Our 2024 Mission*

Our updated 2024 Mission

FineGolf’s Mission can be summarised as evolving through three stages:

  1. Updating Frank Pennink’s book reviews
  2. Explaining why change to fine grasses enhances the enjoyment of golfers
  3. Focusing on the leadership of that change at national and local club level.

When FineGolf was launched fifteen years ago it was an update to Frank Pennink’s golf courses review book Golfers Companion’ that covered 128 of the finest GB&I courses.

FineGolf continues to review GB&I’s finest running courses and some 160 are now published.

They contain all the different elements of FineGolf’s ‘Joy-to-be-alive’ feeling including the truth about their agronomy which determines how their course design will play.

Golf courses can be said to be on a continuum. At one end, the firm turfed running game, at the other, the soft turfed target-golf, with every course in between.

Recreational golfers are looking for only one thing: enjoyment.

Greenkeepers are the custodians of that enjoyment, with course architects having a role. Course architects should see the recent article by Rob Clark, course manager of Faversham.

Golfers are really not interested in the intracies of grass, but they do get extra enjoyment from firm turf greens that run smoothly at good pace.

Indeed, many argue coherently that enjoyment and the future of the recreational game is in re-establishing the values of the original running game. See recent articles by John Philp MBE of Carnoustie and Neil Hampton of Dornoch.

In addition, wider society is, surely correctly, putting pressure on golf to become sustainable with less use of water and pesticides, while the cost of fertilisers has quadrupled.

So, as FineGolf evolved it became interested in how agronomy had an effect on the enjoyment of golfers play. (The easiest way for golfers to catch-up on this is to read the humorous and hard hitting bible of greenkeeping, Jim Arthur’s book  Practical Greenkeepng’ published by The R&A and available from their online shop.)

FineGolf realised there were not only two types of golf: ‘Running’ and ‘Target’ but also two types of golfing turf that created on the one hand the ‘Running game’ and on the other hand ‘Target-golf’.

Please excuse me, over the next three paragraphs, reminding us of the grass technicalities!

The running game uses indigenous perennial fescue/browntop bent fine grasses, that are deep rooting requiring less water; are disease resistant requiring less pesticides; and enjoy a healthy soil biology full of natural microbes and fungi that help the deep roots to extract the necessary level of nutrients and so requiring less fertilisers. They are more usually found on well-draining sites – links, heaths, downs and moors.

Fine grasses turf needs to be cut above 4mm and ideally above 5mm, and gives firm and smoothly running greens at the ideal speed of around 9.5 foot depending on moisture levels. For a discussion on a couple of clubs who have got it right see the recent review of Rye Jubilee or the story of Hollinwell.

In contrast, target-golf uses the weed annual meadow grass (Poa annua) that has shallow roots, gets diseases and seeds at a low level, which slows and deviates putts, as its mechanism to regenerate itself. It needs lots of water, lots of pesticides and lots of fertiliser to keep it alive from the stress of being cut low to provide any pace to putting. Its soil biology is dead from the use of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. See the recent article on EU pesticide ban update by Norbert Lischka

It is one thing showing up the different performance of different grasses, and it is important to call out where the weed annual meadow grass (Poa annua) greens can be found, particularly when there is no excuse on well-draining sites, though sometimes much to the chagrin of the leaderships of these clubs, (for example at the otherwise lovely heathlands around London) but much more important is to understand:-

why is it so difficult to get change when everything is pointing to it being a sensible move?

The answer is that unless greenkeepers are supported by their club leadership and membership an attempt to make the change from Poa to fine grasses will most likely end in tears and the loss of the greenkeeper’s job.

This is exacerbated by the memberships of the National Greenkeeping Associations having a majority managing Poa so their leaderships are understandably less motivated towards fine grasses.

The STRI (the grasses research body founded in 1929 based at Bingley that is used by the big fertiliser and chemical companies) is likely, now it has lost its key personnel to a raid by The R&A, to gradually move out of golf as agronomic advice to the stadium sports provides a higher profit margin.

The R&A has centralised golf agronomic services and few independent consultants can compete with the strength of The R&A brand, irrespective as to whether they provide the correct advice at value.

