Similar to last year's 'Opening Doors with an R&A Scholarship' article (issue 45), the aim of this editorial is to continue with an up-to-date piece of information on four more of the fellas and what they've been up to.
This time, we have a much travelled group of greenkeepers, including a chap who has made it all the way to become an agronomist with an internationally renowned company! For the purpose of this article however, four scholars were chosen for their diversity and downright determination to succeed and to be the best they can be.
Realistically speaking, upwards of fifty scholars could have been used, including seasoned golf course managers such as Dave Edmondson, Island Golf Club, or Greg Fitzmaurice who plies his trade as the course manager at Hunley Golf Club. For now though, I will concentrate on the 'up and coming' stars of tomorrow.
I'll be honest with you; it's actually very easy writing about an R&A scholar. Why? Because, when I ask them if they would like to be a part of an article about themselves, they generally have lots of awards, greenkeeping history or an excellent level of tutoring from some of the best in the business to talk about.
Take Adam Newton for instance. He's managed to work his way to become an advisor for the STRI. Or Conor Hennessy and Sean McDonagh, two charismatic Irishmen who were chosen to represent the R&A's greenkeeping scholars at this year's Open Championship at Muirfield. Or maybe Stuart Hawker, only twenty-two and already educated to level six! See what I mean!
So, settle in for a twenty minute read and a brief insight into the amount of work these fellas put themselves through to earn the badge. The boys details are in alphabetical order:
In my humble opinion, I found Stuart to be one of those guys who probably has an outstanding career ahead of him, whether it is in greenkeeping or not. The reason I say this is because Stuart is just a twenty-two year old fella with an FdSc and a BSc (Hons) degree already under his belt! There aren't too many greenkeepers who can say that - I've just managed it and I'm old enough to be his dad!
During the many hours I spent researching my own thesis at Myerscough College, Stuart would help me out with washing and weighing my project's roots and shoots and, for this, I am eternally grateful, because Myerscough laboratories can be a lonely and spooky place on a Friday evening! Many thanks for the company Stuart!
Stuart wrote his own dissertation on the physical and chemical properties of sands within USGA guidelines. He assessed the difference between a number of sands that fell within the USGA spec. He concluded that, although they all fell within standard physical properties of the spec, they were proven to be different by statistical analysis, thus showing the importance of careful sand selection!
This research will come in handy as Stuart is much travelled. When I mention "much travelled", I mean Stuart has worked both in Europe and the States. His time in the States saw him working at East Lake, Atlanta, where the final Fedex competition of the year is held. Prior to that, he worked in Portugal for a Nick Faldo designed course. Stuart has also worked in Scotland at both the gWest Golf Resort and Castle Stuart - see what I mean about much travelled?
I asked Stuart if he could give me a few words on the R&A scholarship and here's his reply: "I have found the scholarship to be highly beneficial in both financial and social aspects, which has allowed me to progress within the industry, and meet some great people whom I shall stay in contact with." Need I say anymore?
As if being talented and ambitious wasn't enough, Stuart also has a keen eye for a photo! He managed to get one of his snaps of Castle Stuart into BIGGA's photo competition, which was selected to be June's picture.
Big things await this fella, of that I'm sure!
Okay, where do I start with this chap? Here goes ... Conor has had a real short greenkeeping career to date; three years to be precise. Prior to greenkeeping, he worked part time as a debt collector for an Irish bank which ran concurrently to his time studying engineering.
Conor graduated with an engineering degree in 2009, but felt that there was little or no work in that particular sector so, being ambitious and forward thinking, he started to look elsewhere. His searching did not take too long as a good friend of his, and former R&A scholar, Simon Connaughton, who is currently golf course manager at Golf Course Belgrade, Serbia, suggested he give greenkeeping a try.
He liked the idea of working outdoors and, in his own words, "what guy didn't want the chance to ride a tractor when they were a little kid?" So, he decided to jump straight into it with the National Certificate in Greenkeeping at Elmwood.
Conor mentions that, after starting the National Certificate and spending a season working in his native Ireland, greenkeeping was what he wanted to do. He knew, however, that he needed further experience in the industry, so he then went on to study the Higher National Certificate in Golf Course Management, then followed that up with Higher National Diploma, again in Golf Course Management.
