Groundspeople are in charge of the turf (grass), tracks and pitches at sports fields, golf courses, public areas, schools and racecourses.
Groundspeople with up to two years' experience usually earn
$33K-$60K per year
Head groundspeople, or those in managerial positions usually earn
$60K-$100K per year
Source: Primary ITO, 2017.
Pay for groundspeople varies depending on grounds size, their level of responsibility and the region they work in.
- Trainees may start on minimum wage or a little more.
- Groundspeople with more than two years' experience can earn up to $60,000 a year.
- Head groundspeople usually earn between $60,000 and $80,000.
Groundspeople in managerial positions at large golf courses or stadiums, and contract managers who manage council contracts, may earn over $100,000.
Source: Primary ITO, 2017.
- PAYE.net.nz website - use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Employment New Zealand website - information about minimum wage rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Groundspeople may do some or all of the following:
- mow, irrigate, control disease, weeds and pests, and repair and roll grassed areas
- sow grass seed or lay turf
- operate and maintain irrigation and drainage systems, mowing equipment and machinery
- prepare and mark out sports fields, cricket pitches, tennis courts, golf courses or racetracks
- keep grounds tidy and do maintenance work on fences and buildings
- cultivate and maintain flowers, shrubs and trees
- organise rubbish removal, recycling and composting.
Those in managerial positions may also:
- manage staff and budgets
- keep records for planning and council compliance.
Skills and knowledge
Groundspeople need to have:
- an understanding of soil and plant science (agronomy) and care
- knowledge of pest, weed and disease control methods and how to put them into practice safely
- knowledge of climate and weather forecasting
- skill in using and repairing machinery including specialised turf equipment
- knowledge of landscaping techniques.
- usually work regular business hours, but often work weekends during sporting events
- may work at sports fields and pitches, parks, golf courses, schools, turf farms, racecourses, private grounds, or offices
- work in all weather conditions.
What's the job really like?
If Neli Laufoli makes a mistake in his job as a turf management trainee, there's no way to hide it. "On race days the cameras are on the track and you can see the mow lines, like patterns in carpet." So Neli's most important job is making sure the turf at the Auckland Racing Club looks perfect.
Mowing the perfect line
"We have competitions with other race tracks you know, to see whose lines are the straightest. The first mow is the most important to get your line straight, because that's right up against the running rail. If you hit the running rail and it falls over, then you're basically stuffed – you're in disgrace!"
Being part of the big event
"The atmosphere on a race day is cool and it's fun. We make sure everything is running OK on the track. We keep an eye on the rails because on a really hot day they can expand and bend out.
"It's a nice feeling at the big races when people comment on the track at the speeches. They say it's a really good track and stuff like that, and you get a good feeling because you are part of the team that did it."
Eric finds out what it's like to be a groundsperson - 5.40 mins. (Video courtesy of New Zealand Sports Turf Industry Training Organisation).
Clinton: We’ve flown Eric to Wellington to discover the fascinating and diverse career opportunities in sports turf management.
Clinton: What better place to start his voyage of discovery than here at the Westpac Stadium – home of the Hurricanes, the Wellington Lions, the new Wellington Phoenix soccer team and more.
Clinton: This sacred turf is managed by Brett Sipthorpe.
Brett: Sports turf management is the preparation of sports fields, particularly in a stadium environment, to the best possible level. Welcome to Westpac Stadium.
Eric: Wow! This is cool! Big, really big…
Brett: The myth about this trade is that it’s just grass. Grass is what you have on your front lawn, turf is a completely different environment altogether.
Brett: OK, we’ll show you a bit about what we use to mow the field. It’s all fairly basic once you get used to it, but it looks like a bit of a maze at the moment.
Clinton: Brett explains the controls before letting Eric loose with the blades.
Brett: Just don’t rip your foot straight off, just do it nice and slowly.
Brett: And then just put your foot down…
Clinton: The pitch is mown in a special pattern so it looks great for the TV cameras.
Eric: That was crooked, huh?
Brett: No that’s pretty good. That’s pretty good for a first go!
Brett: To be good at this job, it is handy if you’ve got a bit of patience. You get a good team environment and it’s a very rewarding job.
Brett: You’ve cut over quarter of the field now and you’ve done really well.
Eric: That was fun!
Clinton: Eric might have the mowing sorted, but the design of a sports field is another career path he could follow.
Dr Marke: For someone working on the above-ground components for a sports field it would be very useful to for them to learn more about what’s happening beneath the ground as well. The drainage scheme is probably the most important thing, to channel that surface water away.
Brett: If you’ve got a love of sport, and you can transfer that into this trade, you will always love working in it, because you’re surrounded by sport every day of the year basically.
Clinton: You might have a ground level view of the 22, but if the try line is crooked there will be hell to pay.
Brett: It’s pretty good. There’s plenty of games on TV that they’re not as straight as that, so it’s a pretty good go.
Eric: What have you learned from the job?
Brett: You learn how to really manage a field, you learn how to diagnose diseases, build fertiliser programmes and basically keep the field in good condition all year round.
Clinton: So it’s becoming clear to Eric that to become a good sports turf manager, you need a lot of skills. It’s not just mowing grass and painting lines.
Clinton: Next stop for Eric is Wellington’s Wakefield Park, which boasts seven cricket pitches. The park is managed by Wellington City Council, and Nathan Acroyd is two years into his sports turf management apprenticeship with the council.
