Jim, there’s been a real buzz in the Exhibition Halls over the past two days. You must be very happy.
Yes, the feedback from our exhibitors has been very positive – perhaps not surprising when visitor attendance over the first two days has been so impressive.
On the first day we had 3,205 visitors stream in and yesterday this was surpassed with the arrival of 3,940. That’s a 10% increase over the same period in 2012, the last year in which the major turfmachinery suppliers were present.
But you would be the first to agree that it isn’t just about numbers?
Of course, and that’s why it’s good to hear exhibitors commenting that the visitors seem to be spending more time in the halls and showing a real enthusiasm for placing orders or booking demonstrations. We know that there are many course managers who have come here with their employers and they are touring the exhibition in a very businesslike way. I am very pleased with the number of golf club owners and managers who are here this week.
And this year the weather has been kinder than last year so people have travelled long distances to attend.
That’s right. There are large numbers here from the south-east of England and we also know of visitors from Austria, Finland, Holland, Iceland and even Russia.
I believe that the exhibition space was sold out some months ahead?
Yes, we have been able to accommodate 123 exhibitors this year filling our four regular exhibition halls but we had a waiting list of 35. We obviously need to try and find a configuration of halls that will allow us to accommodate all the demand in future but right now the situation works in our favour because it encourages early booking for next year. Being able to plan our shows so far ahead is an enormous help.
How about this year’s ‘Continue to Learn’ education programme?
That’s been a great success too. Attendance is well up at both the formal fee-paying workshops and the free seminars. In fact this year one seminar was so popular that we had to offer a second sitting; the first time that’s happened.
BTME is really an Exhibition and a Conference. It hosts the Association’s Annual General Meeting, it provides unparalleled networking opportunities for all our members, and it provides a platform for our outstanding Education programme, designed to make all our members into better turf managers.
The golf business has been going through some tough times of late. How have your members been affected?
Yes, it has been tough and there’s no doubt that employment opportunities have declined as clubs have tried to manage their golf courses with smaller teams. There have been many examples of retirees not being replaced and seasonal staff not being recruited. In terms of our membership, however, I am cautiously optimistic. Numbers have increased in each of the last two quarters.
How many greenkeepers are not members of BIGGA?
Of the head guys we have around 1,700 members meaning there are probably around 5-600 who are yet to join us. Head Greenkeeper/Course Manager membership costs £140 a year and the subscription for Deputies and regular greenkeepers is £82. We think offering membership of a professional body like BIGGA for that sort of money is already very good value but we have this week launched a first-class Member Benefits programme that makes it an even better deal.
And on the international side?
One of the main attractions is our education programme. The Master Greenkeeper Award is widely regarded as the foremost achievement worldwide and to get it you have to join BIGGA and our CPD system is a great way of demonstrating to employers a commitment to improvement.
We also have a number of members who have qualified in the UK but then opted to work abroad and some non-British nationals who have spent time here and have returned home. In both cases, although not resident in the UK, these people see the value of retaining the BIGGA connection and network.
You have spoken about the need for BIGGA to undertake a Constitution and Governance Review.
I know that does not sound very exciting but the fact is that BIGGA is an amalgamation of several associations and we have inherited bits from the rulebooks of each of them. It’s time to take a fresh look at the structure and to iron out some of the anomalies, perhaps in the boundaries of our regions and sections.
We are also heavily dependent upon the hard work and goodwill of a few volunteers who generously give up hours of their time to help us. It would be unreasonable to expect that this arrangement can continue indefinitely so we need to make sure our governance structure is efficient and purposeful.
Then there is the question of our code of ethics. The industry has changed enormously over the years and the code needs to reflect that.
This week you have launched the BIGGA Greenkeepers Benevolent Fund.
Yes, and this is something that I am passionate about. All right-thinking professional bodies should have the capacity to look after any of their members who have fallen upon hard times.
We are immensely grateful for the donation of £2,500 presented to us by Ransomes Jacobsen Managing Director Alan Prickett at Tuesday evening’s Welcome Celebration. We intend to make fundraising for this integral to all that we do, including local fund-raising events, voluntary donations through top-ups to the annual subscriptions and further National initiatives to be announced.
What are your other main priorities for 2014?
Our main focuses are a revamp of our very popular website, we plan to retain all that is good about it but offer more and more additional services to our membership, and the introduction of our Accreditation Scheme. There is a definite need for a formal ratification of both agronomic and management ability, knowledge and experience that will make career development easier to plan and make recruitment far more straightforward for employers. Accreditation will achieve this. This is a game-changer for us. It will provide yet another compelling reason for membership of BIGGA and we are on track to launch it in 12 months’ time.
Jim Croxton, thank you very much.