Turf challenges highlighted at recent event

Paul Larsen

When nearly two-thirds of greenkeepers and superintendents responded to a Syngenta mental health survey earlier this year it was clear to see their profession was not an easy place to be. 

More than 60% were found to have experienced increased work-related mental health problems since the start of the pandemic.

In addition, 88% of respondents said they had not received stress or anxiety training in the workplace, 64% were anxious or worried yet only 9% sought professional counselling in the six months between March-December 2020. 

Signs of stress and mental health pressure vary according to mental health counsellor, Lisa Goatley, but can include dreading the day ahead, irritability and a reliance on energy drinks, junk food and alcohol. In order to mitigate these pressures, she recommends engaging with others.

“Connecting with other people, sharing what you’re feeling can be really useful,” she said, which is exactly what the chief superintendents at five of the British Isles’ most esteemed links courses did back in 2018.

Forging links

Ian Kinley at Royal Porthcawl and Rhys Butler at Royal St David’s in Wales, Craig Boath at Carnoustie in Scotland and Paul Larsen at Royal St George’s and Rich Whyman at Burnham & Berrow in England founded The Links Club to promote more sharing (and caring) in their sector of the industry.

In November Larsen hosted the third instalment of the annual get together – where 51 turf professionals from several different courses were in attendance – and he told Syngenta how they hope to have their biggest turnout next year.

“Hopefully there’ll be no restrictions next year so we want a minimum of 80-90 at Carnoustie. We’re looking at people coming from Canada, mainland Europe and New Zealand. So we just need someone from the USA and Australia.”

Despite the interest spreading far and wide, Larsen said there will be tough times ahead for their industry with a focus on retention of staff before recruiting.

“It’s hard to get youngsters into the trade. They don’t want to work weekends, get up early or work in all weathers. They can earn more money doing other things, so what came out of it was we’ve got to try and make sure we don’t lose people from the industry.”

No let up in expectations

Golf has blossomed to some degree during the pandemic but for greenkeepers stress levels have risen.

“Expectation levels have been raised, mainly by our dedication to give golfers a better experience on the course. Unfortunately certain chemicals have gone and there are fewer fungicides around, so we need to find more sustainable ways to give the golfers the experience they want while balancing this in tune with nature.

"Covid has obviously made life much more difficult at the moment but we're fortunate we can all still stay outside and play golf - this has been a blessing in disguise in many ways. Golfers can feel happy because they're happy out in the fresh air and it also allows us as greenkeepers to carry on working outdoors in bubbles.

"With more golfers on courses we will have to look at many different ways to keep the courses in the best condition we can, which may mean we have to vary our approach to working hours in future.

"The main thing is golf is booming which can only be a plus for all of us."