Mike Emptage, assistant greenkeeper at St Augustines Golf Club, Ramsgate, Kent, has become 2006 champion student greenkeeper, after winning this year's prestigious Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year Award.
The competition, now in its 17th year, was open to the 3,000-plus greenkeepers in the UK and Ireland, who are currently studying for industry qualifications, and had been nominated to enter by their colleges.
Mike, 25, was nominated by Hadlow College, where he is training to achieve his NVQ Level 2 Amenity Horticulture (Sports Turf). He then proceeded through a regional final before going before a panel of specialist judges at the national final of the competition, which is sponsored by turf machinery and irrigation systems manufacturer Toro, and Toro's UK distributor Lely, and organised by BIGGA.
Mike's prize is a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime trip to the United States early next year, with all expenses paid. There he'll attend a six-week residential turf management study course at the University of Massachusetts. Following that, he will visit The Toro Company's worldwide headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Toro Irrigation division, as well as the renowned Golf Course Superintendents Association of America Conference and Show in Anaheim.
Mike, who is also a volunteer coastguard in Thanet, and a keen golfer, says: "I was staggered when I heard I'd won this award. The opportunity to travel to America will be a huge boost to my career."
Sally Flanagan, Work Based Learning Manager at Hadlow College, says: "I am so proud of both Mike and his tutor, John Millen, who has supported him throughout the competition and continues to support him in completing his qualification."
The 2006 competition joint runners-up were Abigail Crosswood, 18, an assistant greenkeeper at Newquay Golf Club, Cornwall, who attended Duchy College Training Agency; and James Billington, 23, an assistant greenkeeper at Portal Premier Golf and Country Club, Tarporley, Cheshire, who is studying at Reaseheath College.
Toro commercial turf maintenance products are distributed throughout mainland UK by Lely (UK) Limited, St Neots, Cambridgeshire (tel: 01480 226800), and in all of Ireland by Lely Ireland Limited, Kilboggin, Nurney, Co. Kildare (tel: 00 353 (0)45 526170).
Photo caption: Mike Emptage, winner of the 2006 Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year Award, with joint runners-up James Billington and Abigail Crosswood.