Sports Turf Career From Mount Maunganui to ‘The Home of Golf’

20 April 2018

Harry Middleton has always believed you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

And having landed a seasonal greenkeeping position last year at the home of golf itself – St Andrews in Scotland – he’s a great role model for other young New Zealanders who want to chase their dreams.

The 21 year-old has only been involved in the sports turf industry for the past three years but says it’s a career that offers endless opportunities.

“Everyone thinks it’s just mowing grass but there’s so much more to it than that. Aside from greenkeeping, you can branch out into golf course design, landscaping or building, then there’s other sports like cricket and bowling plus sports stadiums. It’s a job you can travel the world with because there’s a golf course or cricket pitch in every town.”

The seeds were sown for Harry’s own career when he took up golf in the Bay of Plenty town of Omokoroa as a young boy. He began volunteering to help the head greenkeeper at his local club and soon picked up regular school holiday and weekend work.

The Gateway programme then gave Harry the opportunity to leave Katikati College one day each week to fully experience what the job entailed, and eventually he was offered an apprenticeship position at Omanu Golf Course in Mount Maunganui.

“My new boss signed me up for Level 3 sports turf papers through Primary ITO straight away. It gave me a really good introduction to all the different aspects of the job, and I carried on with Level 4 and finished it within two years.”

Harry says he enjoyed learning how to plan and prepare for projects that took a long-term view of the golf course’s needs, as well as picking up vital day-to-day skills. “Level 4 was very in depth. But when you put what you’re learning into practice on the job, you can understand why they’re trying to teach you that information.”

With his apprenticeship complete and a British passport in his pocket, Harry decided an overseas adventure was the next step. “I emailed 10 of the biggest golf courses – mainly ones that hold big events like the British Open or European tours – because a lot of those big courses take on lots of people over summer.”

St Andrews replied straight away and following a Skype interview, they sent him a contract guaranteeing at least three months work. “It was pretty cool. Just thinking about the history of that course is amazing. They have seven golf courses in total and employ about 100 greenkeepers to look after them all.”

On his arrival in September 2017, Harry was thrilled to discover he was assigned to the Old Course which is considered the oldest golf course in the world. Despite initial nerves, he settled into 14 weeks of work, mowing the revered greens and tees and pitching in with every day maintenance.

“The Superintendent there was great and really interesting to talk to. There were no silly questions. I asked him about his planning and how he does particular things and his practices were pretty much identical to what I’d been taught here in New Zealand which was really reassuring.”

An international amateur tournament was held at St Andrews while Harry was there, giving him the chance to witness the preparation that goes into hosting major events.

Another inspirational moment on his trip was a visit to Wentworth Club, south of London near Windsor Castle. “There was a European tour event and I went to experience the atmosphere and see how immaculate the course was. You can get so much satisfaction out of work like that.”

Now back in New Zealand, Harry has taken up a new greenkeeping position at Tauranga Golf Club where he’s hoping to further his skills. “It’s a good opportunity to learn about converting cool season fairways to couch fairways and bent grass conversion in the greens.”

His ambition is to become a knowledgeable sports turf manager on a great golf course and Harry plans to enroll in further study with Primary ITO to extend his skills.

“I’ll probably do Level 5 Sports Turf Management in the next year or so to learn about how to manage people, budgets and big projects.”

He says he wouldn’t have made it this far without Primary ITO’s help and the support of his Training Advisor to keep motivating him to achieve results. “The courses are really well organised and you get knowledgeable people teaching you which is awesome.

“Overall it’s a good pathway if you want to leave school and start earning straight away. Most workplaces will pay for your training so it’s a great way to further your career while working at the same time.”

Learn more about sports turf programmes here.