Links Club meeting highlights covid challenges
Last month, Paul Larsen from Royal St George’s - venue for The Open in 2021 - hosted the third instalment of the annual get together of The Links Club. Founded by five like-minded and pioneering links course managers to promote more sharing - and caring - among greenkeeping teams in their specific sector of the industry, the event attracted 51 turf professionals from several different courses.
Now the Club, set up by Ian Kinley from Royal Porthcawl and Rhys Butler at Royal St David’s in Wales, Craig Boath at Carnoustie in Scotland and England's Rich Whyman from Burnham & Berrow, along with Paul, are planning to have their biggest turnout in 2022.
"Hopefully they'll be no restrictions next year, so we want a minimum of 80 to 90 at Carnoustie," said Paul.
"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, Paul warns there will be tough times ahead for the 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 (The Links Club) was we’ve got to try and make sure we don’t lose people from the industry.”
When nearly two-thirds of greenkeepers and superintendents responded to a Syngenta mental health survey earlier this year it was clear to see the 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. Some 64% reported they were anxious or worried, yet only 9% sought professional counselling in the six months between March-December 2020.
In addition, 88% of respondents said they had not received stress or anxiety training in the workplace.
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 Links Club and similar collaborative ventures can help to achieve.
While golf has blossomed to some degree during the pandemic, Paul Larson highlights for greenkeepers stress levels have risen.
“Expectation levels have been raised, mainly by our dedication to give golfers a better experience on the course," he said.
"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."