Back to the Home Page..Golf Ecology Resources..Golf Ecology Links.. Messages, Contact Us, About Us.. Email golfecology.co.ukEurope's Premier Online Golf Magazine..
 
 
 
 
 
 

STRI Making Strides

 

Dr Gordon McKillop was appointed Chief Executive of the STRI in July 2002, The Golf Club Secretary thought is appropriate to interview him on the changes proposed and made since his arrival. This is a reproduction of the interview.

You have not come from a golfing background therefore, what attracted you to the position and what aspects of your background can you bring to the STRI?

My background is that of a government researcher and adviser on wildlife issues, but I was also involved in the golf industry for the six years prior to joining the STRI. I worked with BIGGA, in conjunction with STRI, providing research and advice on wildlife and set-up training courses for greenkeepers on these issues. It was during this period that I established a working relationship with Bob Taylor, Mike Canaway and Ken Richardson, which eventually led to me applying for the position. However, before that arose I took a five-year MBA course in management skills to complement my stronger research background.

As we believe that 75% of the STRI's advisory income is derived from golf, how do you structure your golf work and teams?

Dr McKillop confirmed that the major source of their income came from golf and stated that in terms of this work their regional agronomists when he arrived did not have much local management input into how their service should be developed for their regions. Regional Managers have therefore been created with a brief to develop their 11 regional areas including Ireland. These managers report to the Senior Agronomist, Stuart Ormondroyd, who co-ordinates and directs the teams.

Our experience is that there has been a great diversity of advice given by your agronomists in the past. Do you have an agreed basic policy for all your advisers to preach, and if not, why not?

Regionalisation had made it more difficult to implement a strict STRI policy approach but now our agronomists meet quarterly for brain-storming sessions to discuss their issues and they are now encouraged to make joint visits outside their areas where it is thought to be beneficial. The quarterly sessions are based on technical issues rather than administrative issues. This is leading to a greater concensus which in time will lead to a more uniform approach.

It is acknowledged that in the past the STRI have been instrumental in supporting a golf club's greenkeeping policy document and continuity of advice is to be encouraged, but does the STRI have a creed for golf clubs?

If we do have a creed, it is very much along the lines expressed by Alastair Beggs in one of his recent articles. That is, simple is best until a combination of quality scientific research and experience tells us otherwise. On the research side, our own research is self-funded and we publish results in papers and in our Turfgrass Bulletin. We are currently researching microbials and preparing a research database of pests and diseases. We also undertake research for commercial companies, which is confidential. My aim is to invest more in staff and training and any surplus will be used to the benefit of the industry.

It is noticeable that during the last year you have undertaken a significant recruitment programme, what is the policy behind this expansion?

Just before my predecessor retired a number of agronomists left the Institute and some of the recruitment drive was for their replacements but I have since divided the UK and Ireland into three regional areas: Scotland and Ireland; North and England and North Wales; and South of England and South Wales. We have therefore expanded the number of agronomists to meet that requirement. Other than in Irealnd, the number of agronomists covering the UK is now at the desirable level, whilst still allowing time for training and time to improve their technical skills.

Good agronomists are hard to find, what are you doing to improve standards in this field?

It is important for existing agronomists to improve technical skills and hence the reason for joint visits and technical meetings. It is also essential to catch newly qualified agronomists early. I am therefore visiting colleges and universities with a view to sponsorsing students.

The STRI is essentially a research establishment and much of your work tends to be introspective. Is this the right approach in an industry that is hands-on and people orientated?

I disagree with your perception that we are primarily research orientated. More than 50% of our income is derived from the advisory side and the two halves are mutually complementary. Our agronomists now have input into identifying subjects on which research is required, based on their hands-on experience. Therefore I also disagree that our research is introspective.

Over the past few years the STRI has been perceived as languishing in mediocirty and your publications poorly presented, how do you propose to improve your communication within the industry?

The latest STRI brochure was produced for our inspection and this is a great improvement on previous versions. Dr McKillop also stated that whilst the annual report this year will be in the same format, it was hish intention to revamp this too in subsequent years. He further stated that this aspect was one of his personal goals and the production of improved literature was an ongoing programme. He has also been meeting at all the major representative organisations and is maintaining a continuing dialogue with each. Furthermore, he was considering taking the Golf Club Secretary's course, as staged at BTME, around the country as a roadshow.

You have on your staff some very able agronomists who are now competing in the market place. As a research establishment you are by nature partly funded by R&A and others, therefore is your competition with the private sector fair?

The R&A provides funding for both research and advistory work. However, all research funding has to be won from them and others on a project-by-project basis according to the merits of the work. There are no free or routine handouts. It is inevitable and also extremely important that you have a close working relationship with the main provider of the funds and this is something I will continue to do with all our clients but particularly with the R&A. There is increasing competition from universities for research funding but we also collaborate with them when there are mutual benefits. As for competition with external agronomists, we find this useful in focusing the mind.

What does the STRI's role as Official Agronomist to the R&A Championship Committee involve and what brief does the Committee give you?

The Championship Committee gives us a brief to cover the Open venues, final and regional qualifying courses. This year it worked out well. Where the clubs already have their own agronomists, STRI agronomists are nevertheless well received. We have a permanent interactive dialogue with the Secretary, Championship Secretary and Assistant Secretaries of the R&A and hold an annual review meeting with them. The Championship Committee does not dictate a detailed brief but from these discussions and over years of experience we know what the Championship Committee are looking for.

What is the STRI's policy in general on the use of chemicals, fertilisers and bio-stimulants, are you carrying out objective research in these areas, and will you be endeavoring to lead in this area?

There is no in-house research being undertaken in these areas other than microbial research referred to above. It is the STRI's policy to have minimal use of chemicals, fertilisers and bio-stimulants but when they are used, they should be applied sensibly and in an environmentally safe manner.

In recent years STRI has diversified into ecology and golf course architecture. How successful has this been and are you planning any further diversification?

They have been outstandingly successful, and for both these services, staff are at full capacity. We are currently considering expansion of our ecology service and possibly that of golf course architecture.

What input do you have on greenkeeper training and is this likely to change?

We hold two one-week courses at STRI every year, conduct seminars at BTME and I have a place on the GTC committee. Expansion in this area is being considered.

Where do you see the STRI and the industry in five years time?

At the moment my major task has been analysing the business for discussion. There is a meeting planned in October 2001 when the opportunities for STRI will be reviewed with senior staff and long-term plans will be drawn up. The construction side of our business, which represents approximately 25% of our income, is at present sky-high and continuing. In research and agronomy, there will be a gradual and sensible expansion. As for the industry in general, the expansion of golf's popularity looks set to continue.

It should be pointed out that the STRI is consulted on the construction of all grass surfaces for major sporting venues and is currently engaged on the composition of an ideal race course.

 

Email this page to a friend | Return to top of page