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Meet Myerscough’s triple crown sportsturf tutor

Thursday 23 Mar 2023

Each of the last three winners of the Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year Award all share something in common.

Andy Kenworthy Square

What unites Jason Norwood, Matt Milligan and James Gaskell, was the tutelage of Andy Kenworthy, who won Myerscough College’s Tutor of the Year award in December 2022 and who is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the UK’s leading turf management educators.

Born in Bradford, Andy started his career in horticulture as a 16‑year‑old. He worked for a housing association for 20 years but realised his career had stagnated and he would need to gain qualifications if he was to progress. Achieving his NVQs, he was invited to become an assessor and 15 years ago became a tutor with Myerscough College.

Today, Andy’s working day begins at 6am, when he logs onto the online platform that enables him to view the portfolio of the students he is visiting that day. He looks at the weather and considers what stage in their development the students are at. With an idea of some activities in mind, he sets off around 7.30am to visit learners at their golf clubs, usually visiting two or three each day.

With three successive Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year winners in a row, Andy’s obviously doing something right and with nominations open for the 2023 edition of the awards until the end of March, BIGGA caught up with Andy to discover what makes an award‑winning student greenkeeper.

Congratulations on having three winners of the Toro Student Greenkeeper Awards. How did you react when James, the latest, was announced as the winner?

AK: It’s been fantastic and I still can’t take it in that it’s been three on the bounce.

I originally got these guys together when they started their Level 2. Matt was at Oakdale in Harrogate, Jason was at Rudding Park and James was at Ripon City. Once I had introduced them, they started talking and meeting up and just chatting. For them all to reach the height of being a Toro Student of the Year is absolutely fantastic.

When did you realise these three students were a bit special?

AK: You can tell because they’re keen and really interested in the industry and want to learn more. They’ve got a real thirst for knowledge and they’re always looking for that bit extra. They’re going to go on and do great things with their lives and their careers.

They’re three very different lads though, aren’t they?

AK: They’re very different, but the key thing is they all have a passion for the industry, although they may approach it in slightly different ways. I’ve tried to help them understand that there is not one direct line and that you can take bits from over here and over there and see what works best for you in your environment.

Jason was a mature learner and he came into it at a time when he’s thinking about his family and his career. He had a clear goal that he wanted to work on a links. He found his passion in greenkeeping, but why he picked a links nine hours away [Reay GC on the north coast of Scotland], I’ll never know!

But he loves it and he rang me yesterday for a catch up.

He told me I had set him on the right path and that made me feel really good, that he appreciated how I’d helped him.

I tried to get James to apply for the awards when he was doing his Level 2 and he kept saying to me ‘I’ll do it’. but really he didn’t feel ready.

That’s fair enough, there’s nothing wrong with that. When he progressed onto his Level 3, he felt ready and he’s made the right decision.

Where does the passion come from in these guys?

AK: I think it comes from the team around them. You look at this whole industry and people that come to events like BTME and the one thing that sets them apart is they’ve got a real passion for what they do.

Look at what we went through with the pandemic, when most people weren’t allowed to go to work but you had greenkeepers turning up to look after their greens throughout. These people turn up day after day at 6 o’clock in the morning in all weathers to do what they do and that passion just builds throughout the whole team.

You don’t want to work outdoors in all kinds of weather unless you’re a certain type of person; I’ve always loved it and that’s another reason I love this job. I’m not office based or  stuck in a classroom, I’m out on site with them and I get enthusiastic about it when I can take them out on the golf course.

What’s the relationship you have with your students?

AK: It’s friendly and open. I try to make sure I’m there to always support them because although I may only see them every six weeks, they can all get in contact. If they are looking for support then I’m happy to give them it.

How have you seen the learning process evolve over the last 15 years?

AK: I think students get a lot more engaged today. It’s not like it was when I first did my qualifications, when you were given a portfolio and left to your own devices to get that done. There are much stricter timetables to fulfil now and an online portfolio means you have got more direct contact.

I used to do an assignment and if it needed some work, I wouldn’t see my tutor again for another six weeks. Progress could be quite slow, whereas now it can be instant.

Sometimes a learner will send me some work and I’ll give them feedback and they can now resubmit it within a couple of hours.

What makes you consider nominating a student for the awards?

AK: It’s about the passion and enthusiasm to learn. They must also have the confidence in their own abilities that they want to put themselves forwards. I’ve had some really good ones in the past who I’ve wanted to nominate but they haven’t wanted to because they were nervous about the public speaking side of it.

But I open it up to everybody and say if you’re interested in doing it, I’ll support you. It then comes down to them and how they perform in the interviews.

What do you like about the Toro Student Greenkeeper Awards?

AK: It’s renowned throughout the whole industry. Even just getting to the finals is a big achievement and you’ll see people putting ‘Toro Student Greenkeeper finalist’ on their CVs for years afterwards. It shows they’re in the top echelon of students in the industry.

It can’t be a coincidence that you’ve had three winners in a row, so what is the key to your success?

AK: The one thing I do is make sure they are well prepared. I put them in touch with previous finalists to find out whatever information they can about the process. By talking to each other, they are already planning for what they might face in the interviews.

The employers can become really involved, too. The two lads at Rudding Park did presentations in front of the directors and heads of department in the hotel. That really set them apart, so that when they went and did it at the finals, it was second nature.

Last year, James was a little more worried about it because he’s a quiet lad anyway. The other two had done something special that was quite individual, whereas he went with a straightforward presentation. He said to me, ‘this is what you get with me’, but he still did what he needed to do.

What is it about your teaching that is special?

AK: The honest answer is I have absolutely no idea. I try to push them to think a little bit more. It’s not just about meeting a target, we try to go for the next step and look a little bit higher. If you’re aiming high, even if you don’t quite achieve it, you’re never going to be far away.

How does Myerscough College help you achieve this success?

AK: Myerscough always set the highest standards with everything they do.

Sometimes it’s about new ways of thinking, but they set that bar high and they’re always looking to be seen as the standard bearers of education.

What are your ambitions for your students?

AK: I want to see them excel in whatever they want to do. I want to see them go on to be course managers and be the next generation coming through. That doesn’t necessarily mean going on to the biggest clubs in the country, but just that wherever they go they are progressing and getting the best out of their abilities.

It all stems back to when I was a landscaper, working with people who were very negative and there was no progression. I got stuck for years until I realised I needed to do something different to get out of it. I don’t want anyone else to get stuck in that situation, so I’m always pushing them to progress.

Andy was talking to Greenkeeper International magazine.

Find out more about our range of sportsturf study programmes here

Find out more about the Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year award here