One of the high points of Bowls England’s 2022 Awards Night was undoubtedly provided by Greenkeeper of the Year being won by Earls Barton BC’s Philip Jeffery Wright.
With a minibus-load of friends, family and clubmates providing exuberant support, the Northamptonshire-based 67-year-old wore a delighted-if-bewildered expression as he collected the Dennis Mowers and SISIS sponsored award.
And nine months later it is fair to say that the loss of the first part of his ‘unsung hero’ status is still something of a source of bemusement to him.
“I’m not sure how or why I won but it was amazing,” he says. “I was just concentrating on improving the green and the next thing I knew the nomination came out of the blue from some of our county players.
“They used to not like playing at Earls Barton but now – after lots of work – they want to bowl there and I’m delighted to have received the accolade.
“Just being nominated was really special; I didn’t have any idea that I might win and I was over the moon when my name was read out – I couldn’t believe it.
“When you hear things like: ‘It’s been over 40 years since it’s been in this sort of condition’ it’s a very nice feeling as the club has had some very decent greenkeepers during that time. I was in awe.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. I had some family there and we will treasure the night forever through the memories, the pictures and videos my kids took.
“It came at a really good time because this has been the club’s centenary so there’s been lots going on in a very dry year when the green has had loads of use.”
Philip’s deserved reputation as a fine greenkeeper clearly now goes ahead of him, and he has recently been added to a shortlist for the GMA (Grounds Management Association) awards at the dinner at the NEC.
And a glance at the submissions with which he was nominated for the Bowls England award reveals just why he is held in such high esteem.
“When Philip took on the green, it was graded “B” by the county, had several bald patches and corners damaged by scarifying,” it reads.
“Philip secured technical qualifications, sought funding from the club, and has created a green that the club can be extremely proud of through persistence.”
His club added: “Opposing teams often want to switch their home fixtures to play on our green. Phil and his staff have turned the green from being one of worst to probably the best in the area. All teams that played this year commented how well the green bowled.”
Philip’s achievement is doubly special given that he only began taking an interest in his green in 2019 and is entirely self-taught through watching and speaking with fellow greenkeepers, taking courses and the use of You Tube instruction videos.
“It was really daunting when I first started as I hadn’t got experience to drop back on,” he acknowledges. In fact, I didn’t even know how to switch some of the machines on let alone how to use them.
“Colleagues at Abington and Thrapston were great – I have been really impressed by how willing other greenkeepers are to offer assistance and advice and those two in particular have been tremendously helpful to me.
“Robert Jack from Dennis has also been brilliant – he’s one of the best blokes in the world at offering guidance and suggestions. He has even loaned equipment when we needed it at very short notice.
“A mate bought me the STRI book All About Bowls which is a bible – it has been incredibly useful as it has everything you need to know. I also watch the Dennis videos on You Tube.
“I was therefore thrilled when (turf-care specialist) Alan Lewis asked to speak to me at the dinner as I watch his videos all the time. It has been really nice to get some recognition – the challenge now is maintain things at a high level.”
Having gone from labouring for a contractor in 2019 to doing the entire greenkeeper’s job himself, Philip now also tinkers with machinery to reduce his club’s maintenance spend, and is also looking to the future.
“I now have a complete plan for the whole year and I do most of the work myself and get support when I need it,” he says. “My son-in-law Ian Butcher helped with the end-of-season work this year and I’m hoping to train him so he can do more.
“It is a really enjoyable job – I’ve always had a passion for the village as I lived here on and off for most of the last 20 years and my kids were brought up here – so it’s nice to contribute.”
If your club has someone you would like to nominate for a 2022 Award please click here. Nominations are now open and will close on Friday 25th November at 9:00am. Get nominating!