Turf management grads at NZ Open

A group of Te Pūkenga students have started their new careers on a high this week.

Eight sports turf management students — all of whom are only in their second week of the course — spent yesterday at Millbrook Resort polishing the greens ahead of the 103rd New Zealand Open golf tournament, which tees off tomorrow.

They were joined by course graduates Hemi Te Awhitu, a greenkeeper, and Taine Reynish, an irrigation technician and greenkeeper, both of whom are previous graduates of the course, who now work full-time at Millbrook.

Te Pūkenga’s Cromwell campus sports turf management course head John Prunnell said the students spent the day "inside the ropes" tidying up divots and getting a close-up, hands-on experience of what was required at this level.

"It may seem like a mundane thing — it’s an important job," he said.

"It needs to be right. The green staff here have been working their butts off for months and months to get this place pristine — they don’t want people coming along and throwing sand around and making a mess of things.

"It’s got to be precise, so everything we do needs to be to a very high standard.

"It sets a tone for us for the year but it gets them inside the ropes ... They can interact with the golfers, with the pros, with the other greenkeepers."

As part of the 18-month course, students spent one day a week on work experience, often at golf courses around Queenstown Lakes and Central Otago.

That helped them learn how to integrate into a turf team and learn "soft skills", such as timekeeping, punctuality and effective communication.

Te Pūkenga’s Cromwell campus sports turf management course head John Prunnell is teaching eight...
Te Pūkenga’s Cromwell campus sports turf management course head John Prunnell is teaching eight students on the job at the New Zealand Open golf tournament, hosted at Millbrook Resort. Photo: Otago Daily Times
In September, the students started a six-month paid work placement, after which they returned to the polytechnic for a second-year block course, after which they were fully qualified.

Mr Te Awhitu said he had been working full-time at Millbrook after graduating from the course about a year ago.

"I came into the course knowing almost zero about the turf industry, and to come out as a qualified turf manager, coming into this kind of environment here at the NZ Open, I feel like I can just walk right into the job and be right there with the rest of the crew."

Mr Prunnell said as well as setting the students up with an excellent chance at full-time employment, the course also provided a "production line" of much-needed staff throughout the country.

Graduates from the course generally either went on to work on golf courses, or on sports fields and cricket pitches in stadiums, or at the "grassroots" level, with local councils, for example.

The latter, he said, was "really rewarding".

"The match-day events, the big stuff, is great, but for me I really loved the community stuff.

"Community groups that don’t have much, if you’ve got ingenuity and skill and you care about that stuff you can do so much in that space for them.

"It’s the health and vibrancy of a community, particularly in small communities.

"It’s where everyone congregates, it’s fitness, mental health, people interacting ... It’s not just about a big event like this."