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Why Greenkeepers Are The Absolute Heroes of 2024

By: | Fri 24 May 2024

And suddenly, as if by magic, golf courses all over the land are presented in fabulous condition.

I am a member at Dunston Hall on the outskirts of Norwich and I have to tell you that not so long ago I found myself wondering if it was ever going to recover from the incessant rain we endured during a thoroughly miserable winter and early spring. February was awful, and many courses around the country were closed because of flooding. We were pretty lucky. There were a couple of occasions when only nine holes were open but, by and large, the course remained open.

However, the grass on the fairways was extremely patchy and, to be frank, the greens were pretty ropey. But almost overnight the greens are now pristine and the fairways have made a remarkable recovery. That also means that the rough has started to grow.

I recently played Eaton Golf Club in Norwich on a glorious spring day and the condition of the course was breathtaking

And then there was Diss Golf Club, a course that has experienced its own issues after the River Waveney broke its banks. On the day we played, the greenkeepers were hard at work establishing defences designed to ensure that the course will not flood in the future. 

When you look at a course such as Valhalla, which hosted the 2024 PGA Championship you see something that amounts to a work of art. But it takes a team of dozens of greens staff to get it into that condition. How many greenkeepers does your club have? Three, maybe four? I recently played Killin Golf Club, a nine-hole course located on the banks of Loch Tay. It was in spectacular condition due to the efforts of a single greenkeeper, which simply goes to prove that if you have the right person doing the job then you are going to be in clover (not literally, obviously!).

Golf Greenkeepers

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Greenkeepers are subjected to a great deal of criticism, much of it utterly unfounded. But they have performed wonders this year in keeping courses open, improving drainage and ensuring we can all get out there and play.

Remember this: on days when courses have had to close because of flooding or torrential rain, it means that greens staff have not been able to carry out routine maintenance work. And that is without taking into account the lost revenue clubs experiences from potential visitors and money spent on food and drink.

Climate change means the work of the average greenkeeper has changed. Flooding presents its own challenges, and in many cases there is next to nothing that can be done. If you play at a low-lying course with a substantial river dissecting it then you probably have to accept that you are not going to be able to play for 12 months of the year. 

We are also told that summers are going to be longer and hotter and that presents its own set of challenges. Somewhat ironically given all the rain we have experienced, the biggest test for greenkeepers could well be in keeping courses properly watered during long dry spells of weather.

There is also a clear message for any golf club that has good greenkeeping staff - do everything you can to keep hold of them because there is a shortage. Many clubs struggle to fill vacancies and one of the reasons given is that greenkeepers do not feel appreciated. Remember, too, that during the summers these people work long, anti-social hours. 

Then there is the whole thorny subject of fungicides and insecticides, many of which have been banned, making it more difficult to keep turf healthy. 

It is well recorded that costs have risen in all sectors and golf is no exception to that, with the price of sand, machinery, fertiliser, plants and transport all going through the roof.

We all know about the boom golf has experienced since the end of the pandemic and that presents its own problems. Why? With increased numbers of people playing the game, course traffic, footprints, divots, pitch marks, trolley and cart tracks have gone up significantly too, only adding to the challenges facing greenkeepers.

As recently as July 2022, a study found that one in three greenkeepers were looking to leave the profession. They cited anti-social hours, poor pay and a lack of appreciation for the work that they do as reasons for wanting leave their jobs. 

So the message would seem to be a pretty simple one - if you have a good greenkeeper you should be doing all that you can to keep hold of him or her. A good starting point would be for club members to thank them for the work that they do rather than constantly complaining about the condition of the course. They do their best in the face of extreme difficulties.

And just stop and consider how quickly your course would deteriorate without these people.

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

Tags: Greenkeepers GOLFERS Golf Courses Golf daily picks

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