Speaking out - A call to arms

Editorin Golf

Twenty-three-year-old Course Manager Danny Patten (Dan) is wise beyond his years. He already has a clear vision of how he wants to help his club and, in this candid interview, he shares with us what he feels are some important issues that need to be addressed in the industry.

After initially sitting down with Dan, I could see the passion he has for the industry and he expressed his concerns for its future. I believe he is one of many shining lights, who can be a role model for those young greenkeepers/groundsmen already in the industry or those looking to start.

Dan was keen to air his views on the fact we are struggling to attract new people to the industry and what we can do to try and change this before it becomes a real dilemma. Also, the struggle greenkeepers are facing with dealing with damage caused by leatherjackets and chafer grubs.

"I think our industry is changing and social media plays a massive part in that. I see a lot of people wanting to get their name out there to be this kind of superstar, by saying I've done this and I've done that. I think these people gain a lot of attention but,

in my opinion, our attention should be focused on making sure the industry is right. I fell into it through playing golf and reading Pitchcare articles and there seems to be a trend where people try to make it in golf and then go to the next best option; to work on a golf course."

"This may sound silly to some, but I look at it like this; why would the next generation want to come into work in winter to get soaked right through to their socks, be cold all day, shiver and go to bed ready to do the same thing the next day? The alternative is to go on Love Island, have eight weeks in a villa where everything is done for you and then make a living off being a famous influencer and doing jack. If I was to go back, I know what I would choose," Dan laughs.

In reality, Dan is right! Some people may disagree with his analogy of the situation, but there is a lot of truth in what he is trying to put across.

Social media is a powerful tool in today's society. Being part of the social media age, Dan explains it has a significant role in attracting younger people to start a career, in what is essentially a rewarding industry if you are willing to work hard.

"We should use social media platforms a lot more to highlight an industry with many options and avenues; once you are qualified, you can become a groundsman, work in sales, become an agronomist or take various other paths."

"I do not think the industry is doing enough to secure the future and I believe this goes back to the leatherjacket/chafer problem. The governing bodies are not really doing anything to help us. Why aren't the big courses that hold major events suffering the same as we are and what are they doing differently? I know they have bigger budgets, more staff and machinery to use during tournaments, but they still have a lead up to the event to get the greens to where they are and I would be interested to know what they doing differently to the rest of us?"

"I feel we don't share enough in this industry and help each other out. I'm very fortunate to have the backing of the club, fellow greenkeepers and ICL to help my job be much more manageable."

Dan is also concerned about the number of people who have been forced to take leave or who have left the industry due to their mental health.

"I find it really frightening, so much so that it scared me to take over the position as course manager. I was told that I would be crucified, especially at my age, but luckily that has not been the case. The number of former course managers saying they will never do it again, it's not worth the stress, is concerning. You think to yourself, why is there not more help from within the industry to help these guys. I know BIGGA has started to help greenkeepers who are struggling with mental health, but I believe that there needs to be a lot more from other governing bodies in our industry to help support greenkeepers in a stressful industry. I believe the answer could be to have welfare officers who are employed to go and visit greenkeepers/groundsman who seek advice or just want to talk about their mental health issues.

Personally speaking, I can only see many of these issues Dan mentions getting worse if they are not addressed soon. I touched on the fact that the weather has been a lot more changeable in recent years and chemicals that we have relied on are constantly coming off the market. Along with other factors coming into play, they are starting to put a lot more pressure on greenkeepers and groundspersons.

What is the biggest challenge in our job?

"Probably working around the weather, so why is this not being communicated more widely with the golfing public? The problem is, if you have a bad spell of weather and the greens start to suffer for no fault of your own, the first reaction from members is that the greens are rubbish and you do not know how to do your job. Imagine someone coming up to you saying you don't know how to do your job, and you find out they are a joiner, for example, I wouldn't dream of telling them how to hang a door."

"Course managers and head greenkeepers have been employed to provide the best course they can, at that given time. I come into work every morning at 5:30am and think about how I can produce the best surfaces today with the conditions we have. At the end of the day, I know I have done the best I can, along with my team and if people are not happy, unfortunately, that is their problem."

