Jim’s inheritance*

2020 is fifteen years on from when Jim Arthur, Europe’s leading golf agronomist, died.

Golfers should remember the debt we owe him.

Above all else, (and he advised over 550 golf clubs) he protected, as The R&A’s chief agronomist, The Open Championship venues with ‘running-golf’ grasses that give firm turf, when so many other courses in the 1980/90s were succumbing to ‘target-golf’ weed grasses that give soft turf.

jim arthur golf agronomist

Jim Arthur

Jim Arthur was never afraid to air his strong views and led the principled battle against the over-use of expensive fertiliser, pesticides and over-watering which encourages the weed annual meadow grass (Poa annua).

He fought against shaving greens down for speed, preferring to emphasise aeration and top dressing with originally a 70-30 sand/seaweed mix which went on to become a 80-20 sand/fensoil mix, giving a healthy soil biology with ‘humus’.

In his later years he had to fight more and more against the fashion for faster and faster greens. He knew if speed was achieved by lowering height of cut this would kill the fine grasses, which when established give trueness and speed all-year-round for the long-term.

richard arthur son of jim arthur

Richard Arthur, a contributor to ‘Practical Greenkeeping’.

When I asked his son Richard for an anecdote he told me: “I asked dad why he wasn’t worried about being sued and never carried insurance or indemnity. I got a classic Jim Arthur reply, ‘Well son, if you are always right and never wrong, no one can ever sue you and I’m sick and tired of always being right.’”

This attitude was not always popular among some golf club officials of the status-seeking egotistical type, who were not keen for their well-meaning work to be criticised!

Practical Greenkeeping by Jim Arthur

Practical Greenkeeping, published 1997, updated 2003. Available from The RandA online shop.

Nevertheless, thank goodness The R&A persuaded him towards the end of his life to put his thoughts on to paper and so they were able to publish in the late 1990s ‘Practical Greenkeeping’ which has subsequently become the bible of conservation greenkeeping.

Today his work is an essential part of the retro-trend that we have seen gather pace since the turn of the millennium, towards ‘running-golf’ and away from ‘target-golf’.

gordon irvine golf course consultant

Gordon Irvine

Golfers, and all Green Committee members, who want to understand the simple dichotomies between the annual weed grass (Poa annua) and fine perennial grasses, between ‘running-golf ‘ and ‘target-golf’ and between conservation greenkeeping  and chemical greenkeeping,  should be encouraged to read this most enjoyable, humorous, important book, into which one can dip chapter by chapter.

Jim showed it is possible to re-balance a golf course’s surfaces towards fine grasses and improve performance, without disruption to members’ play as Gordon Irvine, (a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel  who was Jim’s protege and heir) has re-proved in recent years at some of the finest courses in GB&I and Europe.

Reader Comments

On June 26th, 2015 Neil Sjoberg said:

Jim Arthur’s common-sense approach to golf certainly helped us establish Epping Golf Course using ‘Practical Greenkeeping‘ as our guide. Practical Greenkeeping was a gift to me from West Essex for thanks of years of the quiz nights I ran there for them.
However Jim was wrong about one thing: “Rye grass has no place on a golf course” The wonderful new dwarf rye grass cultivars have transformed greenkeeping on clay soil where life is extra hard to support fine grasses.
Dear Neil,
New ryegrass cultivars, though maybe not appropriate for the finest ‘running-golf’ courses, I am told by Johnsons and Barenbrug they can help particularly in well trafficed areas. The older coarser ryegrasses, though good for football pitches, are best ‘rescued’ out of golf courses. Lorne

On March 15th, 2020 Paul Mills said:

Practical Greenkeeping is a brilliant book. I never got to meet Jim Arthur, but his legacy has inspired me to try and follow in the footsteps of the great custodians of traditional British greenkeeping and the glorious game of golf, past and present. I recommend that all of my colleagues read it, and find that the ones that do go on to have the best grasp technically of managing golfing turf. Their is no one or thing that offers the consistency and clarity of the message that Practical Greenkeeping conveys for the management of golfing grasses in a cool season climate. I disagree with some of the content I read on Finegolf Lorne but appreciate to a certain extent you are led by the professionals you communicate and consult with in the industry, but I certainly appreciate your championing of Jim Arthur’s legacy and the fundemental message of real golf on true golfing turf.

Dear Paul, One tries to keep an open mind on things like soil biology and why should it be necessary to add compost teas continually, once there is the correct balance of microbe, fungus and humus, though I have not heard anybody say they do any harm.
Many thanks for your comment. Lorne

On December 6th, 2020 Peter king said:

I got a job at Radley College in 1983. Early in 1984 the bursar was asked if I wanted the to be head green keeper. I said I didn’t know much about green keeping. The bursar said a Mr Jim Arthur was going to walk the golf course with me. I met Jim in Radley College on their new golf course designed by Donald Steel. After we finished walking the course I asked Jim is this a course I could succeed with. He said yes and pointed out being on the golf course you learn more out there than in a class room. He sent me some papers on how to look after the course, and he came a couple a times to see how I was getting on. I was head green keeper until l retired 2005. Jim was a great man.

On February 21st, 2023 Reva Catalan said:

Keep up the good work!

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