Training a must for Eden Park’s hallowed turf

7 June 2024

If you’re not trained or in training, you won’t be taking care of the Eden Park turf. Simple as that.

Eden Park, New Zealand’s biggest sports stadium and the scene of the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup final victories in 1987 and 2011, is home to four sports turf apprentices, all learning through Primary ITO.

Blair Christiansen has been the turf manager for 11 years, and at Eden Park since 2000, after doing a golf course greenkeeping apprenticeship at Mangawhai Golf Club, north of Auckland.

His team looks after the Eden Park Outer Oval, which is home to Auckland’s provincial cricket teams, as well as the main stadium “Number One” field which hosts rugby, league, soccer, cricket and concerts.

Blair acknowledges that working at Eden Park could be seen as the pinnacle in New Zealand but it’s only part of the picture.

“I don’t employ anybody that won’t train – that’s part of the interview process. If you’re not interested in training when you come on as a young person then we won’t go any further. You’re either trained or you’re in training. If you leave the job in four years’ time, you have to have something other than to be able to say you worked at Eden Park.”

Blair has qualifications himself in both golf course and sports turf. At the time he did his apprenticeship, there was no specific turf training available outside of golf courses but he’s subsequently added further sports turf papers to his original qualification.

Sports Turf Apprentice Shamus McCulloch

Shamus McCulloch is the newest apprentice at Eden Park, having started at the beginning of 2024. He got the job after participating in the Primary ITO Gateway programme during his final year at Christchurch Boys’ High School in 2023. He spent a day a week working at Waitikiri Golf Club as part of the programme.

A keen golfer, cricketer and football player, Shamus says his school’s careers advisor had suggested the Gateway programme to get a feel for whether the industry suited him.

“She suggested I could have a look at a golf course and do a day a week there to see if I enjoyed that. Learning a bit about it helped me get my foot in the door. I like being outdoors and that the work was hands on. I just enjoyed being in the fresh air and sun, and turf and the sports side of it.”

He says Gateway helped him get him started at work. “I think if I didn’t have that experience I wouldn’t have been able to understand the simple things to do around the park, the way the day goes and working around machinery – I’d be even more green than I am."

Shamus believes it’s useful having other apprentices at work. “There’s a good mix of trained, and training, workers who understand what I need to learn. Most people are quite young and know what I need to learn.”

Despite work commitments limiting his own sporting endeavours in Auckland so far, Shamus is still enjoying getting out on the golf course when he can. “I do look at the course in a different way now – just being aware of the different turfs. There’s so many different aspects to it that would go unnoticed to most people. Now that I’m working in it, I do look at it.”

One little known fact about Eden Park is that a complete replacement turf lies in wait at Karaka, in case it’s needed following concerts or the like.

“It’s a replicate field of the stadium field,: says Blair. “So there’s another backup Eden Park 45km down the road, exactly the same.”

Shamus says the Karaka turf farm helps with learning too.

“You need that with the stadiums and concerts and other activities on the field in case they are damaged. With the Pink concert we had to replace a good portion of the west side of the No 1 field. Without the turf farm we wouldn’t be able to turn it around and 10 days later have the Wellington Phoenix playing.”

Suzanne Carruth is Primary ITO’s Gateway co-ordinator and is responsible for supporting Shamus’s school with Gateway. She says the programme can be a stepping stone to a career.

“We find young people coming towards the end of their time at school really value the chance to try out an industry earn sector specific credits towards their school qualifications.

“Shamus is a really good example. Gateway and the Waitikiri Golf Club provided the opportunity for him to see that turf management was a career pathway for him, and he’s definitely made the most of that opportunity.

“There are lots of great options in Gateway, encompassing farming, horticulture, landscaping, seafood, arboriculture, rural servicing, sports turf and even pest control. Students can talk to their school’s career advisors about these options to get some real-world experience in an industry that appeals to them.”

If you'd like to talk to one of our team members about Gateway, sports turf apprenticeships, or other training, contact us here