GK language*

Added on May 27th, 2019 by Lorne Smith
Posted in Conservationism, General, Greenkeeping


FineGolf  is by nature an optimist which thinks the best of GB&I’s golf courses, its history and its prospects and if golf clubs simply focus on enjoyment as their prime motivator of policy then all will end well.

If a campaign for the greater enjoyment of running-golf is to be successful (although not requiring any need for golfers to understand the full technical depth of greenkeeping), it is vital that golfers appreciate why greenkeeping is so important and we must use the right key language to help build the respect between golfers and greenkeepers.

Gordon Irvine

In his excellent article for FineGolf, Gordon Irvine, who is quite simply Europe’s leading course consultant for those intending to switch to fine grass, explains that the creation of fine grassed greens comes down to the ‘right’ greenkeeping management being pursued.

This in turn begs the question as to what this ‘right’ greenkeeping management should be called. There are many words that have been used by different very able people, all of them being committed to helping the enjoyment of running-golf down the ages. These words include: sustainable, traditional, real, practical, ecological, natural, minimalist, austere. Let us discuss them and draw some conclusions.

  • ‘Sustainable’ is used by the large golfing bodies which prefer to sit on the commercial fence between ‘fine grass running-golf ‘ and ‘weed grass target-golf’. They use what has become in reality a fudge word unless you remember to include the words ‘low inputs, lower costs’ as well after it. However, this then becomes too much of a mouthful and too technical for a headline phrase.
  • ‘Traditional’, as per Old Tom Morris et al, is acceptable but the chemical company sales reps find it easy to overcome that one by saying greenkeepers should keep up with modern products and that their particular snake-oil is just the thing to manage any weed meadow grass so why change to fine grasses?
  • ‘Real’. This was used by Eddie and Nick Park, the father and son combination who in the 1980s led the fine grassed greenkeeping campaign with in-depth articles in Golf Monthly. The word ‘real’ no longer flies.
  • ‘Practical’. This is the word used by Jim Arthur, the hero of fine grasses and used as the title of his book that became the bible of fine grass greenkeeping, namely ‘Practical Greenkeeping‘. Technically it is appropriate but as a marketing word it does not catch the imagination of the golfer and never forget that the golfer here is the customer.
  • Ecological’. This term is too scientific and technical to be the lead word in a broad approach to greenkeeping.
  • ‘Natural’. Over the long term this word is absolutely spot-on but as the key word it is weak in current campaigning terms within an environment where ‘science’ is more valued than ‘art’, particularly in comparison with the word FineGolf has eventually settled on using after pondering the issue for some time:
  • ‘Minimalist’ and ‘Austere’  are used by many and are bang-on nevertheless they do not have the width of meaning that the next word has in today’s society.
  • ‘Conservation’. This word sums up all of the above and resonates with today’s wider society trends and fashions.

‘Conservation greenkeeping’ is a phrase that golfers can feel proud to say is employed at their own club.

In FineGolf’s view this is the best word for describing fine grass greenkeeping and also conjures up the themes of protection, safeguarding, reduced expenditure, preservation, even saving-the-planet, all being positive concepts.

We have to be careful that our definition of conservation is associated with preserving the ecological balance. For example regaining the true open heathlands, downs, moors and links where no longer do sheep eat the self-seeding trees and undergrowth, meaning the land needs to be actively managed.

In this context we should be careful not to allow the re-wilding movement’s use of the conservation word to confuse us. The golfing Joy-to-be-alive feeling comes from our balanced attempt to both live with, while also controlling nature’s wildness. It doesn’t come from forests taking over on the one hand nor from pristine, lush, immaculate over-management either. A bit of natural roughness around the edges is good.

It should be recognised that some wild flower areas and bird boxes etc are positive trends and can help defend golf against its envious (‘watermelon’) critics. But the majority of golfers want to play golf rather than smell the roses, so this word conservation needs to be used primarily in the context of how the course plays, ie the management of the type of grass surfaces, rather than the more fluffy aspects of ‘flora and fauna’.

Conservation has the positive low input connotations that fit with today’s modern world while recognising the need to preserve the best of the past.

It is this balance that makes ‘conservation greenkeeping’ so powerful a concept when contrasted with the phrase ‘Chemical greenkeeping’ which is what FineGolf uses to describe the management of annual meadow grass (Poa annua) with its requirements of so much extra water, inorganic fertiliser and fungicides to control growth and disease in the stressed weed grass.

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