Now, although I haven't studied either of those courses myself, I have heard from very reliable sources that they are quite difficult to complete; not only did Conor complete them with great grades, he won the Elmwood Campus award for Best Golf Course Management Student, 2013, so fantastic work Conor!
I guess 2013 is his year because he was selected, on behalf of the R&A, to represent the scholars at the Open Championship at Muirfield. His task was to work for two weeks prior to the Open where I am positive he gained valuable insight into golf course presentation to the highest possible standard.
During his time at Elmwood, he also had the chance to work at Kingsbarns for the week of the Dunhill Links Championship, in both 2011 and 2012, and says that he "hopes to get a chance to get back again this year". Is that a hint Conor?
With regards to work experience, Conor has worked at the Glen of Downs Golf Club, County Wicklow, under the tutelage of James Fisher where he indicates that he "learned lots". During his HNC year, he was posted off to the Royal Malta Golf Club, just outside the capital Valetta, via a European internship so he could receive some warm season grass experience - a little different to County Wicklow, I guess?
For this season however, Conor made his way over to Scandinavia to learn more about greenkeeping. The golf course he chose was Hauger, just outside Oslo, Norway, where temperatures in May can fall from the mid-twenties to below freezing! Sounds like a great place to learn about the trials and tribulations of greenkeeping!
The club has held competitions such as the Nordea Challenge and, this September, the ladies Norwegian Challenge.
Conor rates his time as an R&A scholar highly. "Throughout my time at Elmwood, over the past three years, I've been lucky enough to have the support of the R&A scholarship scheme which has benefitted me to no end. I don't think I would have been able to support myself through the end of my second year and all of my third year without their help. The R&A have introduced me to great people within the trade over the past few years, as well as offering me the opportunity to represent the scholarship programme at The Open Championship this year, along with two other scholars, working for two weeks in the lead up to the competition at Muirfield."
With regards to the future, he states that he has "nothing definite in store" (who does Conor?), but has been lucky to have met some great friends from around the globe through his time at Elmwood. Conor also would like to work on other continents and to keep on learning, experiencing new things and meeting new people. Maybe someone reading this may be able to help?
Unlike Conor, Sean started out in greenkeeping as a 'young un', sixteen to be accurate, at his local golf course - Oughterard in Galway, Ireland - where he had to find work experience before he left school. Sean held a keen interest in golf, so he asked the club if they could help, and the outcome was that he impressed them so much he returned for the following four years as a seasonal! Sean's former boss at Oughterard was David Dollimore who, Sean says, got him started, taught, and then encouraged him to continue in this marvellous industry that is greenkeeping.
Although Sean was still in school when he helped out at Oughterard, he knew then that greenkeeping was what he wanted to do so, when he completed his schooling, he went straight into further education at Warrenstown College in County Meath to study his Fetac 5 qualification. The following year, he attended Colaiste Stiofain Naofa in Co. Cork to study Fetac 6 Greenkeeping.
During his Fetac 6, Sean had work experience at Doonbeg Golf Club, Co. Clare, then spent the summer back at Oughterard.
In May 2011, Sean managed to get himself a fantastic placing at the Hauger Golf Club, Norway where I guess he impressed them enough to have been invited back for the 2013 season! During the 2011 season however, Sean spent two months in the Baltic region of Northern Europe - at the Estonian Golf and Country Club, Tallinn to be precise.
From 2011-2013, Sean seemed to be a very busy chap as, running concurrently with his time in Europe, he managed to squeeze in a Higher National Certificate in Golf Course Management (HNC) and also a Higher National Diploma (HND) from Elmwood College, Fife which, coincidentally, earned him his place on the R&A's scholarship programme!
Sean's feelings are similar to almost everyone I have spoken to about the scholarship, in that it does indeed 'open doors'. For instance, Sean has spent time on the island of South Uist at the stunning Askernish Golf Club. "It was a breathtaking experience to see a golf course in its raw nature and cared for as it was in the times of Old Tom Morris with little resources," states Sean. "I also had the privilege of attending the Wednesday of the Open at Royal Lytham last year thanks to the R&A sponsoring me a ticket, along with a tour of the media centre, press conference and the greenkeeping facility."
