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Do Golfers Give Greenkeepers Enough Credit

By: | Mon 18 Mar 2024

Reflecting on months of wet weather and difficult golfing conditions, Derek Clements dedicates his latest View From The Fairway to the incredible work of greenkeepers across the game.

Who would be a greenkeeper? Seriously!

I have just returned from a seven-day holiday in Cyprus. We had blue sky, sunshine and daytime temperatures ranging from 20-25C. It was bliss.

And then we arrived back at Gatwick Airport for our drive home and the rain came down in stair-rods from the moment we climbed into our car until we drove into our underground car park in Norwich. It had been teeming down the day we left too.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick to the back teeth of playing golf in the rain, being rained off, ploughing through mud or arriving at the pro’s shop to be told that half the course is closed. 

Of course this is nobody’s fault. The wettest February on record was just one of those things. Except that it came after huge amounts of rain in November, December and January. We have already recorded the problems some courses have faced with floodwater but there cannot be a course anywhere in the UK that has failed to struggle with the elements.

Climate change has dictated that many clubs have had to invest vast sums of money in attempting to improve drainage, and it is a thankless task because, inevitably, it means that those costs are going to be passed on to members and visitors.

I recently joined Dunston Hall Golf Club on the outskirts of Norwich. It is a course that has had more than its fair share of problems with drainage over the years but is in the middle of a three-year programme designed to put that right. And members are slowly beginning to see the benefit.

But I can’t be the only club golfer in the country who is utterly fed up with opening the curtains in the morning with my fingers crossed that the weather will be dry (I would even settle for a bit of drizzle).

Cleaning mud from the wheels on my trolley, trying to keep my white golf shoes clean (yes, I know, only an idiot would wear white shoes during a British winter - guilty as charged) and gouging mud from the grooves on my irons is not my idea of fun.

But I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the greens staff the length and breadth of the land who have somehow managed to battle the elements and ensure that our courses have been playable for as much of the winter as possible. They work tirelessly for little or no praise.

They manage to clear surface water from putting surfaces, only to be rewarded by most members hitting approach shots to wet greens and, time after time, failing to repair pitchmarks. Those would be the same golfers who complain loudest and longest if the putting surfaces are not up to standard come the summer.

Golf Greenkeepers

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

They also work hard to drain water from saturated bunkers that often end up resembling water hazards. I played a course in Essex a few years ago that shall remain nameless and lost a ball in a huge fairway bunker that was full of rainwater. This is a resort course - and it is not cheap. And I understand the problems have still not been resolved!

Golf is a hard enough game. If you are a regular player, the next time you see a greenkeeper, take a minute to thank him or her for helping to keep your course open. 

If you doubt how much work they do, check out the report below from the head greenkeeper at my club: 

"2023 was another busy year. We started the year fairly dry, but it wasn’t to last with it becoming the second wettest year in my time at Dunston. Greens and tee maintenance took place in February and October, and we replaced the range netting in March. We raised the sunken drain lines on the 12th fairway in February. 

"We have continued with tree works over 2023, by raising tree canopies at various areas throughout the golf course. We had contractors in during the spring to upgrade irrigation to tees 2, 5, 8, 12 and 17. During the summer months our focus was on mowing and weeding as well as presentation, due to the warm wet conditions it was perfect growing conditions but also for weeds in the bunkers which was a struggle to keep on top of.  

"In October we continued with our drainage improvements to the golf course adding drainage to holes 3, 6, 9 and 17th approach, this is already bearing fruit due to the wet conditions we have had since installation. Overall, the course has recovered well from the drought of 2022.

"Over the previous few years, we have seen a trend of the annual rainfall increasing, year on year. A total of 593mm (23.7in) in 2018, 850mm (34in) in 2019, 2020 surpassing those two, with a total of 940ml (37.6in). 2021 bucked the trend slightly, with notably lower annual rainfall 760mm (30.4in) and 2022 followed with even less rain; just 507mm(20.2in), in 2023 we were back to a wet year with 900mm (36in). Although the last year saw a considerably higher rainfall, the golf course held up well and the continued investment in drainage is bearing fruit. We have now installed new primary drainage to wet areas on 3,6,7,8,12, and 17. Drainage across the golf course continues to be an area for development, looking ahead.  

"Our goals for 2024 are as follows:

  • Drainage - the site becomes very wet after prolonged periods of rain and doesn’t drain quickly enough after these periods.  Further drainage to be installed.  
  • Tees - improve general wear and tear on the tees. We have re-turfed the 9nd, 10th, 12h, 14th, 17th tees. We will also continue to aerate, over-seed and top dress all tees.  
  • Bunkers - the bunkers are in poor condition due to lack of drainage, poor construction, no bunker liner and pest damage (rabbits and foxes). We will do our best to present the bunkers with regular raking, weeding, mowing and edging but need to look at long-term reconstruction to ultimately improve the bunkers, which is obviously budget dependent. We will be looking to re-level and top up sand again this year, where needed.
  • Aerification - we will hollow core and top-dress greens in spring (February/March) weather dependant and again in autumn to help with thatch removal, encourage better rooting and surface drainage to help firm up the putting surface.
  • This was completed in February and October and the greens were fully top dressed. We will look to renovate the greens again before summer season begins. This is an annual part of our maintenance programme.  
  • Fairways/Approaches - we will solid tine all approaches with ¾ inch tines down to a depth of 3 inches. This will help with root development and removal of surface water after rain. We will be Verti-draining fairways with ¾ inch tines down to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. This will help to de-compact the fairways and approaches to promote better air movement in the profile as well as promoting root growth and helping drainage. We will aim to do this again this spring (weather dependent).  
  • Tree Works - with most of the main tree works completed by contractors in 2018/19 we still have a few big trees which need attention. 
  • Path Maintenance - we are topping up worst affected paths with type 1 and still looking to improve the 11th.
  • Irrigation - we have improved the irrigation on tees 2, 5, 8 & 17 and 12 pro. This will continuing into 2024 with the 4th, 6th and 7th tees irrigation being upgraded.
  • Trackman - Trackman will be installed into the range, opening fully in April 2024

"Looking ahead, we have several projects and ideas for 2024. We will be looking to dredge the 6th irrigation lake and add a fountain to the 16th and 18th Lakes. Rebuild the pump shed at the 13th tee. New shoe cleaner has been ordered and currently being built to replace broken one. We are also looking at new bins and markers for 2024.”

Phew! As I said, who would be a greenkeeper?

Related Content

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How to Protect Your Golf Course This Winter

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