On several occasions, I have been asked by a golf course to spend a day 'certificating' their greenkeepers in Tractor Driving Competence. There usually are around employees, ranging from the Head Greenkeeper with 30 years experience, through 'non qualified' but vastly experienced operators, to young greenkeepers only 2 years out of college.

In the morning, I gave them a short course in Safety Awareness, went over with them the Controls And Their Function, Tractor Maintenance, and the Safe Working Practice of using a tractor, trailer & implements.

In the afternoon I gave each an individual verbal test on their knowledge and then a practical test on their ability to use the tractor, the tractor & trailer and the tractor & implements.

Their knowledge of the problems associated with tractor use was adequate in all cases - actually of a very high standard - but when it came to the practical test, the young greenkeeper was unable to carry the given task out competently.

On investigation, the failure was really that of the Head Greenkeeper - the young lad had successfully completed his Tractor Driving Module at College but had subsequently not been allowed to use the tractor at work. This illustrates the difficulty of all education - concentration on theory, without the practical experience and frequent practice, can cause problems!

We are nowadays beginning to appreciate this and start to do something about it!

Education can be defined as : The knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process. This is the 'umbrella term' to cover all means of gaining knowledge & skills.

In the 'old days' we spoke of Theory and Practice as being the two foundations on which practical education was based.

Nowadays we have different terms as we now realise the importance of the different stages a trainee has to go through to gain competence

It is now divided into

  1. underpinning knowledge
  2. training
  3. work experience under supervision
  4. work experience without supervision
  5. competence

Each of these stages has to be experienced in some form or other to reach a level of Competence.

Competence can be defined as the quality or condition of being legally qualified to perform an act. Competence is the real criteria for acceptance of adequate educational achievement and should be the base standard expected in the groundsman/ greenkeeping industry.

Is there anything so simple that it requires no instruction?

I always use the hammer as an example of a tool everyone thinks they are competent to use - but are they??

The proper use of a hammer entails some considerations:


Most trainees I come across are NOT COMPETENT to use a hammer without some underpinning knowledge, training and supervision and practice until competent!!

When we look at groundsman/ greenkeeping education we can see it breaks up into several stages

When trainees start, it should be assumed that they are untrained in all aspects of the job ( including matters of health and safety.)

During the course of their training, staff ( and College Lecturers) have a duty to ensure that the trainee is made aware of all the hazards and risks in the work being taught.

At this stage they are also taught why they carry out such sub tasks, and when they should do them, etc.

If this is carried out at College, in order to prove the trainee has understood the above, he is required to pass assessments.

This stage is now called UNDERPINNING KNOWLEDGE

At some stage practical instruction is required - the trainee is shown how to do it, usually several times, until he understands what is required of him.

This stage is called TRAINING

The trainee must be allowed to practice whilst a 'competent' person looks on

If this is at College, in order to prove the trainee has understood the training, he is required to pass assessments

Adequate supervision is the responsibility of the Head Groundsman at place of work and. the Lecturer-in-Charge at College.


The trainee will reach a level of competence that he can be left to do the job unsupervised - most people think this is the Level of Competence - it is not !!


The trainee can now carry the work out unsupervised but working at the speed he is capable of - with practice he will reach industry standard - the ability to carry the work out to Industry Standard is COMPETENCE.

Most of you now know about NVQ - National Vocational Qualifications( in Scotland we have SVQ - Scottish Vocational Qualifications which are of a comparable level)

NVQs are based on the premise that experience on the job is as much a training medium as classroom work and should be a part of the attainment of qualifications.

The NVQ requires the trainee not only to know the underpinning knowledge but also to be able to carry out the task to industry standards i.e. when the trainee attains a pass of the assessment, he should be able to carry out the task on his own to an acceptable standard and at an acceptable work rate.


At the moment these standards are still in a state of flux but are ' hardening up' into Industry Criteria

In groundsman/ greenkeeping at the moment there are basically three levels of NVQ - equivalent to the 3 years of Apprenticeship - 4th and 5th levels NVQs will follow

Some subjects are able to be taught naturally in College whilst others require one-on-one instruction and hours of personal practice. With the best will in the world, a College with a class of 15 has difficulty in allowing any student adequate practice time during his/her 3-6 weeks/ year at college.

 For Block Release Students, however, this will only allow work experience under supervision to be achieved - the Head Groundsmen/ Greenkeeper must get involved by allowing the student to have work experience without supervision on his own playing field/ golf course.

The IOG offer Competence Certification in various aspects of Groundsmanship - Tractor Operations, Small Engine Pedestrian Equipment, Ride on Mowers, First Response First-aid , Setting Out and Lining Out - these will dovetail into the existing educational framework and allow groundsmen to confirm their Competency in the work they do.

Next time an accident occurs - ask yourself, was the person really competent in what they were doing - did he reach industry standards??? If not - why not?????