Donald Steel on Jim Arthur

Added on October 17th, 2020 by Lorne Smith
Posted in Jim Arthur 100 celebration

Donald Steel, GB&I’s most influential living golf course architect, worked closely with Jim Arthur over many years :

Donald Steel

“One of the innovations Charles Lawrie instigated in the early 1970s, when chairman of the R&A Championship Committee, was the appointment of Jim Arthur as agronomist to advise on the advance preparation of Open Championship courses.

Jim Arthur fired from the hip, once maintaining he was never rude unintentionally. A more diplomatic approach might have won him more friends but many of his critics who dismissed some of his theories as poppycock, have been forced to eat their words. So much of the sustainability regime which some now hail as their own ‘invention’ is pure Jim Arthur as contained in the precise and lasting form of his invaluable and incomparable book Practical Greenkeeping, published by the R&A. Above all else, he was a fine writer.

In his foreword, Michael Bonallack described him as “invariably controversial but infuriatingly nearly always right. Jim Arthur’s knowledge about courses and greenkeeping is probably second to none”.

Jim fought the battles for greenkeepers, sometimes to his own cost, one example being the club whose course was in a poor state, asking Jim what they needed to do to put it right. After a rigorous inspection of the course and machinery shed, Jim asked how much members paid by way of subscription. When told the figure, Jim declared it will have to be doubled.

As the committee’s hackles rose visibly, the chairman asked what business it was of his. “Well”, Jim replied, “you asked me what you need to do and that is my answer. You will need to employ two or three more staff and invest in several new machines”.

Needless to say, they dispensed with Jim’s services but the workforce was increased, the necessary new machines bought and the condition of the course improved rapidly.

On the other hand, in another breath, one of Jim’s contentions was he rather liked poor clubs as they couldn’t make expensive mistakes.

One of my favourites of Jim’s sayings was: “I am sick and tired of being right”.

Jim and I talked on the phone most Sunday mornings, an offshoot taking the form of his reference in the second edition of Practical Greenkeeping that I had ‘encouraged him in his darker moments’. When asked about one of his doctrines ‘no water and no fertiliser’ he contended ‘if I say none, clubs will put on a little which is what I want. If I say a little, they will put on a lot.’

There may even have been some posthumous glee in the headline in the Fall 2016 magazine edition of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, ‘US courses use less water. They even quantified it to 21.8 per cent less in 2013 compared to 2005. It must have taken some measuring but it is obvious the word is getting out.”

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