Old what's his name!

Peter Brittonin Golf

One of the tasks that the Pitchcare team undertake periodically is the updating of the magazine database. We do this to ensure that contact details are correct and that the magazine is reaching the right person.

Greenkeeper1.jpgIt involves little more than contacting a facility and asking who the head greenkeeper or groundsman is, making the change and Bob's your course manager!

Of course, it is often more than that. We check addresses and postcodes and add other contact details where necessary. It is also an opportunity to peruse websites and source future articles that may be of interest.

I was tasked with contacting golf clubs. "Hello, it's Pitchcare here. Can I just check that we have the correct details for your head greenkeeper?" It's a straightforward question requiring, usually, a two word answer. So, imagine my surprise when, about five calls in to my 'hit list', the club secretary said "I've no idea. If you ring back in half an hour I'll try and find out". You're telling me you're the club secretary, and you don't know who your head greenkeeper is?

The 'hit list' was around 500 - about one sixth of all clubs in the UK - so quite a representative number. And the courses were not all 'little' ones. There were some well known, heavyweight courses on the list.

Initially I believed this had to be an isolated incident, but, as I continued my 'call round', the trend became worryingly regular. I reckon about 12-15% of the club secretaries I contacted had little or no idea who their head greenkeeper was. Some admitted to knowing a Christian name. "Oh, it's Derek, but I wouldn't know what his surname was"!

So, the more I phoned round, the more miffed I got at this situation. Eventually I decided I would bypass the secretaries and speak to the pro shop. Whilst the success rate was slightly better it was not what I would have expected. I even had one occasion when the phone number shown on the golf club's website was for the ladies locker room! I don't know who was more surprised, me or the lady taking a shower?

Now, excuse me if I've got this wrong but, isn't the principal reason for a golf club's existence to allow its members and visitors to play golf? Therefore, isn't its most valuable asset the golf course itself? Isn't the condition of that course the prime reason that golfers keep paying their membership fees?

Sure, there will be other factors such as a good clubhouse, a well stocked pro shop and an enjoyable social calendar but, primarily, it is the course that is the attraction to golfers.

Coupled with this worrying trend was how few of the websites visited actually listed their head greenkeeper on the 'contacts' page. Perhaps one in fifty. It was dead easy to find out who the vice captain of the Ladies section was, 'and her shoe size!', but no mention of one of the most important roles at the club.

Now, I'm not suggesting, for one minute, that the head greenkeeper's telephone number or email address should be given as that would subject him to "why are you topdressing now" syndrome but, I would certainly like to see every head greenkeeper, at every club, given their own page on 'their' club's website so that they may communicate with the members.

Let's consider why this is so important. The head greenkeeper will usually be responsible for:
• the largest annual capital expenditure at the club
• a huge tract of valuable real estate
• a team of qualified staff, their training and development
• health & safety and legislative issues
• ecology and environmental issues
• the condition of the course

I doubt that many members would even begin to understand the qualifications and management skills required to be a head greenkeeper or, indeed, the ever changing legislation that he needs to keep abreast of. Equally, I doubt that they understand that there is probably as much technology built into a greens triple as there is in their 4x4 so, isn't it important to be able to explain just why that new greens machine cost £18,000 when it is "just a mower".

And then there's the land itself. Most golfers will pay attention to the bit of it they play on; tees to greens, the rough and the bunkers, with maybe a nod to the flower beds and car park as well! There will be very few who will consider that the greenkeepers' responsibilities extend to the full perimeter of the land that will include the management of woodland, boundaries, meadows, pastures etc., and all the wildlife issues therein.

Greenkeeper4.jpgAnd these same members are quick to criticise when things appear to be going wrong 'out on the course'. The greens are too slow/fast, why can't our course be like Augusta?, the bunkers aren't raked properly, the rough is too long/short etc. etc.

Having a dedicated page on the club's website will really help to get the message across that greenkeepers are not just "grass cutters".

But, back to the original thrust of this article. Where does the fault lie? It would be easy to blame the golf club as it is they that should know, at least, the name of their head greenkeeper! But, sadly, much of the blame must go to the head greenkeeper himself for not 'putting himself about'. It should be his responsibility to communicate with the committee, the pro shop, the clubhouse and the members.

At the very least head greenkeepers should be interacting with members. Now, I know that many do through Q&A sessions, notice boards etc. but, in this hi-tech age, where the internet has become the main relayer of information, a dedicated 'greenkeeper' page on the club's website is a must have.

The opportunities it affords to get the members and committee to understand the exceptional talents you have, the routine management requirements of the course, the winter renovation programme, or just the downright cost of everything is limitless. A monthly update will prove invaluable to both members and your staff. It will increase the understanding of your working practices and, in the long term, make your life a darn sight easier.

Here are a few pointers as to what could be included in any monthly update:
• general introduction - and always welcome new members
• effects of the weather - diseases, firmness of greens, grass growth etc.
• monthly schedules - topdressing, fertiliser applications etc. and the reasons why they are being carried out at those specific times
• schedule of proposed winter work - tees, bunkers, tree removal etc.
• latest wildlife sightings on the course and environmental work being undertaken
• monthly lawncare tips - your members will appreciate this

General and permanent info could include:
• a bit about yourself - your background, qualifications etc.
• heights of cut across the course and why these are important
• green speed - how it is achieved and what is the optimum for your course - how is it measured and what a stimp meter is
• How to repair pitch marks, replace divots and any other scars.
• environmental programme - woodland coppicing, encouraging wild flowers, erecting bird boxes etc.
• health and safety on the course
• why you mow during the day!

I am sure that there are many others you could add to that list. A few good pointers can be found on the websites of Mold, Cavendish and Cumberwell Park golf clubs.

Now, whilst all that seems fairly straightforward, it is not always as simple as it seems. A greenkeeper, just because he is good at his job, may not be a very good communicator. He may not have the written or verbal skills to get his message across. He may have a lack of confidence, an acceptance that he 'just cuts grass' or even an historical (or should that be hysterical) acceptance that the job is 'working class' and, therefore, he is below the members in the pecking order?

Well he's not. As we all know, greenkeeping is a highly skilled job requiring all the attributes mentioned earlier. If you feel that you do not have the skills to communicate then seek assistance. Your deputy may well relish the opportunity. Similarly, your agronomist may well be willing to help you.

Getting the message across to the general public should be the number one priority. And, if it's done well, it will even make the day-to-day stuff seem so much more rewarding.

I do believe that golf clubs lose sight of their main objective - to provide a quality golf course for golfers. Is too much emphasis placed on attracting wedding parties, social functions and the like? Probably not, as they are important in oiling the financial wheels of the club.

But, so too are the membership fees, the green fees and the money the golfers hand over the bar and in the pro shop. Without a good playing surface there will be no golfers and, without golfers, there is no golf club, regardless of how many functions there are!

I know that there are a good number out there already communicating to members and this article is not asking you to 'suck eggs'. But, clearly, from the results of my 'survey' there are head greenkeepers who do not command the respect they deserve. Perhaps the time for doing something about it is now?

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