Was it really only two years ago? An awful lot has changed in the world since the last GCMA Conference but there was something warmly familiar, welcoming, and much needed, as the biennial bash returned at Wyboston Lakes Resort in Bedfordshire.
Nearly 300 GCMA members and other industry professionals took the chance to do something that has been so missed over the last 24 months – the opportunity to meet, talk, and learn from each other.
And attendees loved it. The smiles were wide, the celebrations long and loud and, whether a delegate or an exhibitor, new friends were made and old connections restored.
In the cozy environs of The Cricket Kitchen, proceedings kicked off on Sunday night in sumptuous style with former European Tour referee John Paramor and double Solheim Cup winning captain Catriona Matthew regaling a packed house with tales of their times on tour.
GCMA 2021 Conference focused on three specific, and important, themes: Leadership and Wellbeing, Sustainability, and Technology.
Following an energetic start with the team at Dr Golf, and two well-attended breakfast meetings, double gold-winning Paralympian Danielle Brown got the main sessions off to a fantastic start when telling her story of triumph over adversity in the first keynote speech, before drilling down into ways managers can look after their own wellbeing and that of their teams.
Kevin Fish revealed the impact, opportunities, and challenges that have arisen out of the Covid crisis – while Miklos Breitner urged attendees to ignite their employees’ engagement to boost their bottom line.
As the focus turned to sustainability, a lively panel discussion saw GEO Foundation’s Jonathan Smith debate the issues with Symbio’s Kerr Hunter, Rain Bird’s Shaun Anderson and JCB’s General Manager Mark Addison.
BIGGA Chief Executive Jim Croxton gave a frank assessment of the issues facing golf clubs, and greenkeeping teams in the future, when it comes to resources before the GCMA Manager of the Year Awards celebrated outstanding stories of achievement from all the nominees.
The nuggets kept coming when technology took centre stage on the final day with Peter Kirk and Scott Seaborn and Golf Genius and 18 Players covering everything from apps to marketing.
It was then left to Chris Cook, a double Commonwealth Games gold medal winning swimmer, to send everyone back to their clubs with a rousing tale of optimism and what you can achieve when you keep things simple.
So what did we take away from the breakout sessions, the keynotes, and the exhibitions? We learned golf club management is in an exceptional place, that clubs are run by the most dedicated professionals and that our sport, still basking in the glow of a participation boom, is in the best possible position to thrive. Roll on the next Conference!
A MIXED PRESIDENTS CUP?
Double Solheim Cup winning captain Catriona Matthew said she’d like to see a mixed Presidents Cup when asked how the sport could grow the number of women playing the game.
Talking as one of our two VIP speakers that opened GCMA 2021 Conference on Sunday night, the architect of Europe’s victories over the USA at Gleneagles and Inverness said: “People do love the team events, it is something different. A great idea would be to make the Presidents Cup mixed – have six men and six women. How fun would that be watching mixed foursomes? I think that would be great.”
Meanwhile, John Paramor, a former chief referee on the European Tour, said he thought the revisions to the Rules of Golf, which came into effect in January 2019, had been “absolutely brilliant”.
“We’ve got one issue to try and resolve, that is a difficult one, which is going back-on-a-line when the ball hits the ground and goes forward. Has it come out of the relief area? You now need to adopt a special Local Rule to make sure it’s not a penalty, otherwise if a player played it after it rolled forward then it would be a penalty.”
WATCH OUT IF YOU RELY ON MAINS WATER
In a highly instructive presentation on Sustainable Golf Course Management, BIGGA Chief Executive Jim Croxton was frank about the issues facing the industry over the availability of water.
“Water is going to be an incredible challenge over these next few years,” he told the audience. “You’ll all have heard the issues. I’m sure a million houses being built between Oxford and Cambridge are all going to have first dibs on Southern Water’s pipelines.
“I know that climate change is a significant issue. We’re seeing a very different world in terms of rain events. We see much bigger rain events than we ever used to.
“We see more or less the same amount of water coming down over a year but there are lots of areas in which water is a challenge.”
He added: “If anyone here is reliant in anyway on mains water, and if they’re south of that line between The Wash and probably the Severn Estuary, if you are reliant on mains water in any way you need to give serious consideration to your water source because that pressure is going to come on over the next few years.”
DO YOU KNOW HOW TO KEEP IT SIMPLE?
In a rousing, optimistic and inspirational keynote speech to end GCMA 2021 Conference, double Commonwealth golf medallist Chris Cook talked about the power of keeping things simple in his presentation ‘Two Lengths’.
Showing the medal he won in Australia in 2006, he recounted the tribulations and the setbacks that came before the success and urged his audience to look inwards to find the answers they needed to overcome the questions that faced them.
“This is what happens when we start facing the right way,” he explained. “When we face inwards, we don’t face outwards. When we face inwards and we ask better questions of ourselves, as tough as they are, we get better answers. It’s simple and then we derive our actions from that.”
He added: “We can’t make decisions based on what others want for us. That’s not inspiration. When we get that inspired action, and we feel a bit of fear, we’ve got to just step forward. There are so many people’s stories I hear on stage, and out and about, who will say ‘I took this risk and it paid off but it could have gone really bad’. You know for a fact that, at that moment in time, they were going through all those emotions and thoughts: ‘Have I made the right decision? Have I gone the right way?’
“When we face inwards, the next step is always there. We’ve just got to be brave enough to take it.”