Pennard’s Chair of Green Diary history

Added on October 15th, 2018 by Lorne Smith
Posted in Greenkeeping

Pennard GC was used in FineGolf’s  Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD) article as an example of a club going through the ASD cycle. To put more flesh on the bones of the story FineGolf invited Pennard’s Chair of green from 2009 to 2014 to give his recollections of events.

This is the diary history of John Beynon, an honest Chair of Green, someone interested in the better health of his club as his objective, rather than the polishing of his own ego and status.


Dear Lorne,

pennard golf club,

John Beynon with the winter knock-out Kempson cup.

Following your phone call I’ve been trying to recall some of my time as Chair of Green at Pennard Golf Club to give you a picture of my experiences. I became involved following my alarm at reading the annual accounts and realising that significant changes were urgently needed to arrest escalating borrowing requirements. I had been honorary auditor/reporting accountant for many years.

I had no experience of greenkeeping but was certainly interested in agronomy and the best presentation of the course. As Chair of Green I would be a member of the club’s executive committee, involved in the general management, and at the same time able to influence the ongoing development of a fine golf course. I think this took place sometime during 2009.

mike bennett, pennard golf club,

Mike Bennett, the popular, highly respected pro at Pennard for 40 years.

First off, I organised a new Greens Committee, particularly inviting Michael Bennett, our long standing professional, to take advantage of his playing experiences and his evaluation of all the top links courses that he had visited.

I realised very quickly that the equipment was in very poor condition with some rather large estimates for repairs and replacements, payment of which was out of the question. Luckily one of my clients was a mobile engineer who worked on quarry and opencast sites maintaining and rebuilding equipment. I called him in to look at some of the items and we were able to get several items operational with very little expenditure. I also managed to find a cheap, second hand fairways mower to replace the use of machinery not really built for the task.

At the same time I researched everything I could find online about the treatment and improvement of fescue greens, from which I discovered that it was a particularly important consideration in Scandinavian countries. Here pesticides were starting to be banned and so with it becoming difficult to chemically protect Poa annua weed grass greens from disease, they were turning back to disease-resistant fine grasses.

‘Practical Greenkeeping’ by Jim Arthur

After talking to you, Lorne, I invested in Jim Arthur’s   practical greenkeeping book. This became my bible and though every site is different and particularly Pennard, in using it as a regular reference, it gave me the confidence that we were going in the right direction and to understand that greenkeeping was all about the perpetual battle between fine and weed grasses. It also helped that it was written with humour and insight by the finest-ever golf agronomist.

One of our first projects was the redevelopment of the second green which had been changed previously but with problems in the surface and a design not generally thought to advance the character of the course. Unfortunately my own inexperience, added to redevelopment inexperience which became apparent within the greens team, led to a disastrous outcome which I vowed never to be repeated. On reflection we probably lowered the green’s surface closer to the underlying clay than was desirable and accepted new fescue turf which turned out to have been grown on silt. The silt was undoubtedly the biggest problem as we might as well have put an inch of turf on top of concrete! I discussed the problem with STRI and it appeared at the time to be a nationwide problem with many failed projects for the same reason. Their advice was four or five years of extensive hollow coring to get it right but that turned out to be optimistic. The problem was unexpected and not noticeable without a much closer inspection.

For 2010 we treated all the greens through springtime with a Farmura organic Porthcawl product, which was a continuation of previous practice. I think this was probably good in giving the soil a good healthy biology of microbes and appropriate fungi which is so important to help the fine grasses out-compete the Poa annua weed grass.

The team applied the usual 8.0.0 in May and again in early June, following a prolonged winter. This resulted eventually in a good healthy sward albeit a little greener than intended. Following this, to give the fescues the advantage, there was no further fertiliser treatment throughout the summer. I also insisted on cutting no lower than 5mm, which in addition to the greening-up, resulted in some sarcastic comments directed at me about slow green speeds. I could see some dense patches of mature fescue spreading out on the better greens, pointed them out and replied that we had to be patient.

I was playing with the same complaining friends in September when I was pleased to hear the comments that ‘the ball was rolling out well and the greens were good today’. I could see the extent of the spreading fescue coverage on many of the greens and was quite pleased with the results obtained from our higher cutting and lower input austerity programmes.

