How one Aussie firm is helping desperate golf clubs tackle the skills crisis 

It’s been well documented how much golf has been an unexpected beneficiary of the COVID-19 pandemic. From huge spikes in participation to record sales in equipment, golf’s classification as a safe, outdoor activity that promotes social distancing has well and truly safeguarded its immediate future. 

But behind all the buzz of the sport’s newfound popularity lies a stark reality that has golf club managers in a spin: how do we find staff to keep the momentum going?

“It’s a great time for golf clubs but a terrible time for labour,” says David Burton, principal adviser for EnvoyGolf who also serves as a consultant for Golf Business Advisory Services.

With 24 years’ experience in golf club management, Burton is well versed on the challenges clubs face in resourcing their operations. Those challenges have been exacerbated by the increased activity – and vanishing staff – during the boom.

“COVID-19 was a catalyst for a lot more activity in golf but it also spread clubs’ existing staff thin,” Burton says. “When the pandemic was at its worst, clubhouses were forced to close. Hospitality staff suddenly had to pivot and find other employment opportunities. When club operations returned to normal, many just haven’t come back.”

Speaking with the GIG (Golf Industry Guru) Podcast, Burton revealed some 90 percent of clubs had reported food-and-beverage staff shortages, while more than 80 percent were struggling to fill course-related vacancies.

“It’s become a bit of an epidemic in its own right,” he adds.

Of course, worker shortages haven’t been exclusive to golf. It’s a much-publicised national crisis. Nearly two years of lockdowns and subsequent border closures have drained Australia’s talent pool bare and forced an intense battle among competing industries for the few remaining drips. Sadly, when it comes to recruiting for golf-course agronomy roles, the battle has been a losing one.

“The younger generation are not as enthusiastic about working outdoors as much as they used to be,” Burton says. “Making matters worse, golf courses are competing with construction companies, landscaping businesses and councils for ground staff. Those that are working in golf are stressed more than they’ve ever been. Course activity is up over 20 percent and greenkeepers are having to do more work in the same number of hours and staff. We’ve known for some time now that superintendents and general managers have been crying out for a solution.”

Which is why Burton and the team at EnvoyGolf haven’t been short on work themselves. Via partnerships struck in Scandinavia and the UK and most recently with Canadian golf-recruitment firm Fresh Golf Solutions, they have formed a reciprocal working visa program that, as Burton puts it, “utilises the hemispheres to help each other”. 

Think of it as an exchange program between like-minded golf nations – countries in both the northern and southern hemispheres have agreed to loan golf-course personnel to one another between their respective playing seasons. When courses in one part of the world are experiencing their winter weather, courses in the other parts are in their peak period.

“If you think about a superintendent and what they’re looking for, they need seasonal staff but they need two things specifically,” Burton says. “First, they want greens staff with experience because with the time it takes to train them, you’ve lost a chunk of your season. So, what we do is make sure any incoming staff have at least two seasons of experience working at a golf course. When they arrive at a club, they should be able to jump on a mower, they should be able to take direction easily, maybe even supervise other staff and take on added responsibilities. Our superintendents are getting young adults, often very athletic and enthusiastic that are motivated to learn and already have experience. So that’s half the battle won.” 

The other thing EnvoyGolf does is take away all the logistics that often overwhelm superintendents in these predicaments.

“If I said to a superintendent in Australia or Canada, ‘I’ve got a couple of young staff who are keen to come over and help you out this summer,’ the superintendent starts to think, Oh, where are they going to live? How am I going to organise that? How do I get introduced to them? How are we going to make this all work? We take all that stress away. We assist with their visas, accommodation, vehicles, insurances, telcos, banks… all that stuff that’s a bit of a nightmare for busy clubs,” Burton says. “We also have standardised processes and systems including  effective video tools to help with introductions between candidates and the clubs.”

It’s a genius idea and one that has helped countless Australian courses already fill a void, including Sydney’s famed New South Wales Golf Club.

Filip Lindh is a Swedish greenkeeper who spent five months working and living in Sydney as part of the program. He says working at NSW Golf Club was “one of the coolest workplaces” and an experience he will cherish forever.

“It’s something that I will never forget,” Lindh says. “I have friends and memories for life. It is the perfect way to live, work and see new things on the opposite side of the world, with lots of opportunities to learn more about and in the greenkeeping industry.”

But it’s not just Sweden and Canada exchanging employees with Australia. Greenkeepers are coming from as far as England, Scotland, Finland, Norway and South Africa. For Burton, the more the program continues to grow, the more win-win scenarios will be achieved. “Yes, it’s short term to have someone come and cut your turf but it’s long term to say you’re now a club of choice by being a participant in this program,” he says. “For internationals coming here, it’s not necessarily an opportunity to go home with a packet of money. As we know, what you make in Australia you spend to live, especially in the bigger cities. But this is an opportunity of a lifetime. These opportunities aren’t everywhere. You can build your skills in a new environment, at a new golf course in different conditions, with superintendents who will impart their knowledge. Foreigners get to sample the Australian lifestyle. A lot of greenkeepers are finished by 2.30pm every day and they spend their afternoons at places like Bondi Beach or socialising. They build friendships, they create memories and connect for a lifetime.”

Burton did warn the program wasn’t for the faint-hearted. 

“You really have to have an appetite for adventure, but there is such a consolidation of benefits and personal development,” he concludes.

One of those benefits, of course, is keeping this great game booming.

• If your club is struggling to find staff on or off the course, or if you’re up for a bit of globetrotting and a new working experience, get it touch with the EnvoyGolf team at