Sami Strutt, COO at BIGGA, reveals all about shattering stereotypes and making her mark on the world of golf.

Meet Sami Strutt, Chief Operating Officer at BIGGA. Her dedication, expertise and innovative thinking have propelled her to the forefront of the golfing world.

An inspiring trailblazer, Sami has proven that there’s a place for women in all areas of golf, driving change and innovation within the game.

As we celebrate Women & Girls Golf Week, we speak exclusively to Sami to find out more about her remarkable journey as she continues to break barriers in the industry.

Can you share your journey and the pivotal moments that led you to your current role?

I joined BIGGA in 1993, responding to an advert for an Admin Assistant. My first role was basically the office junior, answering the phone, dealing with the post, photocopying and typing. I got involved on the L&D side in 1994, when a new manager joined the team.

I worked alongside him for 13 years and he was incredibly supportive of me and totally believed that when he retired, I could step into the role. In 2007 I became L&D Manager concentrating on developing our offering to members and raising the profile of greenkeepers and the crucial role they play in the golf industry.

I got married, to a golf course manager, in 2013. Over the ensuing years I took a few sideways steps to enable me to move around with him to different projects in Scotland, London and France. I was very fortunate that BIGGA enabled me to work remotely, way before working from home was a thing.

We had just moved to France when COVID stopped the world. I was part of the team that worked throughout the pandemic.

It was extremely fast-paced, and we adapted on a daily basis to respond to what our members needed from us. It was incredible, invigorating, terrifying, stressful and motivating.

We went through a restructure, lost colleagues and coped with a massive amount of uncertainty, but it made me realise that I was definitely resilient and that I had much more to give!

We moved back to the UK in late 2021 and not too long after I approached our CEO, Jim Croxton, and told him that I should be part of the senior management team and what I felt I could bring to the business. Happily, he agreed, and I stepped into the role in 2022.

In a field historically dominated by men, what strategies have you employed to promote gender diversity and inclusion within your organisation or the golf industry as a whole?

Greenkeeping is a very male-dominated sector of the golf industry.

We support and encourage our female members to take up any opportunities that are open to them. Last year’s winner of the Women in Golf Trailblazer Award, Lucy Sellick (Course Manager at Wenvoe Castle GC) is on BIGGA’s Board of Directors, the first in its history and is also a graduate of the R&A’s Women in Golf Leadership Foundation programme, which we actively promote to our female members.

At the AIG Women’s Open at Walton Heath GC, the greenkeeping support team is all female. Likewise, this was also the case at the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles. Increasingly we are seeing women coming through the greenkeeping ranks, being superb ambassadors for the profession and mentors to those joining the industry.

Within BIGGA itself, we have always had more women than men on the team. Four of our team are graduates from the R&A Women in Golf Leadership programme and BIGGA is a signatory of the Women in Golf Charter.

Innovation is crucial for any industry's growth. How have you introduced innovative approaches to golf management or leadership that have yielded positive results?

The Future Turf Managers Initiative (FTMI), that has been running since 2013, has seen several women complete the management focussed programme. The Toro Student Greenkeeper of the Year Award has had two female winners over the years and several female finalists.

All of our progammes are female inclusive, there are just not that many women in the industry, so it often appears to the contrary.

Part of our drive to develop and attract a more diverse workforce is though our First Green programme that will officially launch in January at BTME. Licensed from our counterparts in the US, First Green turns golf courses into classrooms, bringing groups of school children into golf clubs to experience and discover the golf industry through STEM focussed education.

There is nothing as diverse as a class of children and we strongly believe that women can have a fabulous career in greenkeeping!

Effective leadership often involves overcoming challenges. Can you share a specific challenge you've faced in your role and the strategies you employed to navigate and triumph over it?

Having worked in the industry for most of my career I have been fortunate to have many men who have championed me, developed and pushed me to meet my potential. It is rare that I have felt undermined or faced challenges.

My strategy is to always let me experience, confidence and ideas be what people remember about me. Always speak up in meetings, particularly ones that are very male dominated and always follow through on what you commit to doing. There have been some challenges across the years where both men and women have tried to undermine my credibility.

I like to think that I am pragmatic and have worked my way through the challenges by believing in my skills, knowledge and track record for getting things done. A strong support network is also incredibly important with family and friends playing a significant role.

As a role model for future generations of women aspiring to leadership roles in golf, what advice would you give them to succeed in the industry?

Don’t be afraid to open your mouth and put yourself forward for any opportunities that come your way.

Build your credibility and profile by being a professional – always do what you say you’re going to do – never overpromise and under deliver!

Hone your skills, develop a strong network and put yourself out of your comfort zone on a regular basis to help you develop both personally and professionally. Love what you’re doing, even if it’s really scary some days!

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