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.
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?
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.
we believe that 75% of the STRI's advisory income is derived from golf, how do
you structure your golf work and teams?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
is noticeable that during the last year you have undertaken a significant recruitment
programme, what is the policy behind this expansion?
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.
agronomists are hard to find, what are you doing to improve standards in this
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
does the STRI's role as Official Agronomist to the R&A Championship Committee
involve and what brief does the Committee give you?
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
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?
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.
recent years STRI has diversified into ecology and golf course architecture. How
successful has this been and are you planning any further diversification?
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.
input do you have on greenkeeper training and is this likely to change?
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.
do you see the STRI and the industry in five years time?
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.
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.