SAGE 2023: Tom's
dream job
draws nearer

Maintenance skillsets at Trentham Golf Club have stepped up a notch now apprentice Tom Bromfield has passed his Level 3 Advanced Golf Greenkeeper course.


The First Assistant at the 18-hole parkland site in Stoke-on-Trent started his qualification at Myerscough College in April 2021 to content developed by Lantra - completing his end-point assessment in June, and only the second student nationally to gain the recognition on the reformed Level 3 qualification.


For someone who knew early on that greenkeeping was the vocation for him, the Level 3 is but one stepping stone on a career development path to managing a greens team. "Something I'd love to do," says Tom.


"Like many before me, I left school with no clue of a career," says the 22-year-old. "I played golf with my dad at Barlaston Golf Club nearby. He inspired me to take up the game. Dad knew the head greenkeeper, who mentioned that Trentham Golf Club were seeking an apprentice greenkeeper.


"I tried it for a week, loved it, and began an apprenticeship there in September 2017. Working outside doing a variety of jobs really appealed to me."


By summer 2019, Tom was graduating from his Level 2 in Golf Greenkeeping. "It was then time to look at Level 3. I had planned for a break before starting but Covid struck," he recalls.


Meanwhile, Tom had been shortlisted for the finals of Toro's Young Greenkeeper of the Year - and won. "That made me so proud to have been noticed for the work I had done."


As part of the prize for winning the award, a fortnight's work experience at a course near Nice, France, was a groundbreaker for him. "I was dealing with a different climate, in temperatures up to 40oC. I was out of my comfort zone but this helped me develop myself and gave me more independence and self-reliance as few people spoke English."


Living close to Trentham allowed Tom to work through lockdown under a schedule that saw the eight-strong team split in half, alternating shifts.


"That was even more of a challenge as the course was busy with members when it reopened."


April 2021 marked Tom's entry to his two-year Level 3 qualification, also at Myerscough, and once more under Adam Shoesmith, the same tutor who had taught him on his Level 2.


"Adam had been a greenkeeper himself and it felt good to know I was receiving the right information and to continue with his style of delivery. I needed Level 3 to allow me to progress up the career ladder, and achieving the qualification helped me get promoted to first assistant greenkeeper in December.


"Spending a day out on course with the end-point assessor and completing the assessment was a perfect opportunity for me as I could demonstrate my skills clearly," Tom notes.


"I want to keep learning, and the Level 3 covered ten course modules such as managing staff and budgeting, which are key to me reaching course manager status.


Trentham is running three greenkeeper apprentices, currently taking Level 2. "Part of my new role is to try and help them progress, as is helping to keep the members happy by updating them regularly via our Friday blog, which explains what we are doing on course and why." The communications module on Level 3 is coming in useful already then.


Given the recruitment crisis in the sector, Tom has some words of advice for those thinking of a career in it. "My advice to would-be apprentices is to go for it, even if you are not a golfer or working in the sector. You never know, you may also end up playing, which is all good for participation levels and for attracting young people to take up the sport.


"Greenkeeping offers plenty of career avenues, with lots of variety and ample scope to become a course manager, if that's where your ambition lies," he adds.


Tom has also been fully involved with Trentham's two-year bunker redevelopment programme. "We were an old-style parkland course with old-style bunkers," says Tom. "Restructuring and rebuilding them - relocating some further up the holes - has modernised it."


The tree management plan will see dead or redundant specimens taken out to create ecology piles, with new plantings of oak, pine, gorse and broom adding further diversity.


Greenkeepers start early in the day and Tom's no exception. "I arrive for a 7am start, checking the tee booking system. Three lads are hand mowing greens all morning to between 3.25 and 3.5mm. We use the Stimp meter to check ball roll across the surfaces. Tees are blown to ready them for golf, while we mow fairways and semi rough twice a week. I usually finish at 3pm.


Greenkeeping still relies on manual, dexterous skills to keep courses pristine but the relentless march of technology will impact the job ever more significantly, Tom believes.


"It'll be a big influence, to our benefit," he predicts. "So many tools and machinery feature new advances. The switch to electric is gathering pace, while GPS spraying helps us reduce the quantity of liquid we apply over the course, reducing overspill waste.


"Logging jobs manually is time consuming and eats into the day but doing it online using Turfkeeper gives us the data to allow us to monitor and modify what we do and work more intelligently."


Tom identifies another key gain. "We can use data as a tool to improve our presentations to the board, enabling us to pitch more persuasively for new kit or show how we can do things more productively."


Among many delights of the job, Tom singles out walking the 7,000yd, par 72 course on competition day as one of his highlights. "You can't beat seeing the 18th hole, perfectly prepared for a tournament. That's when the pride in what you do hits you.


"Being part of a great golfing community and the strong team bond that binds the lads is what it's all about. It's also satisfying to receive positive feedback from members and players. Many still want pristie courses, however younger players realise the importance of sustainability and wildlife diversity."


Setting up for tournaments is special to Tom, in part because playing off an 8 handicap, he knows what elements of the course matter most. Trentham was once an Open Qualifier course, so Tom would love to regain that standing and presiding over a Championship presents his ultimate goal, he states. "Being course manager when staging the Open would be a dream come true," he says.


As a BIGGA member, Tom gets a feel for that experience by plugging into a great opportunity to get hands on at the event. "A greenkeeper support team walks the course with players during the Championship, touching up bunkers along the way - a job that caddies have usually had to do.


"What a fantastic way to get close to your golfing heroes, and I'm delighted to be selected for the support team for a second time at Royal Liverpool for the Open Championship this year.


In his journey to the ultimate job, Tom recognises the importance of the Level 3 qualification in giving him some of the skills to get him there. "The course helped me see another side of the work and stands me in good stead for moving forward.


"I can appreciate the pressures that course managers, head greenkeepers and deputies are under and that some can suffer mental health issues from this. There are heavy expectations on their shoulders as the job is far more than cutting grass. BIGGA are now running programs to support this, which is brilliant to know that the support network is there if needed.


Tom works a 6am to 10am shift one weekend in three or four so he can enjoy a healthy work/life balance, he says. "We finish around 3pm in the week, so I can pop over to the golf course and show my girlfriend around."


Depending on how quickly Tom climbs the career ladder, that may have to be adjusted slightly.    


My job in three words: challenging, fulfilling, inspiring.