Greenkeeping pioneer receives prestigious award on opening night of BTME

Golf greenkeepers from across the globe joined together at the British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association’s (BIGGA) annual education programme and trade show to celebrate the career of a former head greenkeeper who spent 30 years building a network of turf professionals across Europe.

Dean Cleaver began his career at The Leicestershire Golf Club and later became head greenkeeper at Rugby Golf Club and then Stratford-upon-Avon Golf Club. He first joined the committee of a greenkeepers’ association aged just 17 and in 1996 became BIGGA’s youngest-ever chairperson, aged just 38.

In 1996 he led the formation of the Federation of European Golf Greenkeepers Associations and has acted as executive officer ever since, building a network of organisations to promote greenkeeping and enhance the support available to turf professionals, whether a country has thousands of golf courses or just one. Today FEGGA unites 23 associations around the world, including the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the Turfgrass Managers Association of South Africa.

Dean will step down from his post when he retires later in 2024. At the BIGGA Celebration sponsored by Jacobsen, hosted on the opening evening of the BIGGA Turf Management Exhibition (BTME), Dean was presented with the Outstanding Contribution award sponsored by Jacobsen, in recognition of a half century of commitment to supporting his fellow greenkeepers.

BIGGA Chief Executive Jim Croxton said: “During a 50-year career, Dean Cleaver has shown an unwavering commitment to uniting greenkeepers, no matter their golf club’s location or standing in the game. Possessing a work ethic instilled in him at The Leicestershire by his mentor, Paddy McCarron, Dean spent decades supporting the activities of first the British Golf Greenkeepers Association and then BIGGA when it was formed in 1987.

“His commitment to a Europe-wide project led to the formation of FEGGA in 1996 and that has provided a network that links established associations such as ours with those in countries where golf is still an emerging sport.

“Dean’s legacy will be felt for decades to come and in this, the year of his retirement, BIGGA could not be prouder to present him with our most prestigious accolade, the Outstanding Contribution award sponsored by Jacobsen.”

Also scooping top prizes at the BIGGA Celebration and showcasing the broad range of clubs represented by members of the association, were two clubs at either end of the golfing spectrum.

The team at Dudley Golf Club received Greenkeeping Project of the Year sponsored by Origin Amenity Solutions. Leading a team of just three, Stewart Marshall has brought the Midlands golf club back from the brink by using innovative and often cost-free sustainable solutions. From being on the verge of closure prior to the pandemic, the team has transformed Dudley with little or no budget into a thriving venue, just in time for the club’s 130th anniversary.

Examples of development work include:

  • Asking for unwanted wooden planks from a local timber yard for the construction of bridges and reusing old materials to create flower beds and pathways
  • Engaging with local schools to enhance and promote the ecological offering of the site
  • Hosting fun social events in the clubhouse to raise money for equipment.

Stewart and his team have shown what can be achieved through innovative thinking and greenkeeping expertise, highlighting the key role greenkeepers play in the success of any golf club.

Also receiving a BIGGA Award was Walton Heath Golf Club. Following the successful hosting of US Open qualifying and the AIG Women’s Open, Michael Mann and his team were awarded with Championship Greenkeeping Performance of the Year sponsored by Bernhard & Company.

Following the news the club would be hosting the only UK-based women’s Major championship in 2023, a pest infestation and prolonged drought devastated turf quality at the historic Surrey venue, ultimately leading to the installation of a new irrigation system. Vandalism further damaged playing surfaces but the team worked extra hours – often working under floodlights – to repair the damage. Delays slowed progress but the greenkeepers stepped up and took on responsibility for reinstating turf on top of daily maintenance and other project work, eventually completing installation a full 12 months after the contractual end date.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the team, both US Open Qualifying and the AIG Women’s Open were successfully staged, with the greenkeeping team receiving widespread plaudits for the immaculate presentation of the course despite all the challenges they had overcome.

Nominations for the BIGGA Awards were submitted throughout 2023, with a judging panel meeting to decide the finalists and overall winners.

The other finalists were:

Greenkeeping Project of the Year with Origin Amenity Solutions

  • Basingstoke Golf Club
  • Sandiway Golf Club

Championship Greenkeeping Performance of the Year with Bernhard & Company

  • Paisley Golf Club
  • Portlethen Golf Club

More information about the BIGGA Awards and the finalists can be found on the BTME website.

BTME continues until Thursday 24 January at the Harrogate Convention Centre in North Yorkshire.

Nominations will reopen for the 2024 awards following the conclusion of BTME.

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