Career change leads home to golf for John Deere award winner

A dramatic career change has paid off for SRUC student Ben Matthews, after his tutors unanimously named him the winner of this year’s HNC Golf Course Management Student of the Year Award, sponsored by John Deere and Scottish turf merchant Double A.

Winner Ben Matthews (seated) receives his certificate and a £300 voucher from Sandy Armit, managing director of Fife-based John Deere dealer Double A.

Born in London, but raised in Canada from the age of three, Ben moved to Scotland in 2014. He worked in health and social care in Canada and Scotland for a total of 20 years before directing it was time to change.

“Since my return to Scotland, I have been helping children in crisis as an advocate, making sure they have a voice,” says Ben. “It was amazing work and I loved it, but I started to burn out – I couldn’t help worrying about the kids I was working with.”

Initially, Ben studied for a Masters in Sustainable Resource Management at the University of Edinburgh.

“If I could, I decided I wanted to turn the degree into a job where I could work outdoors while protecting the environment,” he explains.

It was a chance observation while spending a day on the SRUC campus that led him to pursue a career in golf course management.

“I’ve always been a fan of golf and although I’ve never been good, I enjoy playing it,” he says.

“I was walking past the SRUC Elmwood campus one day and they had a big banner outside that said ‘have you thought about a career in greens maintenance? “. I ended up calling them and going to see Paul Miller, the course curriculum manager, and everything he told me about it ticked all the boxes.”

Ben enjoyed the variety of subjects taught in the course, even those he initially thought were less interesting, such as soil science.

“I thought it would be dry, but Dr. Miller made it really interesting, teaching us everything we would need to know as turf managers,” he says. “I also loved learning about design and construction.

“I attended a few universities and colleges, and this was by far my best experience – the tutors are all phenomenal.”

Ben has since secured a position as a seasonal greenkeeper for the St Andrews Links Trust.

“I live only 25 minutes away, so it seemed silly not to try to land a position in the birthplace of golf,” he says. “I’m lucky to work on the old course, where golf has been played for 600 years, so every day is like Christmas Day to me right now!”

Ben likes to focus on the practical side of green space maintenance and looks forward to developing his experience and skills.

“I was absolutely blown away by the environmental community – everyone is so supportive and welcoming,” he says. “It’s the type of industry where if you have a problem, you can call someone on another golf course and they’ll lend you equipment or recommend a product. It’s such a tight-knit community and positive. I’m so happy to be in it.”

Ben is currently busy preparing the famous St Andrews course for the 150e Open this summer.

“I don’t think I could be in a better place to start my career and I’m so grateful to SRUC and so happy to have won this award,” he says. “Finding out that I had won really confirmed to me that I had done the right thing by changing careers and that all my hard work had paid off.”

Course Tutor, Ian Butcher, says: “Ben has been a very positive member of the faculty throughout a period of change and transformation, and all staff welcome his contribution to our courses, whether in online or on campus.”

“Ben has, like many of our HND cohorts, decided to make a career change from the health and social care sector and he has also completed a Masters degree in Sustainable Resource Management. This has provided Ben with a strong foundation for our own agenda as we tackle the challenges facing golf in the 21st century.”

“He has a very strong background in building teams and has also demonstrated strong communication skills with industry professionals, as well as an ability to adapt to new situations. In 2021, he was awarded the R&A Greenkeeping Fellowship, which again adds to his perspective on the world of golf as a whole.”

“Without a doubt, her desire to learn and her enthusiasm for golf course management lead to the consistently high level of submissions and the ability to explore new ideas. We look forward to supporting her new career as she continues with the St Andrews Links Trust in the Open Championship year of 2022.”

Michael C. Ford