Defining the ‘standard’ and pay within the Turf industry.

First of all, what do we mean by ‘standard’, a level of quality or attainment in short. But within horticulture and particularly in sports turf this standard can vary dramatically. The local Sunday league team aren’t expecting to play on Wembley standard pitches, whereas the elite athletes will be. It’s about finding that fine line, look at English football for example. The lower the division, typically means a lower ‘standard’ – however this isn’t always the case. Some clubs simply won’t have the money or facilities to produce world class pitches but others may. Take for example Sunderland and Bolton, very recently ex-premier league teams now playing in division 3-4 respectively. Facilities have remained the same, budges will have been cut yet. But will the expectations to produce world class facilities have stayed the same?
Barcelona, football, club, pitch, camp, nou, light, rigs, turf, stadium,
This is also becoming more prominent in golf. The ‘standard’ is almost set at tournament ready courses every day. For the world’s elite courses this may be achievable, but not every club is this fortunate. Now this raises more questions than answers, why would anyone play at the local club over the top clubs. They do, else other clubs wouldn’t exist. So there’s a lot more to the ‘standard’ than we see. This can range from course design, planting, green speeds, heights of cut all the way down to Tee times and everything in between. The most frustrating part is most end users will never see the commitment, dedication and time that goes into preparing our work, yet will still be quick to comment.
 
I always say this, as people in this industry we must stick together. The industry is self destructive enough without us having a dig at our own. Constructive criticism and negative feedback is fine, we need this to become the best we possibly can, but some of the comments I see often online don’t lend themselves favours. There’s a lot of variables which may lead to a person or club’s situation. Without all of the details we shouldn’t be making assumptions. As I’ve said before, this industry can vary massively from site to site. These differences can be seen even larger when you go international, with climate and weather becoming a major limiting factor or benefit!
 
So as turf managers, gardeners, volunteers, groundstaff, how can we define our own standards? First of all is to stop comparing ourselves to others, we all want Wembley, Lords, Wimbledon or Wentworth surfaces but let’s face it that just isn’t going to happen overnight. Now that’s not saying that these ‘standards’ aren’t achievable. They clearly are because we can see them in action. It takes time and careful planning. A key part being research, know what other clubs and teams are doing around you. Go and check out the facilities and say hi. Heck you may even learn something from them. Every day is a learning day regardless of who you are.

Let’s talk pay

Now it’s no hidden secret that nobody joins this industry to become a millionaire but that shouldn’t mean we can’t feed our families or take a vacation should it? I’ve had this same statement repeated to me on several occasions, not just by young people or trainees but also by qualified, experienced members of the industry. ‘Why do I turn up to work in the cold rain, near minimum wage, work my ass off, sacrificing weekends for time in lieu, with benefits such as ‘free uniform and parking’. When I could get a job at a local supermarket for more money, paid overtime and unions to protect me?’. Unfortunately this has been the way for a fair few years. It’s really disappointing when you see the amount of passion and hard work that goes into creating these surfaces, it’s almost art like.
 
The lack of pay rises within the industry while increases on living and minimum wages, has led to the gap between the two becoming non-existent in most cases. Despite the yearly published recommendation of wages from the governing bodies and relevant associations. For me though, this is part of the problem. With the limited support from these organisations at ground level regarding wages, members don’t directly benefit. Staff may see these recommended wages but how do we get this information onto the bosses? They have the tools and power to kick-start a change within the industry. Now I’m not slating these companies because at the end of the day they are businesses and need to make money, pay staff and most are doing fantastic things to help the industry. Especially with the current surge in online education. But more could be done -awareness isn’t working at the moment.
 
People power. I genuinely believe that together we can help remove this stigma. How? By taking these published recommended wages to our employers, not demanding a pay rise but putting forward the information. Making people aware of the situation. Now this may go positively or negatively. With the usual outcome being the company’s salary limitations. But this is where the problem has become much deeper, why has it been acceptable for these wages to be used. Even at high end sports clubs? Because somebody will always fill that position, a trainee looking to prove themselves, an experienced worker looking to step back, none skilled workers joining the industry or other staff within the organisation taking on the extra roles.
 
This all stems back to number crunching, business is business. Unfortunately sometimes it’s the same people who have power over the numbers that decide who gets what in return. Turf management isn’t a direct earner for a business. It’s typically green fees, sponsorship and winning competitions what keep these businesses going – but what’s forgotten is these businesses have a huge reliance on these turf surfaces to survive. Without grass a sports club is nothing, regardless of what people say. Unfortunately this is where the age old saying ‘anyone can cut grass’ comes into play. We know this couldn’t be more wrong. Education is key. Make people aware.
 
Now as I’ve mentioned before the industry is also very self destructive, harsh criticism typically on social media and an elite status to those who have made it to the top. Rightly so there’s a gap between those who have carried on education, gotten the experience and worked hard – but what’s learned is very rarely filtered back down into the industry. Just think how many volunteers we have in this industry. The industry is crying for help.

Benefits?

The standard line I see on most job adverts within the industry is ‘free parking and uniform’. Listed as a benefit! Totally unacceptable. I’d like to know how these people sleep at night, listing a near or minimum wage job, level 3 qualifications (min 2 years at college), work weekends with time in lieu with benefits like this? Other popular ones include %2 off gift cards, club shops or discounted gym memberships. Unbelievable, especially when some of these positions are working for employees that are paying players, managers and coaches thousands per week.
 
While you will see a lot of similar problems in other job roles around the world, nothing will be fixed if we don’t do anything.
Unfortunately, I’ve spoken with many who say ‘I just cut grass, it’ll never get better’ We have to unite on this.
 
What can we do as a collective? We have power. Let us know, comment, message or email us at internationalgreenkeepers@gmail.com
 
Written in 2020 

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