My View

Why Higher Education for greenkeepers?

Andy Owen of Myerscough College shares his views on greenkeeper education.

By Andy Owen

11th November 2013
Managing personnel
Generating golf green performance data at Askernish Golf Club. Essential data for discussion about sustainable management  

The value of Higher Education within an applied subject such as greenkeeping is often questioned and I have found myself, on occasion, defending the choices made by some students to study this vocational subject to degree level.  It has been the subject of industry bulletin boards and trade show conversations, and more generally, the value of vocational degrees has been a subject for discussion in the international press.  I thought I would add to the conversation.

Greenkeeping is not a simple job.  The challenges of managing a range of turf surfaces to a sufficient quality for the game of golf are tremendous.  There is a growing requirement to present pristine surfaces for 12 months of the year to meet the needs and often unrealistic demands of a critical consumer.  Moreover this has to be achieved with a shrinking budget, in an increasingly competitive market, under growing climatic irregularity and hopefully in a sustainable fashion.  This is demanding.  It may sound bleak, but I am optimistic.  Year on year I see a new intake of greenkeeping students, keen, enthusiastic and undoubtedly part of the future of our industry, it will be the same at every institution offering sports turf and greenkeeping courses worldwide.  These students are using Higher Education, coupled with work experience, as a means to prepare themselves for the challenges of the future.

Higher Education

Higher Education courses should provide subject specific knowledge and graduate key skills.

In order to meet these challenges the modern greenkeeper has to demonstrate the theoretical background knowledge to confidently make selections from the potentially bewildering host of machinery and chemicals available to utilise within the role.  There is a need to understand the research which should accompany each product, to question the sales literature and sales people, to competently trial a new product in order to provide useful and meaningful data and then to make an informed decision.  In an ideal world it should be incumbent on the successful greenkeeper to share their triumphs and their failures with others in the industry with confidence that the information was collected without bias, and with sound scientific principles.  This can only help us build firm foundations for our greenkeeping future.

I would like to see a wider acceptance of routine, accurate and sound data collection across the industry.  There is a growing array of measurement equipment available, and these should be embraced and utilised correctly to inform management decisions, it should be possible to collect data within the greenkeeping team, or if necessary by employing an agronomist.  However collected, the data should be rigorously analysed, compared with previous results and future targets set. Benchmarking and goal setting adds real value to turf management and supports the greenkeeper and the results which can, and are being achieved for golf surfaces everywhere.

Laboratory Testing
Laboratory testing of rootzones; the key science behind golf green construction.

Higher Education courses that are well designed and competently delivered should do a number of things; essentially they should provide subject specific knowledge and graduate key skills.  Higher Education provides understanding of underpinning science and technology and critical thinking skills.  It is the combination of these skills that will enable the professional greenkeeper to critically evaluate current practice and embrace new ideas. The solutions may not be immediately apparent and there will always be a need to encourage, educate and develop talented greenkeepers.  These talented greenkeepers will need to have a wide view of the industry, and be able to synthesise and evaluate ideas from other land based sectors.  They will need to innovate themselves; meet the challenges that face the profession and do this following the sound sustainable principles required by a flourishing and expanding industry.

Part of this future for the industry is a thriving Higher Education sector to train and engage these greenkeepers, to promote knowledge and develop skills.  This should not replace experience gained on the job under an innovative and supportive manager, this is invaluable.  However Higher Education and experience complement each other, allowing the aspiring greenkeeper to gain exponentially from undertaking good practice, being able to ask questions, to process the information and to appraise new ideas.

Every student graduating from a Higher Education qualification who takes a position in our industry is increasing the professional standing of the job.

So, greenkeepers enrolling in such courses, need to be applauded and supported as they are in America where it is commonplace to see well qualified superintendents and turf science courses at every University.  In my view with all this in place the international greenkeeping industry can strengthen, professionalise and help promote good practice across the sector.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not, necessarily, those of The R&A.