Crisis in golf reconciled

Added on March 20th, 2017 by Lorne Smith
Posted in General, Greenkeeping, The ball

FineGolf  has been recently criticised for concentrating on the enjoyment of playing on the finest, running-golf courses and  hysterically (apparently) pointing out that Jim Arthur (The greatest ever golf agronomist) based all his advice on the never ending battle against annual meadow grass (Poa annua).

FineGolf  makes no apology for supporting those greenkeepers who are managing fine grassed swards and courageously creating the environment for running-golf, whether that is inland or by the sea.




These greenkeepers do not have an easy time and as many fine courses are visited and course managers conversed with, FineGolf  is more convinced than ever that for clubs to successfully take their courses down the path of sustainable, firm all year round, fast running surfaces, there are two things above all, that course managers need:

  1. The right knowledge, experience and attitude, backed by appropriate consultancy advice.
  2. (Just as importantly) the ability to take the lead in educating their club membership on the advantages of this path, through regular and visionary communication.

Norbert Lischka MG

Traditionally, greenkeepers have not been great communicators and often club officials and secretaries have wanted to control that communication themselves. Consequently, some have done this rather than help the course manager promulgate to the membership direct, the whys and wherefores of the needed change, if their course is going to move out of the also-rans to become one of the top-end finest courses. It takes time, with inevitable bumps in the path, but clever communication is vital.

(Join us at Notts/Hollinwell GC on Sept 4th when these two issues will be fully debated.)

When a greenkeeper comes along who breaks through this communication weakness and starts talking sense to golfers, committee members and secretaries, FineGolf  shouts hurrah!

Such is Norbert Lischka MG, who below in the second of his articles written in conjunction with FineGolf  (the first reprinted by Pitchcare last year and more recently in BIGGA’s Greenkeeper International magazines) talks about how to reconcile the crisis for golf clubs.


Can your club overcome the crisis in golf ?

Could the reason some golf clubs have financial problems be due to incorrect and excessive expectations from members regarding the maintenance of their golf courses?

Isn’t an essential precondition of being a successful golf club in the longer term, having a knowledge about history, etiquette, respect and responsibility to the game, nature and the greenkeeping?

The very complex inter-relationship in greenkeeping between the weather (sun, shadow, wind, dew, rain, thunderstorm, fog, air humidity, frost and snow), the climate change, the micro-climate – influenced through the impact of potential altitude differences, woods and of waters (streams, rivers, ponds and lakes). All this usually changes throughout the golf course and between golf courses and makes things very challenging.

With all these difficulties, and the stress on the golf course from year-round play, total disease-free or stress-free turf is not realistic. It may be asked: Are you always fit and healthy throughout the whole year? By raking bunkers properly, repairing divots and pitch marks correctly, you helpfully assume responsibility and thus have an influence on disease and the unevenness on your playing surfaces. (see brilliant new pitch mark repair tool HERE)

Up to the 1940s, the design of most golf courses worldwide were built using horses, wheelbarrows, shovels, and rakes, and the natural lie of the land. The economic boom in golf from the 1980s, made everything seem to be possible with big bulldozers, that often destroyed the natural soil structure. Over the decades, with these new earth-moving toys, building costs rose steeply. Unfortunately, when planning such bizarrely modelled modern surfaces, some architects ignored or did not realize the increased maintenance needs and put the owner’s investment at risk.

There were also construction errors due to golf architects failing to monitor building contractors during the construction phase. In only very few cases, greenkeepers were involved as experts when the root zones for greens and tees were installed.

Particularly in the 1990s courses were lengthened as balls flew ever further for the expert golfers. Again, money was wasted unnecessarily and the maintenance costs increased as well as the time it took to play golf.

To make things worse, deep green coloured turf came into vogue, the only beneficiary being the fertilizer industry. More fertilizer went hand-in-hand with more irrigation. The result being wet and soft surfaces, and their friends, thatch, black layer, annual meadow grass (Poa Annua), disease and undesireable plant species, all which thrive in wet conditions. Unfortunately, many courses are still victims of this chemical based, costly greenkeeping method.

Those caught in this death spiral of wet, weak, green turf will be in for a shock when laws change, limiting or even banning the use of water, fertilizers and pesticides as is starting to happen in Denmark and Holland.

The desire for a higher green speed by reducing the height of cut, increases the stress on the grasses, the chemical maintenance costs and the pressure on greenkeepers. This is easily solved, by slowing green speeds to realistic levels will increase the health of your turf (please see the article by the Turf Fox: Greenspeed, Stimpmeter and other truths that give PGA speed recommendations).

Each golf course is unique. The differences between location, weather, structural conditions, sward composition and financial resources render comparisons between golf clubs inappropriate.

As a golfer, you bear the same responsibility for appropriate and environmentally-friendly maintenance on the course. Unrealistic expectations only increase the already incredible pressure on your staff. This only results in frustration, illness, burnout and finally many excellent greenkeepers leaving the business. It is not realistic to look at courses on TV, maintained by 25-people with million plus budgets. Those courses are in peak condition during the one-yearly tournament week. Can we expect similar conditions from a small staff with a budget only big enough to maintain one of those TV holes? So, please question the maintenance targets on your course. Your greenkeepers will gladly have a Q&A session with you.

Some golf courses have already begun to break these costly cycles and deliver excellent firm and true playing conditions. (Notts/Hollinwell and Royal Worlington are two inland English examples) Maintenance is an annual big ticket item, and following a reasonable concept of sustainable, ‘traditional/natural’ maintenance in greenkeeping is vital to financial success.

It is your responsibility to establish formalized realistic long-term course policy documents and plans for staffing, fertilizing, topdressing, disease control, mechanical maintenance, over-seeding and the like, which endures when the executive board, management or greenkeeping team changes.

Norbert Lischka’s Logo emphasising the need for respect between golfer and greenkeeper

For the benefit of clubs, they need ideally board members, who are engaged over the long term (at least six to ten years), and work with their replacements for a couple of years to ensure continuity.

It is important to have an honest and open communication on these matters, which could be supported by the Golf and Greenkeeping associations.

It is not too late! The sport of golf as a whole, that wants ‘firmness’ and ‘sustainablity’, would benefit from responsible, ‘traditional/natural’ maintenance, and the long-term benefit to your golf club’s wallet would also be noticeable.

This article was drafted by Norbert Lischka, nick-named ” The Turf Fox”, in conjunction with FineGolf  • •


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