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How Heavy Rain Has Impacted Golf Courses This Winter

By: | Thu 22 Feb 2024

You don't need us to tell you that it's been a rather wet few months in the UK - and it's had a major impact on golf courses throughout the country.

Such is the way of things, this damaging weather has been in complete contrast to the previous year. The Met Office reported that winter 2022/23 was the driest in 30 years, but 2023 as a whole was the 11th wettest year in recorded history - dating back to 1836. Ouch.

The early weeks of 2024 haven't offered much respite - and there is nowhere that hasn't been affected in some way either.

Course closures have been common, something that always leads to frustration among the many golfers who are desperate to get the most value from their annual memberships, but the challenge facing greenkeepers is stark.

We'd encourage you to watch the following video posted by the greens staff at Abbeydale Golf Club in Sheffield, featuring Martin, who offers insight behind the testing conditions faced by his team and others across the nation who are struggling to maintain their facilities in the face of persistent and heavy deluges.

Rather timely, BIGGA (British & International Golf Greenkeepers Association) have released this engaging and informative article (written by Karl Hansell) that documents the difficulties facing greenkeepers in the UK. 

The weather turned for the worse in July - when in Oxfordshire alone rainfall was up by 154% on the previous year - and it has rarely relented since.

BIGGA surveyed greenkeepers and the reporting of increased rainfall was common, including from Hunley Golf Club in North Yorkshire, where rain has fallen on 75% of days this winter.

Peter Smith, the course manager at Bathgate Golf Club in West Lothian, has long kept statistics on rainfall, and this winter has been the peak, as he recorded that between October and January, 611mm of rain fell on his course - which, as BIGGA notes, is the equivalent of 2.5 average-sized swimming pools.

We have already taken a close look at the impact of rainfall on courses this winter - and it's a grim picture. Heavy rainfall occurs more frequently now than it has in previous generations, meaning that the water table is consistently raised, which keeps your favourite course damper and muddier for longer.

This has a major affect on winter maintenance and makes it even harder for greenkeepers to present their courses in the conditions that many golfers expect. Outdated drainage systems are another problem at clubs - and this has been the significant focus of staff in recent years, who have spent extra time digging out channels and clearing debris.

Heavy Rain

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

The R&A's Paul Woodham, who is one of the world's leading agronomists, explained further:

"Parkland courses with clay-based soils have been particularly vulnerable, even where there is drainage. The volume of rain has commonly overwhelmed the natural drainage potential of soils and drainage systems, especially aging designs. In addition, surface infiltration and upper profile percolation rates will be massively compromised.

"Greenkeeping teams will see the impact of the conditions even more than the golfer. Maintenance schedules will be severely disrupted, especially with the current conditions persisting well into the period when pre-season maintenance is due to commence.

"Other more routine operations have been affected. An example would be the inability to maintain a schedule for spraying. This may interfere with the planned applications, which are an important part of integrated disease management strategies. The golfer is therefore likely to see the impact of this with the risk of increased scarring or weakened turf."

Fortunately, spring is approaching and better days are ahead, but the damage has been done and it will take time for a significant number of layouts to get back to looking their best during the peak season.

The sterling work of greenkeepers is not celebrated enough - particularly when Mother Nature has been so intent on throwing various obstacles at them.

Related Content

Why Have Golf Courses Been Closing More This Winter

How to Protect Your Golf Course This Winter

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