BIGGA is mourning the death of one of the true greats of the greenkeeping profession. Walter Woods BEM, 84, was the former links superintendent at St Andrews Links until his retirement in 1996. This tribute was first published by BIGGA on 19th September.
He was instrumental in the formation of BIGGA and his efforts to modernise the industry and greenkeeper training have laid down the foundation for the profession as it is today.
Walter was the inaugural chairman of the greenkeeping association and acted as a mentor for many of the industry’s leading figures, including John Philp MBE, who oversaw the return of Carnoustie to the Open rota.
“I learned a great deal from Walter,” said John. “Coming back to Scotland in a multi-course system, he was very much a mentor for me. He had a strong work ethic and a passion for greenkeeping. He was a strong and fair character and was a shining example of golf course management leadership and professionalism. Greenkeeping has lost one of its greatest ever ambassadors.”
Walter began his career at the nine-hole Tillicoultry Golf Club in his Clackmannanshire home town. He got his first role in greenkeeping after trying a number of jobs, including being a grocer and a collier.
He then worked at Alloa in the dual role of professional and greenkeeper, while his wife Caroline ran the clubhouse.
A successful stint at Notts Golf Club (Hollinwell) followed, of which he was extremely proud, before he moved to St Andrews in 1974.
During his time as superintendent of the famous links, Walter oversaw four Open Championships. So respected was he that Jack Nicklaus would turn up early at St Andrews to play practice rounds with him prior to the tournament.
Speaking to the Scotsman in 2005, Walter said: “My best memories are Jack Nicklaus holding the trophy or the excellence of Nick Faldo. But most satisfying is the relief when it is finished, without complaints.”
Walter left St Andrews in 1995 after 21 years on the links, but continued as a consultant to the European Tour.
Walter’s passing on the eve of the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, is poignant as it was through the efforts of figures such as Walter and the late Cecil George and Jimmy Neilson that education in greenkeeping progressed to the level that surfaces such as those at Wentworth this weekend could be prepared.
Walter also played a leading role in the formation of the BIGGA support team initiatives, which provide members of the association the opportunity to volunteer at The Open and the BMW PGA Championship and help prepare the course.
Former Wentworth Courses Manager Chris Kennedy was Walter’s friend for more than half a century and said: “Walter was certainly one of the guys who was at the forefront of greenkeeping having the status that it does today. When you see the volunteers at The Open and the BMW PGA, he was one of the few who worked hard and could see what the future would look like. He wanted to give guys at normal golf clubs the experience of the highs and lows of tournament golf, so they could go back to their clubs and take the experience and knowledge they had gained with them.
“He had this great drive within himself and he could see a vision for the future. He was the father figure of modern greenkeeping.”
Walter received the British Empire Medal and was presented with the Tom Morris Award in 2002 by the Golf Course Superintendents of America Association. Previous recipients of the award include Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Bob Hope and the award is given to people who ‘through a continuing lifetime commitment to golf have helped to mould the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris’.
Walter died on 18 September 2019, aged 84, following a long illness.
Pictured top: Walter and Caroline Woods, pictured at BTME in 2018
We are most grateful to BIGGA for allowing us to reproduce this article.