BIGGA CEO Appeal

BIGGA CEO appeals for greater support for greenkeepers and golf club staff following BTME 2022

As the UK golfing industry prepares itself for another bumper summer, the chief executive of the UK’s greenkeepers’ association has issued a rallying cry for the game to reinvest in golf club staff who make the game possible.

Speaking following the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME), BIGGA CEO Jim Croxton said that with golf participation and membership booming, the time has come for the leading bodies in the game to make a priority of the workforce in golf clubs that facilitate our great sport.

BTME is the annual education conference and exhibition for golf greenkeepers and is held in Harrogate each year. With hundreds of hours of educational opportunities for greenkeepers and groundspeople, it is considered among the most influential events in the golfing calendar, particularly at a grassroots level.

BTME was unable to take place in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but saw a successful return this year, albeit delayed due to concerns regarding the Omicron variant last winter. BTME 2022 saw 2,577 unique visitors attend the trade show, which represents a drop of around 40% on 2020. Over 70% of the visitors to the show were in senior ‘decision making’ roles, such as course managers and head greenkeepers.

Although numbers were down, the event was enjoyed by those in attendance with many exhibitors reporting valuable business done as the Harrogate Convention Centre’s exhibition halls buzzed with the greenkeeping industry reconvening properly for the first time in over two years. A common topic of discussion in the halls, conferences and social interactions was the challenges currently facing the industry.

Jim said: “When the pandemic hit, the industry came together to form a ‘wartime cabinet’ that supported the game through extremis. With fewer high-profile crises facing the sport, the emergency footing has abated. However, there remain a number of serious challenges, such as the supply chain issues for machinery and equipment and the cost and availability of water, fuel and raw materials such as fertilisers and sands. The labour crisis is another major issue that we simply must address to keep the sport healthy.

“For many years the main focus of the game has been growing the number of people playing golf. The pandemic effectively gave us 2 million extra golfers in the UK and that has brought significant additional revenue into the game. It’s now time for clubs to focus on the importance of their workforce, without whom the sport would wither on the vine. 

“The success of this year’s Continue to Learn education programme at BTME has proved once again that BIGGA members continue to rise to the challenge that managing a golf course in the 21st Century brings. Today’s greenkeepers are better educated than ever before, overcoming the challenges they face each day to present stunning golf courses for their members to enjoy. Greenkeepers have held up their end of the bargain and now it is time for the golf industry to do the same.”

Among key areas of concern for Jim and the BIGGA team are the conditions that greenkeepers are expected to work in. While some forward-thinking clubs now provided modern, clean and comfortable facilities for their greenkeeping teams, many still force their team to use outdated facilities that are no longer fit for purpose.

Other significant areas of concern are salaries, particularly for entry level staff and those making their way through the ranks. Additionally, the incredibly-high expectations placed upon greenkeepers to present golf courses despite the often limited resources made available to them, which can cause significant stress and mental health problems.

BIGGA is an active participant in the Committee for Golf Club Salaries (CGCS), which this year issued a recommendation to increase salaries for golf club staff by 5 per cent to help with the rising cost of living, as well as an increased awareness of the vital role staff play in the success of a facility. However, the guidelines are recommendations that not all clubs adhere to.

Jim added: “I was at a gathering of golf club leaders last autumn and asked the attendees to put their hands up if they would be prepared to work in the facilities they provide for their greenkeepers. Only a minority raised their hands and that shows an awareness of how we aren’t looking after the staff who play such a critical role in the success of golf businesses and the wider sport. It is also, of course, important to point out the challenges that club managers and other staff are facing in a rapidly changing and demanding industry. Golf is a sport that is delivered by people at facility level; every club is autonomous and this leads to huge variations in pay, conditions and welfare for the staff members in those facilities. 

“Greenkeeping is a wonderful profession with many physical and mental health benefits and a wide range of career opportunities. It’s time for golf clubs to put their staff first, invest in their wellbeing and for a framework to be put in place that ensures every facility in the country treats their staff in a respectful and appropriate manner.”

For more information about the British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association, visit www.bigga.org