Eric: So when you’re an apprentice, what are the sorts of things that you do?
Nathan: Well with the council it’s really good because you get a wide range of skills. So you learn how to mark out fields, soccer fields, rugby fields, put up tennis nets, put up netball goal posts, rugby goal posts, as well as cricket work. And some councils also have a golf course as well, so you also learn that side of it.
Clinton: So Eric now knows a bit about the industry, but there are two things he wants to know…
Eric: So what’s the tough things about it?
Nathan: Probably the study. Nah, it’s not too bad. You have your days. I mean the toughest part would probably be working in the rain really, because no matter what, you still need to get out there and have the fields ready for the weekend.
Eric: What’s the best bit about the job?
Brett: Being involved in international sport, whether it be cricket, rugby, rugby league. It’s always a tri-nations or Super 14 and it’s great to be involved at the highest level.
Clinton: So Eric has discovered that there is a whole host of opportunity out there in the sports turf industry. He could eventually be in charge of a stadium like Brett, working for one of the many local councils up and down the country, maybe be in charge of a race track like Ellerslie, or maybe eventually be a golf course superintendent. That sports turf always needs managing. Career options are vast and where your career takes you is up to just one person – you. One man who started at grass-roots level and now runs his own sports turf business, is Brett Turner.
Brett Turner: Like most trades, most people think that once you’ve got your trade and you’ve done your time, you’ve done three to four years of training, that’s where it ends. But there’s a lot that continues on from there, it’s about managing. Managing stadiums, managing golf courses. The areas that you can move in the turf trade is huge. It can take you all over the world, all through New Zealand, into every facet of management that you can actually think of.
Brett: So how did you enjoy your day?
Eric: I loved it. I learned a lot of stuff today.
Brett: Is it something you think you’d like to get into in the future?
Eric: Yeah, this can be my future job.
Brett: I thought you did really well, you picked up all the tasks we gave you. You did a really good job.
Clinton: It takes about three years to gain your certificate in sports turf management, and cost around $1,700. As well as on-the-job learning and assessments, there are correspondence assignments and annual courses to attend at the turf training centre in Palmerston North. An apprentice’s salary starts from $25,000 per annum, with the potential earnings of a stadium sports turf manager being over $100,000.
There are no specific entry qualifications to become a groundsperson. However, completing an apprenticeship and gaining a National Diploma in Sports Turf Management may be useful.
Having a Growsafe certificate allowing you to apply pesticides and herbicides, and/or having an Agrichemical Approved Handler Certificate is also useful.
- Primary ITO website - courses and qualifications in sports turf management
- Growsafe website - Growsafe and Agrichemical Approved Handler courses and certificates
A minimum of three years of secondary education is recommended. Useful subjects include maths, science, English, and agriculture and horticulture.
For Year 11 to 13 students, the Gateway programme is a good way to gain industry experience.
This programme may help you gain an apprenticeship, but does not reduce the amount of time it takes to complete it.
Groundspeople need to be:
- good team workers
- patient, as mowing large areas is repetitive work
- able to follow instructions.
Those in managerial roles may also need to be good at:
- managing staff
- planning and record-keeping.
Useful experience for groundspeople includes:
- an interest in sport
- farming and horticulture work
- work at parks or reserves
- gardening or landscaping work.
Knowledge of the sport you are preparing turf for is useful but not essential.
Groundspeople need to be reasonably fit, healthy and strong as the job involves quite a lot of walking.
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Sports Turf Institute
- (06) 356 8090 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzsti.org.nz/
- Primary Industry Training Organisation
- 0800 691 111 - email@example.com - www.primaryito.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Good demand for groundspeople
Opportunities for groundspeople are good as:
- grounds need to be maintained regularly
- vacancies arise fairly often due to growing use of sportsgrounds, requiring more people to maintain them
- turnover is relatively high among groundspeople at the non-managerial level.
Qualified groundspeople with management, business and technical skills are most in demand, especially in the local government sector, which includes city and district councils.
Demand is greatest in the main city centres due to increasing population in these areas, and a growing number of people wanting to play sport. This means more sportsgrounds are being built in the main centres.
A direct approach is the best way to find a job
You can increase your chances of getting a job by finding out who manages your local golf course, club, sportsground or racetrack, and approaching them directly.
The best time to get work experience is spring and autumn when maintenance work is highest, and when hundreds of temporary workers are taken on by sportsgrounds. If you enjoy the work, like operating machinery and can show that you are reliable, you are likely to be asked to stay on permanently and be offered an apprenticeship in sports turf management.
Those with an understanding of occupational safety and health, and who have a Growsafe and/or Agrichemical Approved Handler Certificate from their experience in the farming or horticultural sectors will have an advantage.
Types of employers varied
Most groundspeople work for:
- city councils – this includes work on rugby fields and cricket pitches
- companies that are contracted to city and district councils to do sports turf management
- golf courses, racetracks and bowling greens
- Rose, K, sector advisor – sports turf, Primary ITO, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, September 2017.
- Statistics New Zealand, 'Census of Population and Dwellings', 2014, (www.stats.govt.nz).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Groundspeople may progress to managerial positions. If they work for a city council, they can move into operation management and could be in charge of up to 40 grounds and the associated budgets.
Groundspeople may specialise in maintaining a specific type of sports ground such as horse-racing tracks or golf courses.
Last updated 17 July 2018