Chloe Gallagher, 24, is an assistant greenkeeper at Sunningdale Golf Club, Berkshire. Here she tells how, without any experience, she took a chance on a job and, as a result, has travelled the world working, will be on duty at the Ryder Cup and was recognized as one of the six top young greenkeepers in the UK.
What’s your golfing background?
At the age of 12 I got into golf through my dad after my football team folded. I always regarded golf an older person’s sport so wasn’t keen on going to the driving range with him, however he persuaded me and I took to it quite naturally. I started receiving lessons and competing in club competitions once I got my handicap.
After 18 months I was selected for county coaching and to represent County Durham junior girls. I was also lucky enough to represent my local club, Durham City, in ladies’ team matches. Additionally, I was a team member for the Durham Sixth Form Centre’s Golf Academy. Although I’m not playing as much as I used to my handicap is 11.
How did you get interested in greenkeeping?
Through these experiences of playing at top courses across the country I found myself questioning the set up and maintenance of golf courses. At the age of 20 I was working in the hotel at Ramside Hall Hotel, Golf Club and Spa and enquired about a greenkeeping position on the golf course. I never thought in a million years I would be given an opportunity as they were undergoing course construction on the second championship course and I was a 20 year old female with zero experience. However I was given the chance and I can honestly say I’ve never looked back!
How has your career developed?
My first day I was thrown in the deep end, changing holes and hand cutting tees. I honestly thought I’d just be raking bunkers. After a year’s experience I decided to gain my NVQ Level 2 in Sports Turf at Askham Bryan College. Through the college I was nominated for the 2017 Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year award. This was an absolute honour and to make it to the final was just something I never ever imagined would happen. The final consisted of the top six greenkeepers of the UK, so to be up there with the best was amazing. The overall experience was one I’ll never forget, being put through our paces and tested to the limits on our knowledge and understanding of greenkeeping.
Other career highlights?
Throughout my 4½ years in greenkeeping I have been lucky enough to have some of the most memorable experiences and fulfil some dreams. In September 2016 I gained a six month seasonal contract in Australia at Sorrento Golf Club. Then in October 2017 I got a seasonal position at Gulf Harbour Country Club, New Zealand. These two positions abroad taught me vast amounts about greenkeeping and broadened my career path massively.
I have also been lucky enough to volunteer at several major tournaments over the past couple of years. My first experience of tournament setup and volunteering was at Lingfield Park Resort for the Jamega Pro Tour in 2016. Then in 2017 I was successful in gaining a place on the BIGGA support team at BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and at the 146th Open at Royal Birkdale (pictured right). Then I headed north to Kingsbarns Golf Links for the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
These three major tournaments were all very different but were all an honour to be part of. Being inside of the ropes is something I always dreamed of as a young golfer so walking the fairways with Matt Kuchar, Paul Casey, Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston and John Daly, to name a few, was something you can’t describe. In September 2018, I will be heading to Le Golf National, France, to be a part of the greenkeeping team for the Ryder Cup. This is something I never imagined I’d ever attend and to actually have an input and work at it is going to be unforgettable.
Tell us about your regular job
I’m now working at Sunningdale Golf Club and I know that I want to pursue my future as far as it can possibly go, entering a role of management.
A typical day at work is usually 5am-1pm or 6am-2pm, depending on the fixtures for the day. Course set up will take place where greens get hand cut, holes changed, pitch marks repaired, bunkers raked, the tee markers moved and tees divoted and bins emptied. The days when we don’t hand cut greens we will be hand cutting tees instead. Whilst a team is out cutting tees/greens other greenstaff will be cutting approaches, fairways, semi—rough and rough.
After set up we do a range of tasks, from strimming and mowing to divoting fairways and generally keeping the course in pristine condition by attention to all the small details.
Do you meet many other female greenkeepers?
The more I volunteer and use BIGGA (the greenkeepers’ association) to gain knowledge I find myself stumbling across more and more ladies in the industry. It’s always good to chat to other females and get their views on the topic.
In my 4½ years of greenkeeping I have only worked with two other females and both of those were abroad. Female greenkeepers seem to be few and far between in the UK but overseas there’s an abundance. I volunteered with another female at Kingsbarns who was from the UK and she also commented on the lack of women in the industry.
I personally think over here in the UK it’s not a career that’s pushed and not many young people, especially girls, know much about what the job entails and the kind of tasks that are carried out. The people who go into greenkeeping usually started by wanting to work at a high end Premier League football club, but they soon realise golf course work is more varied with more career opportunities, or they have friends or family in the industry.
My family has been so supportive throughout my career, they’ve helped me to get through the cold, wet and damp days and have encouraged me to do as well as I can, from the volunteering to gaining my qualifications. My partner Adam, who is also a greenkeeper, is just as supportive. Being in the same industry we are able to help each other out and push each other to be the best greenkeepers we possibly can. It is down to Adam I’m off to the Ryder Cup!
Sports initiatives like this one, Women & Girls’ Golf Week, are great for helping push the sport and industry to expand it further. Without getting the word out there girls and women won’t know about greenkeeping.
My job is now my career and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
• Want to find out more about a career in greenkeeping? Contact BIGGA, the British and International Greenkeepers’ Association: www.bigga.org.uk
Captions: Chloe is pictured handcutting tees at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns.