Could the reason some golf clubs have financial problems be due to incorrect and excessive expectations from members regarding the maintenance of their golf courses?
Isn't an essential precondition of being a successful golf club, in the longer term, having a knowledge about history, etiquette, respect and responsibility to the game, nature and the greenkeeping?
The very complex inter-relationship in greenkeeping between the weather (sun, shadow, wind, dew, rain, thunderstorm, fog, air humidity, frost and snow), climate change, the micro-climate - influenced through the impact of potential altitude differences, woods and of waters (streams, rivers, ponds and lakes) - all this usually changes throughout the golf course, and between golf courses, and makes things very challenging.
With all these difficulties, and the stress on the golf course from year-round play, total disease-free or stress-free turf is not realistic. It may be asked: Are you always fit and healthy throughout the whole year? By raking bunkers properly, repairing divots and pitch marks correctly, you helpfully assume responsibility and, thus, have an influence on disease and the unevenness on your playing surfaces.
Up to the 1940s, most golf courses worldwide were built using horses, wheelbarrows, shovels and rakes - and the natural lie of the land. The economic boom in golf from the 1980s made everything seem to be possible with big bulldozers, that often destroyed the natural soil structure. Over the decades, with these new earth-moving toys, building costs rose steeply. Unfortunately, when planning such bizarrely modelled modern surfaces, some architects ignored or did not realise the increased maintenance needs and put the owner's investment at risk.
Over the decades, with these new earth-moving toys, building costs rose steeply. Unfortunately, when planning such bizarrely modelled modern surfaces, some architects ignored or did not realise the increased maintenance needs and put the owner's investment at risk
There were also construction errors due to golf architects failing to monitor building contractors during the construction phase. In only very few cases, greenkeepers were involved as experts when the rootzones for greens and tees were installed.
Particularly in the 1990s, courses were lengthened as balls flew ever further for the expert golfers. Again, money was wasted unnecessarily and the maintenances costs increased as well as the time it took to play golf.
To make things worse, deep green coloured turf came into vogue, the only beneficiary being the fertiliser industry. More fertiliser went hand-in-hand with more irrigation. The result being wet and soft surfaces, and their friends, thatch, black layer, annual meadow grass (Poa Annua), disease and undesireable plant species, all which thrive in wet conditions. Unfortunately, many courses are still victims of this chemical based, costly greenkeeping method.
Those caught in this death spiral of wet, weak, green turf will be in for a shock when laws change, limiting or even banning the use of water, fertilisers and pesticides, as is starting to happen in Denmark and Holland.
The desire for a higher green speed by reducing the height of cut increases the stress on the grasses, the chemical maintenance costs and the pressure on greenkeepers. This is easily solved, and slowing green speeds to realistic levels will increase the health of your turf.
Each golf course is unique. The differences between location, weather, structural conditions, sward composition and financial resources render comparisons between golf clubs inappropriate.
Golfers also bear the same responsibility for appropriate and environmentally-friendly maintenance on the course. Unrealistic expectations only increase the already incredible pressure on greenkeeping staff. This only results in frustration, illness, burnout and, finally, many excellent greenkeepers leaving the business. It is not realistic to look at courses on TV, maintained by twenty-five people with million plus budgets. Those courses are in peak condition during the one yearly tournament week. Can we expect similar conditions from a small staff with a budget only big enough to maintain one of the TV holes? So, please question the maintenance targets on your course. Your greenkeepers will gladly have a Q&A session with you.
Those courses are in peak condition during the one yearly tournament week. Can we expect similar conditions from a small staff with a budget only big enough to maintain one of the TV holes? So, please question the maintenance targets on your course. Your greenkeepers will gladly have a Q&A session with you
Some golf courses have already begun to break these costly cycles and deliver excellent firm and true playing conditions (Notts/Hollinwell and Royal Worlington are two inland English examples). Maintenance is an annual big ticket item, and following a reasonable concept of sustainable, traditional/natural maintenance in greenkeeping is vital to financial success.
It is your responsibility to establish formalised, realistic, long-term course policy documents and plans for staffing, fertilising, topdressing, disease control, mechanical maintenance, overseeding and the like, which endure when the executive board, management or greenkeeping team changes.
For the benefit of clubs, they ideally need board members who are engaged over the long term (at least six to ten years), and work with their replacements for a couple of years to ensure continuity.
It is important to have an honest and open communication on these matters, which could be supported by the Golf and Greenkeeping associations.
It is not too late! The sport of golf as a whole, that wants 'firmness' and 'sustainablity', would benefit from responsible, traditional/natural maintenance, and the long-term benefit to your golf club's wallet would also be noticeable.
FineGolf, the online publication that promotes the classic values of traditional running golf, has organised, in partnership with Notts. Golf Club (Hollinwell), an opportunity for greens staff, secretaries, chair of green and interested golfers to learn about the key greenkeeping issue for the future, how to manage the change from 'weed' annual meadow grass (Poa annua) to 'fine' fescue/browntop bent surfaces, with Britain's leading experts speaking on 'The case for running-golf'.
Steve Isaac, R&A Director, on the relevance to today's needs of Jim Arthur's book Practical Greenkeeping, updated in 2014.
Gordon Irvine MG, Europe's foremost consultant on sustainable agronomic change to fine grasses.
John Philp MBE, the hero of Carnoustie and one of only two greenkeepers with a hole named after them in the UK.
Mick Grindle, Chair of green at Notts Golf Club (Hollinwel)l, which has been returned to fine grassed surfaces.
The 4th September day is sponsored by Symbio, Johnsons Sports Seeds, Barenbrug, Baroness and Farmura/Aquatrols.
To book a place (£30 including refreshments, or £55 to also play the championship course in the afternoon) email firstname.lastname@example.org