After leaving school at sixteen, Dan got a place at Elite Sports Academy in Liverpool, studying and playing golf. He did this for a year and a half and got his handicap down to two before waking up one morning and saying to himself; I don't want to do this anymore.

"Playing competitive golf was not keeping my interest. I was practising my chipping one day in August on one of the greens and saw one of the lads on a Gator, so I went over to see what they were doing. They were coring the new tenth green at Lee Park Golf Club, so I started to chat with them about why they core, and the next minute I found myself helping them clear up the cores. After we finished, the course manager Jon McMullen approached me about what was I doing tomorrow and asked me if I fancy getting up at 5:00am to help with the maintenance, and I jumped at the opportunity."

"Bernie, one of the greenkeepers, offered to give me a lift. Jon was waiting at the shutters and he was stunned to see me there so early. Straight away, he put me on a triple mower and instructed me to cut the greens. After cutting the first two greens, John gave me his approval and said to carry on with the rest; I knew at that moment this was what I wanted to do. I went and spoke to Steve Settle (general manager) and asked if there were any apprenticeships. After he spoke to the council, they decided to take me on for two days a week. Then, one of the greenkeepers left, leaving a position open for me to join full time as an apprentice, so I left the academy and joined Myerscough College."

Dan is a prime example to any young greenkeepers and groundspersons of what can be achieved if you are willing to work and develop a passion for the industry, which is vital if you want to succeed and work your way up the ladder.

"As I completed my NVQ Level Two, I was looking online and saw an article about the Toro Awards Scheme and saw an opportunity to help progress my career. I applied and carried out my first regional interview with Gwynn Davies, who was Course Manager at the Mere at that time. Two days later, he rang to say I had interviewed well and offered me a position. At the time, I thought it was a big step up to work at such a well-known course and I jumped at the chance. Gwynn left two days after I started and I went on to win the Toro Young Student Greenkeeper of the Year Award. My time there lasted six months, before I decided I needed to move, as I didn't particularly appreciate how corporate courses are managed and I felt like I was just a number."

"I was at BTME and I met up with the new manager of Lee Park, Mark Rabone, who wanted me to go back as the first assistant. Before I went back, I went to France to do my work experience at Vidauban Golf Course under Stephen Byrne, which was part of winning the award. It was the best two weeks of my life and it taught me a lot about greenkeeping; it really inspired me to work harder and get my head down. I lasted another six months at Lee Park, before getting a phone call from the course manager at Huyton and Prescot inviting me to go on a course walk and have a general chat. He asked if I would like to join here as the first assistant with a chance of becoming deputy. They were investing a lot of money to improve the course, so I decided it would be a good move. Within two years of joining the club, I became course manager."

I asked Dan what he feels has led him to become a course manager of a well-established golf course at such a young age and what advice he has for those who are just starting out or at a similar stage of their careers.

"I'm just passionate about my job and I have shown the club how certain things would work by taking them out on the course and educating them on how things can be improved. I have built a good relationship with the club manager, John Fisher as well as the committee and, if they say no, it's for a reason and it might just need to be explained in a different way. For example, if there is something crucial such as scarifying the greens this autumn, I will show them the thatch layer we have and how, if we undertake the work, it will produce firmer and better greens throughout the years. It's all about communication and physically highlighting the issues and how they can be solved, enabling me to get the backing I need. I think having good contacts within the industry has been vital to helping me achieve my goals so far."

"The most important advice I could give to anyone looking to start a career in the sportsturf industry is to ask questions and don't be scared to go up to a course manager/head groundsman or anyone; if you don't, you are not going to know the answers. Get involved in voluntary events like golf championships or matchdays and just put yourself out there. Do not be scared to get involved. I'm also a firm believer in getting a good education to help you learn about the fundamental side of the job but, at the same time, you can't buy experience as that is the biggest part of the job when starting out."

Dan is currently Course Manager at Huyton and Prescot Golf Club in Merseyside.

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