What Can We Expect From Golf Courses in December
SEASONED golfers will have no great expectations about what they might find when their courses reopen after this latest lockdown ends. But those who returned to the game and/or took it up for the first time after the first lockdown ended might be disappointed - they shouldn’t be. Instead, we should all be thankful of the chance to go out and play again. And just think about this: in a few weeks’ time you will all be able to play while wearing your ridiculous Christmas jumper!
Winter golf is a reality of the sport in the UK. And it is a fact that many people simply stick their clubs in a cupboard or garage until the clocks go back and the frosts disappear. For many, the season only really begins after The Masters has been played. And it has to be said that I totally get why so many people only want to play our wonderful game with the sun on their backs.
But for the rest of us, what can we expect when we return to the golf course? When the sport reopened for business after the first lockdown, most of us were pleasantly surprised by just how well our courses had been looked after while we were away. This had a lot to do with the weather, and a whole more to do with the fact that there had been no traffic over greens, fairways and bunkers.
However, we cannot genuinely expect to find the same thing this time around. There has been a great deal of rain and most of us have experienced our first frosts.
Antony Kirwan, course manager at the highly rated Romford Golf Club in Essex, took some time out to answer a few questions that are especially relevant right now.
Firstly, following the unprecedented levels of golf in 2020 we asked Antony what challenges the return to golf back in May presented to the greenkeeping team in maintaining the course.
"Even though golf had been closed for 13 weeks due to a lockdown and we were closed for four weeks due to bad weather earlier in February, the overall golfing traffic definitely didn't drop with an increase in summer activity. Thus course wear in general was rising which we significantly noticed on the teeing areas. Therefore, we had to plan our cutting routines around the golf activity due to full booking sheets!"
After the unprecedented season for golf and widely reported boom we asked if the second lockdown in England had seen the greenkeeping team doing anything differently this time round and during the autumn season.
“At Romford we are lucky as the club didn’t furlough any of the staff. In this second lockdown we have condensed our winter projects and completed a full course aeration programme as we don’t have to worry about playability. Because nobody has been playing the course we have been able to do general work at a quicker pace - this was certainly more noticeable in the first lockdown where mowing was at least 50% more efficient without golf."
With golf now due back in England golfers could be in for an unexpected treat and unusual course conditions given limited footfall for the last four weeks. We asked Antony what golfers can expect once they return.
“It is difficult to say but the course has obviously benefited from the rest, especially at this time of year. Fairways are certainly recovering well without any footfall, normal high winter traffic areas have recovered and tees are recovering well. The course is lush and a lot denser grass coverage due to no footfall. I don’t think the playability will be any different as it was really wet going into lockdown."
Whilst we wouldn't advocate a break in golf could having a short break be a positive thing for a golf course.
“Any break is a positive thing but only for greenkeepers as it would give us opportunities to get some intense work done or just give the course a chance to recover. Go back 35 years and there was hardly any winter golf played but with the vast improvements in greenkeeping - not just machinery but knowledge, technical support, fertilisers - we are able to produce a product 365 days a year. The only thing we can't control is mother nature and at times she can make things difficult."
Golfers in England look set to access a golf course in a condition that they wouldn't normally expect but will it last and will the enforced break help courses to cope better in the coming winter season. Antony provided further thoughts on that and what could be likely if we see a second surge to get back playing like in May.
“For the coming few weeks the playability will be better but I believe that in four or five weeks it could be in a lot worse condition than previous years if we get significant extra footfall."
With winter golf now upon us, new golfers may be a little taken aback to find that pristine tees may no longer be in use, especially on par threes. Instead, they may have to play from the dreaded mats or from a winter tee on the fairway - and it won’t be flat or smooth. Bunkers may be full of water. And even if they aren’t you can forget all about experiencing soft, fluffy white sand.
This is Britain and this is the winter. Officially it is actually still autumn but most of us don’t see it that way.
Fairways are likely to be wet, the grass won’t be short and you will almost certainly have preferred lies. For newcomers, this may feel like cheating. But preferred lies during the off-season are part and parcel of the game. Enjoy a rare chance to clean your golf ball and then place it in a decent lie. Golf is difficult enough so take advantage of everything that you can.
Newcomers to the game should also be aware that the perfect putting surfaces they saw during the summer will no longer exist. In fact, many courses use this time of year to turn to temporary greens. For most of us, that will mean putting on areas that are normally part of the fairway, but the holes will almost certainly be larger.
Let’s face it, this has been an extraordinary year for everybody involved with golf. Some of us might feel like having a good old moan about the conditions we may find; instead, we should be thankful that we have an opportunity to get back out there to play once more and to renew friendships and rivalries.
Just remember to ensure that you have decent waterproofs in your bags, along with a towel to clean your clubs - which are going to get dirty. And don’t forget that you may not be able to use your trolley so there is a good chance that you will have to carry your golf bag. And ask yourself if you really need 14 clubs in your bag.
And just imagine this: we are going to be able to wander into the locker room, while observing social distancing measures, clean ourselves up and then head into the clubhouse for a drink and a bite to eat.
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