Report sparks concern for mental health in Australian turf industry

Greenkeeper working at dawn
Greenkeeper mowing a green at dawn

Golf courses in Australia are at risk of losing experienced turf managers due to mismanagement, low wages and the aftermath of golf’s participation boom driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Australian Golf Digest has revealed a developing mental health crisis among turf professionals and superintendents working at some of the country’s 1,500 golf courses.

Brad Clifton, publisher and editor-in-chief of Australia’s best-selling golf magazine, used his editor’s letter to highlight the issue, revealed in an article by senior writer Rohan Clarke in the December 2022 issue.

“Australia, we have a problem. Superintendents, greenkeepers and turf professionals are being driven away from our sport,” said Clifton.

Clarke’s feature claims turf professionals are facing unprecedented levels of stress at work, unfavourable working conditions, stagnating wages and high levels of micro-management.

Several superintendents, speaking to Clarke anonymously, cited expectations that they work excessively long hours, with little or no extra remuneration, while battling extreme weather, very high demand for golf and micro-management by under-qualified club committee members.

They claim that outside Australia’s marquee golf courses, low wages are a barrier to successful recruitment and retention of turf professionals, and some courses are relying on seasonal exchange programs to bring in greenkeepers from the UK, Canada and Scandinavia to keep teams operational.

Clifton concluded by calling for superintendents to be given more authority and more appreciation, and suggested that expectations should be lower given the challenges of Australia’s extreme climate.

A rising global temperature has contributed to an increase in the prevalence and intensity of bushfires across Australia, compounded in the last three years by changing ocean and climate patterns otherwise known as La Niña, causing some of the highest rainfall amounts on record across swathes of the country and well documented flooding events.

A message from Syngenta

In response to the report, Syngenta’s Global Head of Marketing, Turf & Landscape, Mark Birchmore said: “Syngenta’s Turf business works alongside superintendents in Australia and recognizes the pressures they are under – this issue is not one confined to Australia and we commend the authors of the article for raising awareness.

“This, unfortunately, is not a new challenge. We have previously highlighted this to the industry and its stakeholders in a range of content across our Syngenta Golf campaign and taken steps to provide support where we can, either as individuals within the team or as a business in partnership with the relevant associations.

“The well-documented increase in golf rounds during the pandemic, while positive for the global golf economy, has placed additional demands on superintendents and their teams with shortages of skilled labor, climate driven adverse weather events, and continued demand for higher quality playing surfaces.

“Superintendents are a highly creative and passionate group of people, and we continue to play our part in helping provide both the agronomic tools that can help them cope with the demands of modern courses, whilst also supporting individuals and the industry to ensure that our customers are supported.  I would encourage any superintendent to contact our teams if they feel they need extra help personally or professionally.”

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