With clubhouses having to close and greenkeepers looking to leave, the industry’s recruitment problem is getting worse, as a panel of experts discussed

Golf’s staffing problem has become so stark that some clubs haven’t been unable to get enough personnel to keep their clubhouses open as long as they wanted.

In a GCMA Insights podcast on Golf Club Talk UK, Gareth Morgan, GCMA board member and general manager at Long Ashton, said he’d spoken to club managers who had found themselves in a hospitality bind and didn’t have enough staff numbers at certain times.

Morgan was joined by British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association chief executive Jim Croxton, Steve Lloyd, BIGGA chairman and golf course manager at The Worcestershire, and Michael Herd, managing consultant at Colt McKenzie McNair as host Leighton Walker led the panel through the labour crisis in hospitality and greenkeeping.

Earlier this year at BTME, a discussion panel first revealed scale of the crisis with wages, pressures of the job, and a re-evaluation of goals following the Covid pandemic driving people into other careers. 

A recent BIGGA survey also showed that a third of greenkeepers were considering leaving the vocation – with Croxton saying the golf industry had “some serious challenges”.

Considering the situation in hospitality, Morgan told the podcast: “It’s been eye opening. You have to look out there for what average wages are. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the average wage of a member of bar staff, starting at the age of 20, would have been the minimum wage, which was £8-something then.

“Now, in Bristol, it is well over £11. It shows the challenges you’ve then got because, if you’re a bar owner in the centre of Bristol and you have to accept this is your new reality you can make that decision quickly.

“But for clubs who are in the same place, and fighting for the same staff, most of us have to get those decisions through a members’ committee who are obviously not going to want to overcommit the club’s funds for the same level of staff they always used to have before.”

He added: “I do speak to other club managers that just can’t get enough staff to physically keep the clubhouse open for as long as they want. 

“I think the danger then is that you then flog the really good loyal staff that you’ve already got almost to death and that could be the cause of losing them. In a hospitality sense, it’s a big old problem.”

Croxton said that he was not certain the greenkeeping industry had promoted itself as well as it could over the past couple of decades but stressed the way it was perceived by a lot of golf clubs was a “problem”.

“Salaries have maybe not kept pace with where they needed to,” he said. “On top of that and, in some cases more important than salaries, working conditions and welfare have become a problem.

“I know, as a parent, that parents are taking a far keener interest in what their children go out to do – even to the extent of inspecting workplaces and actually saying, ‘Is this a place where I’d like my child to spend their time?’ 

“On top of that is governance. By that I mean the real clarity of management of the team of greenkeepers and the course manager, in particular. 

“I’ve had a really difficult conversation, as recently as last week, with a young course manager doing a great job, whose club manager is really struggling because the greens chairman just keeps interfering and making the greenkeeper’s life a misery. In a members’ club, that’s becoming a huge problem.

“That’s not necessarily endemic at every club, but it’s another reason why there is dissatisfaction amongst the ranks within our association.”

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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