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greenkeepers

Should your golf club have a mental health first aider?

On The NCG Golf Podcast, BIGGA CEO Jim Croxton reveals why greenkeepers suffer with their mental health and what the association is doing to help

 

“We want to see a mental health first aider in every golf club”. That’s the ambition revealed by greenkeeping chief Jim Croxton on The NCG Golf Podcast.

Speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week, Croxton, who leads the British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association (BIGGA), spoke about the challenges facing his members and the governing body’s commitment to ensuring they have access to the help they need.

BIGGA pledged to create 100 mental health first aiders last year, after launching a campaign with R&A backing, but the wider aim is to ultimately see blanket support offered across the more than 2,000 clubs in Great Britain & Ireland.

Their campaign followed some alarming survey results. Three years ago, with the country gripped by the Covid pandemic, BIGGA canvassed more than 200 greenkeepers.

Of those, 7% revealed they constantly worried about their own mental health, with 20% frequently worrying and 41% sometimes worrying. Some 80% said they had worried about the mental health of someone they worked with.

While stressing this was not an issue unique to greenkeepers, Croxton told the podcast there were a number of factors that, together, could contribute to declining mental health. 

“You are generally working alone,” he said. “The banter and teamwork in a greenkeeping team is excellent but that’s twice a day – break time and lunchtime, or whatever that might be.

“A lot of the time, you’re quite solitary, out doing your job on the golf course. That is an attraction for a lot of people but, equally, it’s an opportunity for mental health issues to take hold.

“Again, and I think this is something that’s true for the whole hospitality leisure sector, the customer is more demanding than ever before.

“In golfing terms, we’re a victim of our own success. The condition of golf courses is unrecognisable from when we began playing golf and golfers expect excellence all the time.

“You see it in coffee shops, in restaurants, in gyms; people are so demanding nowadays and perfection is expected.

“The unique aspect of greenkeeping is how personally and passionately our members feel about their piece of land.

“Speak to a greenkeeper and they talk about ‘my course’. ‘At my course we do this’. I know that’s just a phrase, but it means they feel personal ownership of the piece of land they look after.

“You don’t go into greenkeeping if you don’t want to work with the land, work with nature, and present a golf course as well as you can.

“When so many things make that difficult – whether that be the weather, resources, the challenge of getting staff – it’s a confluence of particular issues which can combine to mean mental health challenges are definitely there.”

mental health

Mental Health Awareness Week: ‘I’m really proud of how we’ve tried to support our members’

Croxton added that the unusual set up of golf club businesses, unlike a more traditional office environment, could also act as a contributory factor.

He explained: “In a lot of other workplaces, if you’re sitting and one of your teammates was struggling in any way that was visible, you would rally round them because you’d probably have processes in place to try and make sure things are OK.

“Golf clubs are really small businesses. They very often don’t have mental health awareness boiled into their management structures.

“Practically every board meeting we ever have [at BIGGA] begins with a discussion about staff. Our board are really focused on our staff and how important they are to our organisation. They want to know how they are.

“We try and make sure we’re looking after their mental health as best we can and doing all we can. That isn’t the way the average golf club board meeting begins.

With BIGGA having dedicated to helping their members’ mental health for more than a decade, Croxton outlined the support they offer at the huge BTME festival each year, as well as a free helpline, along with the commitment to mental health first aiders.

“Every time we get our members together, we’re trying to make sure it’s there so we can make that discussion seem so much easier and something people can become used to doing,” he said.

“We have a free and confidential helpline for our members at any time, which is unbelievable. It’s world class and the resources there are absolutely extraordinary.

“We are currently in a project to train mental health first aiders. We want to see a mental health first aider in every club so that somebody is there, somebody understands the signs and, importantly, knows where to point people if they see somebody with problems.

“Can we do more? Yes, of course. We’ll continue to do that. But I’m really proud of how we’ve tried to support our members.”

Now listen to The NCG Golf Podcast

Tom Irwin and Steve Carroll are joined by Jim Croxton, chief executive of the British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association. You can listen to the full episode here.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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