we learned a lot from each other. It was good to be able to share our experiences and we will definitely keep in touch.”

Daniel Norsworthy always wanted to become a Golf Pro, having played golf since he was ten. He left school to study Travel and Tourism at University, but the draw of the golf course was too strong, so when he saw an advert for a Trainee Greenkeeper at Cranleigh he went for it. After 3 years he was offered the job of Assistant Greenkeeper at The Richmond where he’s been since 2004 working under Les Howkins, who he says is a great boss and Master Greenkeeper.

"I love being outside working with nature and I like presenting a golf course for my members. We are a team of ten and I really enjoy the camaraderie.

I hoped on this trip to meet more people in the industry, to gain knowledge and learn different techniques and the visits were a big eye opener. Because all the US Greenkeepers have a university background it seems they have a really good in-depth understanding of their job, and seeing this has given me a more authoritative position.”

Lee Brady has been at Muswell Hill , North London for nearly 6 years. He loves his job as First Assistant Greenkeeper. “I really enjoy working outdoors and there are great people in this industry and always so much to learn.

This trip has changed my outlook on what I want to do. It’s given me confidence and affirmed that I can do my job well. I’d never have met the people I’ve talked to over the week – from all different backgrounds, top guys in the industry. I’ve learned so much in the seminars and from all the conversations.

I was surprised at how similar most of our jobs and issues are, but how different we do some things, particularly the amount of chemicals the Americans still use. I think we are much more sustainable in UK.

Working on the BIGGA stand at the show was excellent. I enjoyed the change to talk to American Superintendents about what we do in the UK.”

Asa English, Deputy Course Manager, Rothley Park Golf Club already knew Richard and Bruce from working at the Open on a regular basis, but, he said, “all 9 of us met up at the airport and got on straight away.

Overall I thought it was a very professional industry in US. It seemed to me that the clubs have the top Superintendents, one or two skilled staff and then lots of labourers whereas we seem to train everyone to do all jobs. Maybe that’s because we employ less staff. My club is small, only 6 staff, so we all need to know how to do everything. The US clubs we looked at had a big staff of general labourers on a low basic wage.

I gained a lot of self-confidence from the trip and speaking to so many new people helped me to appreciate what I do because I could compare it with them. Chatting to the Delegates you are picking up things all the time. We all learned things from each other. I thoroughly enjoyed the main Seminar on aerification and water management – very interesting. I’ve not dealt with moisture meters before, but they are obviously more important in the US with their climate. They are still a good indicator for us to use. I spoke to my boss since I got back and he is looking at possibly investing in it. The other thing that was useful to learn is that there’s no set in stone way of doing something – it depends on the conditions.

I really enjoyed the GIS. Being accustomed to Harrogate it was good to see the different standards and manufacturers.

The visit to Torrey Pines was very special for me. It’s a top course in the US and a privilege to wander around it. I enjoyed my stint on the BIGGA stand handing out applications to American lads and I enjoyed chatting to them. They were interested in how we work in our climate. It was great to make 9 very good friends, networking colleagues and to meet Bernhard staff; to be able to talk about the industry and the passion behind the industry. Overall the trip has given me confidence to move my career forward.”

Richard Jenkinson has been at G West for four years. He joined in 2009 when, he says, “a lot was going on. It looked a bit like a lunar landscape. I’d never seen anything like it. The holes had not been shaped; the majority of greens were not built so it was bare landscape and soil movement. Because G West is not open yet I have felt a little isolated from greenkeeping – so it was very good for me to be immersed in it for a week.

The opportunity for the trip was the first surprise to me, and then getting chosen blew me away. It was great to spend time with 9 other guys. We are all after the same thing career and learning wise. Not only do I feel I’ve made friends for life, but I know I can turn to any one of them at any time.

The show was brilliant. It’s hard to describe but I still feel in awe of the whole experience.

The seminars were interesting and very interactive. I like the way we were able to ask questions as we went along. We didn’t have to wait to the end, which was really useful.

Torrey Pines and Le Costa are very different given how close they are to each other, but it seemed to me that the pressures of our jobs are the same as theirs. We are both working hard to achieve the best

I imagine that the US would be less mindful of chemical and fertiliser use – so that didn’t come as any surprise – but they are dealing with such different climates, extreme temperatures, different grasses, so different problems. They are more intensive – but I do feel they are coming round to more sustainable management of their courses.

Everyone was so friendly, so welcoming. I felt very fortunate to be on this once in a lifetime trip, and I learned so much. Only yesterday I was looking at the course notes to see if I could implement anything here in GWest.”

Bruce Hicks has spent his whole 22-year career at Boston Golf Club in Lincolnshire where he is Head Greenkeeper.

“I was very honoured to be chosen as a delegate and excited to be going to San Diego.

I had the impression that the big places had big budgets so the ones we saw did not surprise me; but there were some clear differences. One thing I noticed - the Americans practise more than the British do. At the 3 golf courses we visited there were SO many people on the driving range – and I gather they are always busy.

Another difference is that I think in the US the Members seem to trust the man at the top as being a professional – and so funding his decisions is easier and more straightforward.

Pesticide regulations are more relaxed…and to produce courses at the level that they do that is expected. I was very surprised by the cost of water in California. This is a big issue for them. La Costa spends $700,000 a year on water.

I really enjoyed the education seminars. They were full days, 8 – 5 and they were good all the way through, well organised, informative, interesting and the 3 speakers were great. The aeration technical bits I found interesting and I’m going to give them a go. There are a few bits I’ve not seen or done before, so I might try them on one or two greens and see if it makes a difference. After 23 years Greenkeeping it’s difficult to reinvent the wheel… but there is always something to learn.

The trip was a great chance to meet old friends, John Jennings of Shinnecock Hills. I’d not seen him since 2003 – and Sean Sullivan. It was great to see them both, and then making new friends with the other Delegates.”

Paul Handy has worked at Newport Golf Club for 15 years, the last 6 of them as Head Greenkeeper.

He is a firm believer in sustainable greenkeeping using traditional practices alongside new techniques. Paul has been on the BIGGA South Wales Section Committee for 5 years and is in his second year as Chairman.

Paul enjoyed every minute of the trip, particularly manning the BIGGA stand at GIS. “It was great to chat to so many Superintendents and interesting to see how their techniques differ from ours. I loved the visits to La Costa and the legendary Torrey Pines – such different courses, so close to each other. It did surprise me how expensive water is, and also the quantity of chemicals they use.

I was very thrilled to be selected to come on this trip and it fulfilled every dream.

The bonus was meeting the other 9 Delegates. We all got on so well and it’s good to be able to bounce ideas off each other. We met so many people, exchanged so many thoughts – and all of it makes you think about how you do things.”

Everyone agreed the American experience was invaluable, the friendships made were exceptional, and the benefits from the trip will be felt for a very long time.

The message again to come from America seems to be the status of Superintendents. All the delegates felt that they had an extra authority – that comes from their professional status. They are listened to and respected by the club members.