Greenkeeper is on the Mark

Greenkeeper is on the Mark

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Mark Sylvester keeping the Whaleback Golf Course green.

In 1989, fresh-faced Mark Silvester, then aged 15, stepped out of his parents’ car and jogged over to a musty maintenance shed, excited to begin a new chapter in his life as the first apprentice greenkeeper at Canning’s Whaleback Golf Course.

For the past 35 years, Mark been working hard to ensure the Parkwood course is in prime condition for the thousands of golfers who play here annually.

His hair may be thinning out and one can spot a few more creases when he smiles, but his enthusiasm for the job is still there.

“I didn’t like school very much, but my parents wouldn’t let me leave unless I had a job,” Mark said.

“I found out about greenkeeping, and it interested me, so I wrote to five golf courses around Perth. The City of Canning was the only one that replied.”

Mark was invited to a job interview – his last interview for 26 years.

“Unbeknownst to me, the city had already advertised for a sports turf management apprentice,” he said.

“The then-superintendent, Don Fleming, was impressed that I had applied for the job off the bat, without seeing the job ad, and from there the planets aligned and I got the job”.

Mark enrolled at TAFE the following week to study greenkeeping but his golfing was lagging.

“A lot of people get into the trade because they are mad keen on golf, but that’s not the case with me,” he said.

“I had never played golf before. I got into the job because I liked the idea of working outside.

“Not long after I started, I was out on the course, edging a bunker, and I mucked it up.

“That’s when my boss said that I needed to start playing golf, as it would help me to see things from a golfer’s perspective.

“I started to play golf once a week after work and it’s true that you see things from a different point of view when you walk the course or play it.”

Although Mark admits to getting very comfortable in the role to begin with, there came a time when he was earmarked for greater things.

“About five years before Don retired, he asked me if I had any ambitions to become the next superintendent,” he said.

“I’d never given it any thought, so I answered, ‘Not really’. He laughed and said that he still had a bit of time to change my mind.”

From that moment on, the idea was planted, and Mark found himself becoming a lot more involved in the golf course management side of things. By 2016 he was ready to take over the reins as superintendent at Whaleback.

“It was initially quite a shock,” he said. “I went from being one of the boys in the crew to being their supervisor. Most of them I had worked alongside for 15 years.

“My whole world changed around that time. In the space of three years, I went from being a single man, living a quiet life and working a greenkeeping job that I had held for 26 years, to being a golf course superintendent, meeting my partner and having a son.”

After seven years, Mark made the decision in 2023 to step back from the superintendent role, to make way for incumbent course superintendent Liam Somers.

“I couldn’t be happier with my decision and I enjoy working for Liam,” he says.

“I’ve found a nice balance between being out on the course, doing what I love, and helping out in the office as required. I know all the City’s systems, so the transition was a smooth one.”

Mark said he was is full of optimism about the new direction that Whaleback Golf Course has taken, with the City of Canning having taken over the operations of the course in December last year.