Do the trials of trying to maintain pristine playing conditions - and the constant complaining of members' when it's not quite right - drive you to drink? Well, greenkeepers should be spending more time in the clubhouse bar, according to independent turf management consultant, Andy Boyce of GreenSward Sports.
Talking with members in the clubhouse is just one of the ways he advocates of communicating more effectively; to find out their priorities, and to ensure they understand the issues facing the greenkeeping team.
His experience, as Course Manager at Bath Golf Club for nearly ten years, until summer 2010, is that talking to people in the car park when they've just finished their round gets instant feedback on the course condition as they see it, and playing a Friday afternoon round of golf with members gives a totally different perspective on what they would like to see happen.
"More importantly, I've found it makes the greenkeeper a real person and an integral part of the club. It opens up a dialogue, which can be used to gather support and the necessary investment in course maintenance and improvements," he reports.
"If you fully explain what you want to do, why, what it will cost and, most importantly, the benefits it will bring, they have two options; put up the money to pay for the improvements, or put up with the conditions."
At Bath, he introduced the ideas of holding regular Greens Committee meetings out on the course. "Most greenkeepers are far more comfortable on the course than in the committee room. Getting out on the course gives a better chance to explain why you want to change something, as well as to show exactly what is planned and what it will do.
"It can raise some challenges, but that can help prioritise what we should be doing as greenkeepers to address what they want. A relatively small change in plans to accommodate a member's request can buy an awful lot of credit for future plans."
Andy also introduced an annual meeting where all club members were invited to come along and present what they wanted to see changed and why. "There are clearly contradictory priorities between the ladies section, the veterans and the low handicap players, for example. But, getting them all together and airing their views, means they can understand each others viewpoints and, hopefully, we can accommodate the best ideas that are available to all."
The meetings also enable Andy and the club management team to present their ideas and plans. "Integrating what we want to do with the members' own plans means that they have a greater degree of ownership and responsibility for the project. They will want it to work; accept the inconvenience through the process; be more understanding of difficulties faced and, hopefully, better pleased with the results."
Start sowing the seeds of any plans to change or introduce new management practices well before it will actually happen, he advises. In a traditionally conservative industry it takes time to embrace change, but if they understand the problem and how it is affecting them, then any solution will be more readily accepted.
Andy cites his experiences with Rescue at Bath Golf Club, where ryegrass spreading onto collars and greens was creating an issue with surface quality, and the situation was getting progressively worse, with coarse clumpy patches affecting the majority of some greens. "It's probably fair to say that 25% of members had never even considered ryegrass to be a problem, so it was essential to make them aware of the problem it causes in terms of ball roll and playing consistency, and what we wanted to do as a greenkeeping team.
"Initially, I thought we were going to have to start a course of intensive cultural control measures, which would have been highly disruptive, but necessary, to stop the spread. I spent several seasons explaining to members what the problem was, and why we needed to start taking drastic action.
"Then, fortuitously, Rescue came along and gave us an option to control the ryegrass in one season without the damaging cultural controls. The members were fully aware of what we wanted to do, so were ready to embrace the opportunity."
"I had already talked with other greenkeepers involved in the Rescue trials, which was important in my being able to confidently explain to members what we could hope to achieve."
However, Andy still went to great efforts to keep members and the rest of the club management team in touch with what was going on and the progress. A Rescue poster, downloaded from the Syngenta GreenCast website, was customised to the Bath Golf Club site, with pictures of what the issue entailed, and what was aiming to be achieved. There was also a PowerPoint presentation available for him to use, to show the club secretary and Greens Committee, to explain the process and gain support.
Boards were placed in the clubhouse, and on the course, to explain what was being done, and what members could expect to see during the transition process. "They readily accepted that, when we took out the ryegrass, we were going to be left with dead areas until the existing fine turf species and oversown seedlings could recover. So, it was no surprise when it happened, and they were simply looking forward to better playing conditions in the future."
"The Rescue treatment has been a great success and, if anything, the difficult bit has been holding back their enthusiasm to treat more extensive areas." The process generated a lot of genuine interest and questions from the members which, he believes, has helped to raise the profile of the professionalism of the greenkeeping team, which bodes well for future plans and ideas.
Andy has also used email extensively to keep in regular contact with members about the ongoing programme across the course at Bath, as well as other turf management issues. At Bath, over 50% of the 800 members use email but, he adds, it's important not to forget other members who do not. "We still put the newsletters on the club notice board and, more importantly, put them on tables in the bar and restaurant area where they are more likely to be read by casual members."
He believes a dedicated page of 'Greenkeeper's Notes' on the club website is extremely useful, but needs to be kept regularly updated if it's to remain topical. "You don't want to create a millstone for your own neck in keeping the web page current; but if you can use a report prepared for the Greens' Committee then it saves repeating effort," he says. "A simple diary record of what you have done and what is planned can be effective, but it is important to add the reason why it has been done and, ideally, what effect that will have on playing surface quality or improvement in the course; they are far more interested in what it means for their game than the actual physical actions the greenkeeper has carried out."
Andy favours a 'Question & Answer' style web page, since many issues are frequently repeated every season and can be answered in one timeless piece. He adds that it is probably better to have the web page in the 'members only' area of the website, so as not to draw visitors' attention to issues or actions being taken.
At Bath, where Andy still retains a consulting role in the course management, he also worked very closely with Club Professional, Russell Covey and the House Manager, Richard Lennon, in creating whole team approach to the club's management.
"The provision of consistently high quality playing surfaces is paramount to the satisfaction of players and maintaining, or growing, membership against the competition from other clubs. The greenkeeping team are integral to achieving that, and it's important to recognise their role in providing the best possible golfing experience."
Andy Boyce was Course Manager at Bath Golf Club for eight years, and worked on the greenkeeping team for thirteen years. Having studied Golf Course and Sportsground Management full time at Sparsholt College in Hampshire, he has also worked at Salisbury and South Wilts Golf Club, Lansdown Golf Club and Castle Combe Golf Club. GreenSward Sports Consultancy provides independent advice and turf management services for golf clubs, sports grounds, schools and amenity areas across the south west.