Meet the Members: Ben Corby

Ben Corby, Sports Turf Manager at Desert Group, Dubai, UAE. Ben made the move to Dubai after craving a warmer outdoor working environment and has shared his fascinating insight into what it’s like to work in a country where camels invade the pitch, outdoor work isn’t permitted from 12:30-3 pm in the summer months, and machinery and products for turf management are much harder to come by.

Standing proud in the Sevens Stadium

What inspired you to pursue a career in turf?

Golf—I started playing and got quite good. I was interested in the teaching/pro shop side but ended up doing work experience in both the shop and greenkeeping and fell in love with being outdoors and driving machinery.

I’ve since transitioned into managing multiple sports turf surfaces so I’m always learning.

How did you first hear about International Greenkeepers For Hire, and what motivated you to explore job opportunities overseas?

I saw Bradley’s/Daryl’s posts about IGFH. I was lucky enough to study full-time turf grass science and golf course management at Myerscough (college, based in Lancashire, UK), and to be honest, I just wanted a better climate (sun) to be working outdoors.

There was an opportunity to work in the USA via an intern program through Ohio State University which I took, and I managed to get my warm season/transitional experience. After finishing my studies, I decided I wanted to move abroad again ASAP.

How did your friends and family react to hear that you were moving overseas?

I guess it was a shock and also a hard choice for us, but they were all supportive and they all came and visited in the first couple of years.

Share a funny or unexpected moment that happened while working at Desert Group.

There’s a few, and some of them not funny at the time, but you can laugh now. There is a bit of a language barrier here, so there are quite a few more mistakes than normal, but ultimately our groundsman decided to follow the literal timings sent to him for watering at half-time and didn’t check the match scenario from the pump room. The game ran over, so as you can guess, the irrigation system came on while they were still playing.

Another one I will always remember: we had a FIFA event on and it rained heavily for 2 days, all the pitches were flooded with surface water and teams were due to start practicing. A few calls were made and we ended up with a helicopter hovering over the surface trying to blow off surface water.

One more: I was doing some pitch inspections and then camels started to turn up on the field all kitted up with seats. It ended up being a trial to see if camel polo could be played on the sports pitches without much damage, so I had my first game of camel polo, haha.

Ben working hard with new equipment

Are there any unique situations that you’ve encountered while working abroad, and did they pose any challenges to your job?

Im sure it’s the same in most places, but in this region they expect everything can be done in an instant, especially when money can be thrown at it. Machinery/products are not always available within the country so we have to think outside the box to get the job done/results required.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your current job role?

I love being able to assess different sports surfaces all over the Middle East. We normally get called in when there’s an issue and I really enjoy visualizing the final product from the work we can perform to complete the renovation job and seeing it through to the final results.

Just another day in the office...

What’s one piece of greenkeeping equipment you couldn’t live without, and how does it make your job easier or more enjoyable?

A cylinder mower has to be number one on the list, but when managing warm-season turf, a verticutter is a necessity to keep a good performance/healthy surface.

Are there any quirky traditions or habits in your job that you’ve had to adjust to?

We have a 3-month summer working hour rule from the ministry that doesn’t permit outside work from 12.30-3 pm. It certainly helps our team but as you can expect, productivity is down as it’s still pretty brutal outside these hours. Anything pedestrian is a big ask during these months.

Ben laying the new turf

What advice would you give to other greenkeepers who are considering a similar international career move?

If you’re considering it I would say do a little research, and if you’re still thinking about it, then just go for it. You’re only a plane/boat/car ride home and there’s not much to lose in giving it a go!

What inspiring words would you say to young greenkeepers?

Work smarter, not harder! Try and get a good mentor/job to learn from and see what they are doing and think of ideas that could potentially make it easier or improve on.

Breathtaking stadium views

Thanks, Ben for the great insight into your career, the pictures look fantastic! 

If you’re inspired or interested in a career in sports turf please contact us. 

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