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How Golfers Can Support Mental Health of Greenkeepers

By: | Fri 07 Feb 2020 | Comments

Article by Golfshake Ambassador Andrew Picken

I was intrigued to hear about a recent event held at the Harrogate Convention Centre organised by BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition. The BTME 2020 provided a showcase for industry professionals to share ideas and review new products. I am always intrigued by BIGGA and recognise that without the skills of our greenkeepers we would not have a game to play.

At Golfshake, we have worked with BIGGA closely and they have supported us by helping with a series of instructional videos offering advice as to how we as golfers can best protect our course.

I was interested to hear how a recipient of one of the awards received a standing ovation from his peers and decided to try and discover the full story on your behalf.

Michael Davie was awarded with the Outstanding Contribution of the Year Award sponsored by Jacobsen, during the event hosted by Naga Munchetty. Michael (59) is the course manager at Hazel Grove Golf Club in Stockport. He is known for his tireless support towards his peers and colleagues.

(Hazel Grove Head Greenkeeper Michael Davie Alongside Jacobsen’s Will Carr)

I spoke to Michael and found him to be a quietly spoken man who had a brilliantly simple idea that has flourished benefitting both himself and nearly 500 other greenkeepers.

Having overcome periods of depression in his own life, Michael attended a Stress Awareness Course. He realised that the issues of wellbeing and good mental health in greenkeeping staff were not being adequately addressed and in July of 2018 he established a closed Facebook group called the “Greenkeepers Mental Health Support Group.”

The group description sums up simply what his idea was all about: “We offer support and strength without judgement.”

In discussions with Michael, he describes the group as a safe environment for BIGGA members where the act of seeking help is seen as a strength and not a weakness. He arranges regular group meetings encouraging those attending not to be scared of a dialogue.

Reacting to the news of the BIGGA Award, Michael said: “I’m exceptionally humbled to receive this, it’s totally unexpected and really amazing. I am retiring from greenkeeping in a few months and I hope the extra time that gives me will allow me to develop the mental health side of things.”

Michael doesn’t have any medical training, but simply through experience is able to recognise the signs of a person in trouble. He added: “My main aim is to give an ear, and provide a signpost towards support.”

The site is a non-judgemental, safe place for the members accessing it but contains information regarding stress awareness days and inspirational quotes.

Michael no longer plays golf himself. He decided to leave the game as he was a scratch golfer who was struggling through age to do what he could previously do on the course. He left at the very top however by playing at Muirfield. He closed his final round, par, birdie, par, par. Not a bad way to sign off a golfing career.

His retirement is looming after a career in golf lasting 29 years and he intends to use the time to get more training and take up the game of bowls.  

I asked Michael how we as golfers could better support our greenkeeping staff and his response was enlightening.

“One snowflake comment quickly becomes a snowfall that can easily become a blizzard.”

He explained that social media use by golfers is an issue for many greenkeeping staff. Poorly informed complaints about the state of courses by members using closed groups on platforms such as “WhatsApp” can easily develop into a real problem for the individual staff concerned.

He encourages course reviews like those on Golfshake as they are attributed to a named golfer, are public and provide useful feedback for improvement.

However, as golfers we should realise that golf clubs are communities and most greenkeeping staff are more engaged in the development courses and clubs than many members.

Years ago, a written compliant by a club member would be in the form of a letter and took time and effort to compose. Now in the days of instant communication a few simple key taps can have a devastating effect on those involved.

Whenever I am reviewing a golf course of whatever standard I always try and seek out the greenkeeping staff as they are the best informed and most knowledgeable about the strengths and weaknesses of the individual layout.

I use their knowledge and interest as an ally to my own thoughts and impressions. Next time you are out and about at your club please take the time to engage your greenkeeping staff. They are a brilliant resource for improving your own game and scores.

  • Who knows your course better than those who get their hands dirty in maintaining it?
  • Who knows the greens better than the staff who cut it?
  • Watching a green in heavy rain is a real education as well. Where does the water go? Use this information when assessing lines for your putts in the future.

Some greenkeepers are offering course walks for members during the season to offer an explanation of their role and duties. It is a skilful profession that we as golfers should support fully.

Without your greenskeepers YOU don’t have a course.

BIGGA Chief Executive Jim Croxton said: “I take immense pride in the BIGGA Welcome Celebration as it is the opportunity for our association to recognise the unbelievable hard work and dedication that BIGGA members all over the world demonstrate every day of their working lives.

“As we saw once again through Michael’s story, it can become all too easy to get caught up in all the negativity that surrounds the golf industry. Yet the BIGGA Welcome Celebration is an opportunity to show that there are many passionate and hardworking greenkeepers who have dedicated their careers to ensuring this great industry has a strong and vibrant future. BIGGA is nothing if not a community where members can come together to support each other through the bad times and the good."

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Tags: Greenkeeping Golf Clubs Courses BIGGA

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