There are instances of change success:-

which come from greenkeeping  grassroots organisation (no pun intended)  like the Irish Links Initiative (ILI). Following the Americans stopping travelling after 9/11, individual Irish greenkeepers got together independently for a yearly conference and regular swoping of experience and information about fine grasses. It was funded by local golf clubs and when Nick Park was on The R&A’s ‘course’ committee now called the ‘sustainability’ committee, some funding came from The R&A.

The ILI has transformed Irish links golf course agronomy with the majority of courses now managing fine fescues and browntop bents. This has brought back the running game and the Americans have followed in numbers.

There is a grassroots organisation on the continent (see Norbert Lischka’s article) and an independent greenkeeping group in the UK called the ‘Links Club’, though they have now invited inland fine grass greenkeepers to join as well.

I am unaware of any help or funding given to them by the national golf organisations who are supposed to lead golf in the right direction.

There is a real need for funding of fine grasses research at local club level, not influenced by the fertiliser and chemical companies whose vested interest is for Poa.

It is said that all profits from The R&A’s centralised, in-house commercialisation of agronomy services will go back into golf. How and where?

So, FineGolf has further evolved to realising that initiatives like The R&A’s new 2022 policy of ‘Agronomic Sustainablity’ or in layman’s terms ‘fine grasses’ may be all well and good but it will change little.

Why? Because it is aimed at Greenkeepers. The boss is the golfer.

Unless golfers are supportive of the change to fine grasses, when things go wrong (most often when the unpredictable weather disrupts a greenkeeper’s plan) so often golf club leadership’s previous support crumbles and jobs are lost. Not always, see article on Royal St George’s brilliant triumvirate.

To sell change to golfers there is a need for outstanding leadership at national and local club level and it is in this issue that FineGolf is now most interested.

It will be whether this leadership can sell the extra enjoyment of the three-dimensional running game to golfers via television and the golfing media that will determine the success of recreational golf in GB&I.

Yes, it will take a major, well-funded, gradually built, marketing campaign run by the best professional marketeers who understand the traditions of GB&I golf, using advice from the independent thinkers.

FineGolf sees no moves in this direction by the national golf leadership organisations. Indeed there seems to be a hunkering down to protect the bureaucracy.

The predominant focus of The R&A’s 2030 well-funded Project was on ticking boxes and achieving Net Zero, with fine grasses hardly getting a look-in.

FineGolf’s recent attempts to open a discussion with The R&A ‘Sustainability’ Committee have been rebuffed and one only has to read the response to question nine in FineGolf’s interview with The R&A to get the feeling they have had their heads in the sand for some time on independent fine grass research. The comments at the end are also illuminating.

It is possible that these organisations have become so complacent following the boost to local recreational golf from the lockdown that they will keep their heads in the sand and focus on where they see the money. Televised Pro golf.

If that is the case then all those fascinating stories that make golf real and human will never see the light of day. Maybe egos are just too big to enter into a discussion, take advice and see a different vision. See John Philp MBE’s suggested need for the opening of a discussion.

Perhaps an example of that is when I met Ken Brown, surely the television commentator who one most expects to be interested in the above, at the Walker Cup at Hoylake. (He had just previously rather cleverly on one of his ‘Ken on the course’ pieces, pretended to use his school ruler, thereby relating well to his audience and down on his knees, to measure the height of grass cut. He suggested “the beautiful fescue grass was cut at 2mm”! showing, to me at least, he knew little about fescues or greenkeeping, though I thought he instinctively recognised there was an interesting story thereabouts). He gave me his personal email and I followed up by sending him the latest FineGolf newsletter with an invitation at his convenience to help him with some stories. That evening he unsubscribed from the newsletter!

Are there any television golf commentators or indeed journalists who are interested in learning about the dichotomy in golf and any golf organisations interested in educating them?
Though normally it comes down to having a business model that can make profit but perhaps the powers that be should let slip their iron bureaucratic control and initiate what might be called a start-up by throwing some subsidies in the direction of the independent groups and fine grasses research at club level?