The British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association is Europe’s largest membership greenkeeping association. Chief Executive Jim Croxton tells Maggie Walsh how the organisation keeps abreast of the changing needs of the the golf industry and how the annual BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME) furthers opportunities for its members through its education and conference programmes.
Now 31 years old, the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) is Europe’s largest membership greenkeeping association. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do?
BIGGA works hard to provide educational opportunities for our members, which today amounts to around 6,000 greenkeepers and turf professionals, including members in more than 25 countries.
In addition to providing countless networking opportunities, BIGGA also provides a support network for members, including the BIGGA Greenkeepers Benevolent Fund for those in hard times.
Last year threw up some rather strange weather patterns across the UK. How has this affected your members and the industry?
2018 had some serious extremes; the Beast from the East, practically no spring and then the most severe and extended drought for at least 40 years. I was so impressed with how our members overcame the challenges but there is no doubt a lot of golf courses suffered. Many clubs addressed drought damage (bare turf etc) in the autumn and should emerge from winter in good shape but others didn’t and I am very concerned that a lot of our members will be under pressure when we get to spring and the course is muddy and bare because of the lack of budget or remedial action pre-winter.
The lack of long-term vision within golf club businesses is a major concern as it places pressure on greenkeepers and golf courses themselves. The world is changing and golf clubs have to change as well. We’re working with the major industry bodies to modernise governance at golf clubs in an attempt to tackle this.
What has BIGGA been able to do to help greenkeepers and course managers maintain momentum under these difficult conditions?
As a business we are working incredibly hard to educate golf clubs and the wider industry so that our members have a better, more supportive environment to work. We are endeavouring to educate golfers as well – we’ve got a couple of initiatives underway such as Your Course, a twice-yearly magazine sent to every golf club in the country, and we also produce information posters and leaflets to be posted up at clubhouses, as well as a fortnightly podcast.
But it’s also important that our members understand the major role they can play in helping alter perceptions at their place of work. By ‘managing upwards’ effectively, communicating with golfers at the club and presenting a highly professional image perceptions can be shifted.
Each year you hold BTME in Harrogate. Tell us a little more about the history of this exhibition and why it was set up.
Soon after the formation of BIGGA, it was understood that there was a desire among the companies involved within the industry to have a platform where they could network with our members on a face-to-face basis. The first exhibition was held in Harrogate in 1989 and we’ve been doing it ever since!
A latter development was the addition of the Continue to Learn education programme, which is now a key part of BTME. The programme attracts over 1,000 greenkeepers each year and ensures that the exhibiting companies have an engaged and educated audience to interact with.
How many exhibitors do you have and how many visitors are you expecting?
So far, 159 companies have signed up to exhibit at BTME 2019, which is an increase of 10% on 2018. Those companies are taking nearly 25% more exhibition space than last year.
Last year we welcomed nearly 5,000 visitors into the Harrogate Convention Centre, an increase of 8.2% on the previous year. The number of overseas visitors grew from 274 in 2017 to 457 in 2018 and they came from Scandinavia, Europe and as far afield as Australia, Thailand and Australia.
What have you introduced to BTME 2019 to make for a better visitor experience this year?
In addition to expanding the exhibition space substantially, which will allow for a greater visitor experience and more areas for networking and refreshment, we’ve also introduced a wide range of innovations to make it a more interactive and engaging experience. There will be Golf Course Construction Live, where BIGGA members will construct a revetted bunker and a USGA-specification green during the show. Another will be the New Products Area and new educational opportunities [ ]such as the Links Forum sponsored by Sherriff Amenity and the Ecology and Environment Forum sponsored by Aquatrols. In total we’ve added an extra 1,000 education places at Continue to Learn.
What sets you apart from other similar trade shows?
Because BTME is an exhibition that’s success draws from its close relationship to members of the association, there is a real sense of community throughout the event. That combines brilliantly with the unique Harrogate venue, which provides hotels, bars and restaurants on the doorstep of the Convention Centre. It’s often said that BTME is as much about the networking opportunities outside of show hours as it is the exhibition itself. For one week Harrogate is buzzing with thousands upon thousands of greenkeepers and turf managers and that’s the sort of excitement and visitor engagement that you just can’t buy. BTME is a 24-hour, multi-day experience and that’s what makes it so popular.
You are continually expanding your education programmes at BTME. Last year you introduced the Young Greenkeepers Conference – was this in response for a need to recruit and retain young people within the industry?
The education programme is the driving force behind the exhibition and we strive to improve it every year. A key focus is to provide education relevant to all sections of our membership. Feedback from our Young Greenkeepers’ Committee helped us understand that the ‘main’ programme of seminars and workshops was a little intimidating for greenkeepers at the beginning of their careers. The Young Greenkeepers Conference addressed that and this year has actually evolved again as we have created a Deputies’ Conference to go alongside it. There is a real challenge with recruiting young people into the industry so we are very focussed on retaining the ones we have.
Do you have any other new innovations within the education programme for 2019?
I’m pleased to say there are a number of other ‘firsts’ taking place at Continue to Learn, with the education programme shaped in large parts by those who take part in a ‘Members’ Choice’ survey, which allows members to select what education they’d like to see. Alongside the Deputies’ Conference for those looking to make the step to a management role in the near future there’s the Links Forum sponsored by Sherriff Amenity, taking a close look at the management of links golf courses and also an Ecology and Environment Forum sponsored by Aquatrols. We also have a number of other major events such as the Golf Course 2030 Forum hosted by The R&A.
Are there any new exhibitors/innovators to the exhibition that BTME/BIGGA are looking forward to working with?
One in five of the 2019 exhibitors were not at the show last year so there will be a lot of new faces and products for the visitors to engage with.
It will be interesting to see which of the items on display in the New Products Area is voted most innovative by the visitors.
On a personal note, what is your highlight of the annual show?
For me, the highlight of the whole event is the BIGGA Welcome Celebration sponsored by Jacobsen, held on Tuesday evening. This is our opportunity to recognise those members who have supported us throughout the year and who have taken incredible strides to drive the greenkeeping profession forwards. At the event we announce the winners of the BIGGA Awards 2019 and we also acknowledge life members and those who have reached Continuing Professional Development milestones or the Master Greenkeeper Certificate. The Welcome Celebration is free to attend and its entire focus is the successes of BIGGA members and as such it’s a really enjoyable evening that I look forward to every year.
The BIGGA Turf Management Show takes place 22-24 January in Harrogate. For more details visit BTME.org.uk