I went away for two weeks in mid September and on my first day back I had an early morning call from the head greenkeeper to go out and see the greens which were dying following a vandal’s attack on them. A couple of hours later I heard at my hospital appointment that I had myeloma, a blood cancer, so it was a pretty bad day.

Laboratory testing of our turf confirmed glyphosate which was undoubtedly Roundup. We hollow cored and seeded extensively, adding a light fertiliser to get some grass back as quickly as possible, fescue or otherwise. Whilst we did get cover back for the following springtime the greens were slow again and there was unrelenting pressure from the membership to do something about it.

gordon irvine,

Gordon Irvine speaking in America.

We had sought expert advice and guidance visits over a significant period but I was not happy that the advised treatment program was appropriate for fescue development on our dry links course and eventually, after another talk with you, Lorne, you referred me to Gordon Irvine MG as the most appropriate consultant and with the nickname of ‘Jim Arthur’s heir’.

I set about convincing the committee to accept Gordon as our advisor. Understandably this was a difficult and exasperating task, our president commenting that he could see the tears in my emails. However, Gordon came across following a Hunstanton visit, where he had enjoyed outstanding success helping their green keeping team to change their agronomy. (Hunstanton’s Poa annua weed grasses that had died from unsustainable green keeping practices had made way for wonderful fescue/browntop bents in greens and aprons and golfers were flooding back to play one of England’s finest links running-golf courses). Significant issues with our greens were brought to light by Gordon and I was able to set these out for the committee. This was followed by the agreement for Gordon to visit and have a seminar with the greens staff, a decision which turned out to be very positive, and Gordon was subsequently engaged as our advisor.

We then undoubtedly made agronomic progress towards the re-establishment of fine grasses. We removed the banking that we had introduced to the second green to improve water run-off and air flow, as well as setting-up the course with low-cut run-offs from the greens and fast-running fairways for proper running-golf appropriate to the character of the site. All of this was delivered under Gordon’s advice and income from green fees started to rise.

My own fight with cancer persuaded me to relinquish the Chair of Green role and unfortunately the relentless pressure from the lower handicap members for shaved, faster greens, coupled with performance related staff issues, resulted in the management changes of 2014. (See article on Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD) which gives Pennard as an example of infection) With Gordon Irvine stood down and a new club and course manager in place, the fertiliser rate was increased and ryegrass introduced in certain places. The greens, with a good starting point and repeated rolling in summer 2015, were firm and fast. This was popular and undoubtedly helped to recruit more low handicap members. However, as time went by significant deterioration took place resulting in further management changes in 2017 and the re-instatement of Gordon as course advisor by Tony Smith, the Chair of Green, who had taken over from me.

Since Gordon was retained again and under the intensive on course guidance of Tony Smith, there have been considerable improvements over the past year and the future looks bright again. There will undoubtedly be further pressure to maximise speed of putting but hard lessons have been learned. Once dominant mature fescue is achieved, performance and visual appreciation will be enhanced and the pressure should ease.

Kind regards

Editor’s note: As a postscript, Lorne happened, with serendipity, to meet the Executive Chairman of the club, Jon Dickson, while watching his son play during the Carnegie week at Dornoch. He confirmed that indeed the club had learnt a lesson from its bad mistakes over recent years and was now committed again to a long term policy of retaining Gordon Irvine’s Conservation greenkeeping advice. He also noted that the Club has invested heavily recently in new cutting and seeding equipment and the reduction in repair bills almost pays for the leasing costs. This was essential to ensure the agronomic treatment regime was supported with effective grass cutting. He also mentioned that Tom Doak, the American course designer, has offered to visit and give his thoughts about the second green.

FineGolf’s view is that travelling golfers looking for the traditional, slightly unkempt roughness of true running-golf across pitching and tossing fairways to small firm greens should start visiting Pennard again. They will enjoy a comparatively low green-fee and a high star rating of the ‘joy-to-be-alive’ feeling as they play this wonderful, quirky, James Braid designed, legendary course that also has fantastic views.

Reader Comments

There are currently no comments.

Leave us a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FREE, every 2 months
The FineGolf Newsletter

It will keep you up to date with what new course reviews and articles have been published