Including volunteers, the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) has estimated that there are more than 100,000 ground staff in the UK.
Ground staff are mainly employed by organisations that manage playing and leisure facilities. These include local authorities - which maintain over 50% of all sports surfaces in the UK - sports clubs, Grounds Maintenance contractors, schools and colleges, and golf clubs.
There are around 15,000 Greenkeepers working in the UK. Employers include private golf clubs, local authority leisure departments that operate public golf courses, hotels with golf facilities and ground maintenance contractors.
In recent years the promotion of the link between playing sport and good health has meant more leisure facilities and more opportunities for ground staff, particularly those with the right qualifications or aptitude to working in the industry.
Jobs are available throughout the country, with the most opportunities in more heavily populated areas.
As a Groundsman or Greenkeeper you will look after sports grounds, such as football, cricket and rugby pitches, bowling greens, tennis courts, racecourses and golf courses.
You will need practical skills to operate various types of machinery and you need to be able to understand plans and drawings to be able to mark out pitches, calculate seed amounts and fertiliser and pesticide applications.
If you have experience in horticulture, you may be able to enter as an unskilled Groundsman. You may then be able to progress to skilled level by gaining experience and working towards relevant qualifications. Alternatively, you may choose to do a full-time course in horticulture, landscaping or sports and amenity turf maintenance. A Modern Apprenticeship is a great way to get started too.
The key role of a Greenkeeper or Groundsman is to ensure that the playing surface is maintained in a good and safe condition. It may be made of natural turf, synthetic turf or a combination of both. Daily tasks vary according to the time of year and the type of surface being prepared, but they may include:
- Ensuring the playing surface is maintained in a condition that meets the requirements of the sporting body regulations, which is safe for the players while giving entertainment to the spectators
- Controlling and removing weeds as and when required which will be dependent upon the time of year and season
- Setting out accurately and marking out the playing areas to the requirements of the governing body of the sport using only approved marking compounds or tape
- Caring for surrounding ornamental areas, such as flower beds and environmental / ecological areas and habitats.
- Operating light and heavy equipment, such as mowers, sprinklers and shredders
- Driving tractors with a variety of specialised attachments, including gangmowers, sprayers, seeders and spiked rollers.
Sometimes groundsmen or greenkeepers may be involved in the construction of a new surface. This may involve reading drawings, preparing the land and ensuring there is sufficient irrigation and drainage to meet the needs of the surface.
Groundsmen and Greenkeepers often come into contact with the public and relevant sports men and women, so need good communication skills. They may also have to deal with on-site contractors.
Some ground staff work as self-employed contractors and some specialise in particular areas of the worker single sports facilities.
Ground staff usually work 37 to 40 hours a week. However, actual working hours depend on the time of year, where they work and any special events the sports facility will be used for.
The hours can be unsociable and involve evenings and weekends, especially when working for professional sports clubs that may play matches under floodlights.
Grounds staff spend most of their time working outside in all weather conditions. The work could involve a fair amount of walking, lifting and bending. In some jobs, grounds staff, may need to travel around one large site or to divide their time between several sites.
Salaries vary with experience, qualifications and between companies, but here's a guide to what you can expect.
You should have an interest in sports turf and hands-on work such as gardening or general horticultural.
Ground staff working in a particular sport normally have a good knowledge of the game.
Although ground staff do not need formal qualifications, it can be helpful to have some experience in gardening or horticulture. An appropriate Modern Apprenticeship can also provide a great start.
What experienced workers can do
- Maintain structures and surfaces
- Use equipment and machinery
- Maintain planted areas in good condition
- Present and maintain sports surfaces and facilities for play, including setting out the required equipment
- Level and prepare sites for landscaping
- Have an understanding of plant and soil science, to ensure surfaces are maintained in a playable condition.
Personal qualities you should have
- Like the outdoors
- Happy to work on your own or with others
- Good communication skills.
Promotion prospects often depend on the size of the employer. Ground staff working for larger organisations, such as local authorities and some sports clubs, may be able to move up to the role of supervisor or team leader and then Head Greenkeeper or Grounds Manager.
Some grounds staff may progress to manage several courses or leisure areas and become estate managers.
Those working in smaller organisations may need to move to a different company to gain further experience and promotion.
Promotion also depends on the achievement of higher-level qualifications. The IOG offers a range of courses for people who want to continue their professional development or specialise in particular areas of the work within groundsmanship.
There may also be opportunities to become self-employed and to work overseas.