A career change in his early 40s has led to trainee greenkeeper Gregg Hood winning SRUC Elmwood's annual John Deere HNC Student of the Year Award, sponsored by John Deere and Scottish turf dealer Double A. Gregg was selected for his conscientious and enthusiastic approach to his programme of studies during the 2017/2018 academic year.
Award winner Gregg Hood (left) with Sandy Armit, managing director of sponsoring John Deere dealer Double A
Born and bred in Glasgow, Gregg had a successful career as a qualified accountant and then a mortgage broker before making the jump into greenkeeping at the age of 42. "It was one of those life changing decisions that I just had to make," he says. "I had thought for a couple of years that it was time for a change. I've always loved my golf, and thought it was a great environment to work in. I was also interested in how golf courses are put together, how they're looked after and made to look so good.
"My partner Lisa was very supportive, so I finally left work in June 2017 and applied to the SRUC, having been in contact with Elmwood's greenkeeping coordinator Mike Clark for a year or so before that. We agreed that the HNC in Golf Course Management would be the best entry level course for me, combined with volunteering on a golf course to get some practical experience."
That golf course turned out to be St Andrews Links, where Gregg started volunteering two days a week from September 2017, about two weeks after starting the course. "It's been fantastic, and course manager Kevin Muir and his team couldn't have been more helpful. Everyone's been very happy to give me the benefit of their time and knowledge, so it's been an absolutely brilliant opportunity.
"Going in I was obviously a little apprehensive about my age, but both Mike and Kevin said if you show a good attitude and you're there to learn, then as long as you can do the work and be a part of the team, there are no issues. I haven't given it another thought since.
"I've never been part of anything like this before, certainly not in accountancy, where there's always that element of competition, even when you're working in a team. The only competition on a golf course is to improve your skills and make yourself a better greenkeeper. People at St Andrews Links and the college are really impressive, and all round I've found it to be a very encouraging environment to work in - I'm still very excited by it all.
"I'm now a BIGGA member and contracted at St Andrews Links until November 2018, and if a permanent position became available then I'd definitely apply. If not then I might try a warm weather grass course abroad over the winter months. Ultimately I would like to hone my skills and get more experience, including tournaments at other courses."
Course tutor Paul Miller, who is based at SRUC's Elmwood campus in Cupar, Fife, adds: "Gregg's decision to change career was made after a great deal of research, preparation and consideration of all the implications. This thoroughness of preparation soon became evident in his course work, which he produced most conscientiously and to a very high standard right from day one - his commitment to making the most of the learning opportunity was impressive.
"Quickly realising that he would also need to build up his practical skills and his industry networking, Gregg volunteered to work at St Andrews Links, again demonstrating his enthusiasm and willingness to learn in that environment as well as in the classroom. He also applied for and was successful in gaining an R&A Greenkeeping Scholarship through SRUC.
"Having also secured a seasonal position on St Andrews Links, Gregg's development continues apace. We all look forward to watching his growth in the industry and the contribution that he will make to greenkeeping as his career progresses."