After winning Toro Student Greenkeeper Of The Year, Nick won a 7 week trip to the USA, below is a piece Nick has written about his incredible experience.
So here I am sitting at Heathrow airport January 7th and I’m still trying to get my head round the fact I have won Toro student greenkeeper of the year and I’m about to embark on a 7 week trip that could literally change my life. Ahead of me lay 8 flights, across four states, visiting the Toro Factory, a trip to the GIS in Texas, and a six week intensive course at the winter turf school at Umass in Massachusetts.
My experience starts at breakfast on the morning of our first day at Umass where I find out eleven people are staying at the same hotel as me all doing the winter turf school. It wasn’t long before we all knew each other’s names and after a bowl of lucky charms we left for class.
The first day I would say helps to “ease you in” but I soon found out the intensity of education was going to rise a little! Winter turf school in a nut shell is a very scientifically detailed programme which encompasses topics such as pathology, entomology, physiology, soil science, weed science, fertility, arboriculture, irrigation management with guest speakers by industry experts from around the world.
Each day you attend 4 lectures which are two hours long with an hour for lunch in the middle apart from Fridays where we got to leave at 12 to allow students to go home for the weekends. Each subject was taught by a specialist lecturer to an amazing standard and what these guys didn’t know, probably wasn’t worth knowing. However even after a long day in class homework was an ever present but with everyone in the same boat quite often we sat together at the hotel and helped each other out.
In order to assess how each student is coping with the course and to obtain your final grades, exams were taken on almost a daily basis with three exams taking place on the same day on some occasions. Although all this may sound like a lot, it almost doesn’t feel like it because your learning about something you love and it is extremely fascinating! Don’t get me wrong the work load is massive and not paying attention in class isn’t an option but I was reward for my efforts by graduating with high honours and a much improved knowledge of my job.
The university itself also plays a big part in your enjoyment of the course. Umass is a place with a great buzz about it, and at full capacity can house 25,000 students and boasts top notch facility’s. Its hard to explain the scale of this place but its bigger than a lot of towns where I live back at home! My favourite place at the university had to be the Mullins centre which hosted the basketball and ice hockey. The 10,500 seater stadium had a great atmosphere and offered up some good quality sport, and with a treat from one of the lectures (Dr P Vittum), front row seats for a basketball game….I was quickly hooked.
Outside of the student life I was lucky to have a great bunch of people to hang out with who were from all different walks of life and contained two other international students from Austria and Pakistan. Every evening in the search for food we found ourselves at many different pubs, restaurants and sports bars. This is where I felt I got a real taste of America, far from the experiences a tourist may have. I learnt that a crispy fried chicken on a sweet waffle dripped in maple syrup is a legitimate meal (but not one I would recommend), and pickleback shots are disgusting and should be consumed in small amounts! On one of the nights it was the superbowl and with the locals being mainly Patriots fans it was going to be interesting to see how the locals celebrate the event. As it turned out the result didn’t go well but it was a great experience all the same.
During my 5th week at Umass I had the opportunity to go to the Golf industry show which was being held in San Antonio in Texas. I was looking forward to enjoying some warmer climates but as luck would have it San Antonio was experiencing colder than usual temperatures. However this didn’t dampen what was a brilliant couple of days at the trade show. I met up with my boss James Bledge and a few others and caught up on all the news from home before heading out for something to eat at one of the many restaurants around an extremely picturesque area called the Riverwalk which meanders underneath the city above.
With the trade show a short walk from the hotel you are immediately hit by the size of the event as soon as you walk in the door. A huge hall contained the show which was a struggle to look round properly in one day. Luckily I had two and this meant I could really indulge in everything that was on offer which included a couple of educational seminars and a chance to inspect all the latest machinery. The time in San Antonio was also a great place to do some networking and I met some great people who have been successful in our industry and were able to pass on some good bits of advice.
I arrived back to Umass a bit behind on the school work due to my GIS trip. The last week was busy time that came to a conclusion on the Friday with a presentation ceremony in the campus centre hotel. It was a bitter sweet moment after finishing the course but now having to say your goodbyes to the people that had helped you have such a great experience.
For me however it wasn’t finished and the last stage of my journey came with a visit to Toro HQ in Minneapolis. The size of the operation at Toro is immense and its really hard to explain the scale of the buildings which house everything from construction to research and development. Every employee I met was more than willing to explain there part in the process and really took pride in there work which is definitely shown in the final product. I also visited The Distribution warehouse which was a 2 hour drive down the road but well worth a look to see the rows upon rows of brand new Toro machinery ready to head out the door.
After my tours of the facilities, a day trip to the mall of America and a visit to the U.S. Bank stadium which had recently hosted the super bowl, it was time to head for home. Reflecting back on my trip I feel so lucky to have met some amazing people and experienced some amazing things. My knowledge of the job I love has raised dramatically and I feel as if I can really improve at being a greenkeeper. Knowledge really is power and I look forward to using the things I have learnt at Umass throughout my career.
Special thanks must go to everyone at BIGGA who organise this award, David Cole and Christine Wilson at Reesink Turfcare, Kyle who looked after me from Toro, the whole team at Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club, fellow students Kevin Fasulo and Ryan Richards and anyone else who helped me to gain this awesome experience. I cannot express my gratitude enough and I feel truly privileged to have won Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year.