John Philp MBE on Jim Arthur

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

John Philp, MBE (for services to golf), Links Superintendent at Carnoustie 1985 to 2012, one of only two Greenkeepers in the UK to have a golf hole named after them, dubbed by FineGolf as ‘ The hero of Carnoustie’ for his role in bringing back the Open Championship to Carnoustie after a 23 years absence. In simple terms: Britain’s finest living greenkeeper.

John Philp MBE talking at The FineGolf ‘Running-Golf Day’ at Hollinwell in 2017.

“I am only too pleased to contribute some recollections in recognition of Jim’s unparalleled contribution to the greenkeeping profession, take from them what you will. Michael probably and certainly Craig  will have heard of the legend but they are both of a younger generation and hence unable to have worked with him.

Jim Arthur was undoubtedly the champion of traditional golf greenkeepers.

I first met Jim at St Andrews 40 years ago and was immediately impressed with his knowledge of fine golfing turf and its importance to the original “running” game.  I was amazed when he described how he had previously identified 17 grass specie varieties within the Old Course Greens!

On the subject of fine turf fertilisation, he was quite adamant and forthright as I remember his quote “the object is to provide a controlled supply of nitrogen in an acid media, with seriously limited amounts of phosphates and potash, if any.  (it was wrongly portrayed in some quarters that he advised against any fertilisers full stop.)

I recall his description of the Acid Theory which he advised but to be applied with due caution:  “The essence of the acid theory is exemplified in nature where the acid soils on most of our moorland and heathland sites show a natural selectivity favouring the fine perennial species whilst excluding meadow grasses for instance, which find these conditions toxic mainly due to the fact that phosphates are locked-up in such soils combined with the release of free aluminium.”

John Philp MBE talking at BTME

Jim was the key, and in some situations a lone figure in condemning the widespread over-fertilising and over-watering disasters of the sixties and well beyond.  His message was clear and focussed on the need for timely aeration and soil structure as part of a maintenance regime designed to provide the environment for the fine perennial grasses to thrive.

One of Jim’s early assignments following his appointment as consultant agronomist to The R & A Championship Committee in 1972 was to advise at Carnoustie in preparation for The Open in 1975, where his policies met with some heated opposition, fortunately soon quelled in his own indomitable way!

He also highlighted to me a more daunting undertaking however at the time which was to transform a sickly Ailsa Course at Turnberry into a suitable Open venue in time to host its first Championship in 1977!  With greens described as “stinking, stagnant bogs” this was no mean task.  The new head greenkeeper, Jimmy McCubbin implemented Jim’s recovery programme vigorously, including taking the fairway spiker across the greens, such was the desperate need for serious deep aeration.  Jim Arthur paid very regular visits over the two to three-year period and the resultant success was there for all to see at the ensuing “Dual in The Sun.”

On seeing the results of greens soil samples, I had sent to STRI soon after arriving at Carnoustie in 1985, Jim’s immediate reaction to the astronomical phosphate levels here;  “you could mine phosphate from these greens,” a statement he had no doubt repeated elsewhere at sites up and down the country.

I’ll never forget Jim’s simple yet so apt description of the profession:

“Greenkeeping is about botany and people.”

Greenkeeping in the U.K. and “running golf” in general owe a huge debt to Jim Arthur, a unique, irreplaceable character and ambassador for the game.  He is still missed by many, his legacy lives on however, and I have to say most sincerely it was an honour, a pleasure and a privilege to have worked with and learned from the master.”

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