"As well as those fantastic events, I have also had the pleasure to attend other R&A gatherings, for example, at the annual meeting at Harrogate where we got to meet other scholars working in all parts of the world to share our experiences. We also got to visit the inside of the R&A clubhouse which is seen by very few!" Opening doors Sean? You bet!
The funding Sean received was put to good use too as it helped him find accommodation for his time studying at Elmwood. Sean is keen to point out that the scholarship provides some great opportunities other than the funding, and he strongly believes that the best part is the networking. "Over the two years of being a scholar, I have got to know some great people in the industry and, without the R&A, it would not have happened. During our time at College and attending R&A events, we have always been told that it is vital we get to know the people in our industry and I share the same mindset, especially as you never know where you are going to meet someone in the future." Wise words Sean and the very best of luck in the future!
Ten GCSE's; three A levels; NVQ Level 3; FdSc degree; BSc (Hons) degree; eleven years as a 1st assistant greenkeeper at Fulford; assistant pro in York and a scratch golfer ... this may take some time! Let me introduce you to a Mr Adam Newton who is currently an advisor for the STRI.
I had the honour of meeting Adam for the first time at the scholars gathering of 2012 in St Andrews, where I was instantly drawn to his ability to hold a logical greenkeeping conversation (not something I've ever managed to do!) and the fact that, being a scratch golfer, he knows his way around a golf course. I guess being a low handicap golfer gives you a certain understanding of the schematics and architecture of a golf course that us higher handicap players just don't see. I could be wrong on that one, but I don't think so.
This article, however, is more to do with education than playing golf, and greenkeeping education is a category Adam slides nicely into. On talking to him, you get the feeling that he isn't quite finished with education just yet!
His first step into higher education saw him gaining an FdSc in Sportsturf Science where he won the prestigious Barenbrug Turf Award. His FdSc subsequently led onto a BSc (Hons) in Sportsturf where, listen to this, he won something else! This time he only went and won the Martyn Jones award and not only that, he graduated with a FIRST! Online students rarely pass with a first, so well done Adam!
Along with the letters after his name, Adam is also FACTS (Fertiliser Advisor Certification Training Scheme) certified which is certainly no mean feat!
"The R&A scholarship has been extremely valuable to me and has been an amazing experience," extolls Adam. "We've been lucky enough to visit the R&A clubhouse at St Andrews, attend and get behind the scenes at the Open, as well as visiting the amazing Askernish golf club in the outer Hebrides where golf is seen in its most natural form. I've loved every bit of the scholarship and have had some great opportunities from which I have learnt a lot and met some great people who I regularly keep in touch with. I would recommend the scholarship to anyone, it's a fantastic experience."
Right, that's enough superlatives on the boys for now. Let's hear from the boss! The R&A's Director, Golf Course Management, Steve Isaac, who explains the rationale behind the R&A Greenkeeping Scholarship Programme.
"The R&A has made awards to support talented young golfers continue through higher education for many years. In 2004, it was decided to start a programme to provide similar support to greenkeepers, making a contribution towards the costs of those who want to attain higher level qualifications to help them with their career progression. We are delighted to have been able to help more than 165 students to date, investing nearly £0.5 million in the course managers of the future in the process, and are always looking at ways to enhance the financial support we provide with opportunities for our scholars to widen their experience."
"Although restricted to those studying at Elmwood and Myerscough Colleges in the UK, The R&A's Greenkeeping Scholarship Programme is truly international. It supports working greenkeepers taking part-time, full-time and distance learning courses, the latter enabling students from around the world to apply through the Colleges for a scholarship. Since 2004, greenkeepers from nineteen countries have benefitted from R&A support."
That's it for now, I guess; I've reached my word limit. By the time this article has gone to print, I will have completed my stint as a scholar of the R&A. For the assistance and guidance they have shown me, I am deeply grateful, and I, just like the rest of the guys, will have taken away tons of memories that I hope will never fade. Many thanks R&A!