In providing advice to greenkeepers, BIGGA is doing what it can to keep golf courses open, primarily for the economic health of the sport, but also because the government is concerned about 'isolation fatigue'. As it is able to be played without direct human contact, golf is a low-risk opportunity to stay active if you're able to leave the house.
However, if a golf club's entire greenkeeping team is forced to self-isolate or is unable to work due to illness, then the health of the golf course will be at risk, not just in the immediate future but also long-term as it will take some time to recover and the damage could be substantial.
Spring's warmer weather means the turf will start growing at an increased rate. If courses can't be maintained for an extended period then the finer areas - greens in particular - will suffer. Disease occurrence is more likely and once the grass is longer, it can't just be chopped down to its previous height.
The following is guidance to help keep your greenkeeping team healthy during the current health crisis:
1. Split your team up into separate groups and keep them isolated from each other. Make sure you have groups who are able to complete specialist tasks as a unit, although this may also be an opportunity for trainee members of the team to learn new skills. If you need to speak to members of a different group, call them over the radio or phone, rather than meeting in person. As course manager, you also need to stay separate from the teams otherwise you risk spreading the virus among your team.
2. Allow different groups of staff to start and finish at half hour intervals and stagger their coffee breaks and lunch times. Make sure food and drink is stored in separate compartments and ensure each group completely cleans the breakroom after they have used it.
3. It may be an idea to ask the team to lunch in their cars rather than the mess room. Greenkeepers spend a lot of time working alone and so when they come together for a lunch or coffee break, it is a prime opportunity for the virus to spread. At this time, as much isolation as possible is hugely important.
4. As in all aspects of life at this time, hygiene is essential. For greenkeepers, that doesn't just mean washing your hands for more than 20 seconds, but also ensuring that any equipment you use is completely and efficiently cleaned after use. Likewise, areas such as communal areas, washrooms and offices should be comprehensively cleaned on a regular basis. The current outbreak is an opportunity for a bit of spring cleaning.
5. There are tools that greenkeepers can use to help protect the course if they are unable to gain access for a period of time. The use of dew dispersant will suppress the formation of dew and reduce turf problems made worse by excess moisture. It will also decrease drying times following rainfall.
6. Growth regulators can be used to slow down the growth of the turf, reducing the need to mow it as frequently. Growth regulators work by causing a temporary halt in the production plant hormones responsible for promoting growth in grasses.
7. A programme of Integrated Pest Management will take a proactive approach to disease control and preventative fungicides can help reduce the instances of disease on the turf.
8. Most importantly, if you're ill or showing any of the symptoms of coronavirus, stay at home. The golf club will survive without you for a few days, but if you make the entire team ill and indirectly cause the closure of the course, then the consequences could be dire. At times like this, it's better to be cautious.
9. Being prepared for the worst by developing contingency plans are important and you can find more information about these, such as buddying up with other clubs and training other staff members or volunteers, by checking out the guidance BIGGA and golf's other membership organisations recently published.
10. Other advice to prevent the spread of coronavirus at golf clubs includes:
- Leave the flag in the hole at all times
- Remove rakes and any other pieces of course furniture that golfers may touch - let the greenkeepers rake the bunkers and golfers can wipe their own golf balls on a towel
- Only pick your own ball up
- Do not share any equipment, such as golf clubs or rangefinders
- Try to keep a distance of two metres from your playing partners
- Don't shake hands after your game
- Adjust your catering provision to reduce physical contact - keep a barrier between you, use disposable plates and cups, have hand washing facilities available on every table
- Prioritise online services for entries, bookings and scoring.
- Take payments using contactless means.
For more information, visit the BIGGA website