Mutual respect

 

Is golf not a privilege?

The following article emphasising the importance of mutual respect between golfers and greenkeepers is a collaboration between Norbert ‘the turf fox’ Lischka and FineGolf.

The ‘Turf Fox’s’ logo

Golfers have a legitimate desire to be provided with favorable course conditions; after all it is they who have to pay for them. Nevertheless, no other ball-sport gives an athlete the privilege of pursuing their hobby on such a large contiguous area set within nature and to have the right to play the game of golf is first and foremost a privilege.

Simply to play golf is not enough.

More enjoyment can be had with:-

  • an appreciation and understanding of the game’s essence,
  • its historical connotations,
  • the etiquette that underscores the game,
  • the basic principles of course design and maintenance
  • and how this is affected by the ever-changing weather,
  • as well as a responsibility for a course’s flora and fauna.

Golfers must accept that they have duties and should be willing to accept some responsibility for their course; for example, how to behave in accord with the natural flora and fauna. How to conduct oneself with the correct etiquette is also a vital component of this game, which includes, among other things, repairing one’s pitch-marks on the greens, eliminating any tracks left in the bunker and the proper return of divots on the fairways; all of these are duties that it is only fair to expect from every golfer.

It saves money if greenkeepers have the co-operation of golfers in all of these small respects which when multiplied help to avert damage to the playing surfaces.

Healthy rootzone of perennial fine grasses

The greenkeeper is usually the only one in the club who knows the true condition of their course, based on their training and experience, especially below the turf. The golfers’ playing conditions are determined by this largely un-noticed world beneath the turf. However, over a period of time, if there are any defects present (soil compaction, drainage problems, unhealthy soil biology etc) then their effects are no longer concealed and can seriously mar the playing surfaces.

These problems all too commonly occur because greenkeepers are often not granted sufficient time for proper maintenance. Unfortunately, the greenkeepers too often also have to work under adverse weather conditions, such as heavy dew, fog and rain. Ideally, it would be desirable to spend more time mowing in the drier conditions later in the day, but usually these days the circumstances do not allow this. Staff shortage is another big issue for greenkeepers where clubs encounter financial problems. Only if they make optimal use of all financial and time resources can qualitative, regular and preventative course maintenance be implemented and maintained. This is certainly in all golfers’ interests.

It is crucial that golfers also appreciate the wider Society’s direction of travel is towards conservationism and how the chemical and environmental legislation is changing, with so many of the chemicals that have previously kept disease at bay from lush, annual weed grasses, becoming no longer available.

The ‘progressive’ direction of travel is towards a conservationist, natural, cultural means of grass maintenance.

 

This means the golfer must respect the greenkeeper’s work and support the necessary changes to surfaces that will make them firmer, truer and more sustainable (i.e. low inputs and lower costs) by ultimately supporting the development of perennial fine grasses that are disease and drought resistant and do not need the chemical inputs and copious water that annual weed grasses require.

A reasonable pace of play is crucial for recreational enjoyment and as The R&A have reported, every extra foot of putting speed beyond nine foot, adds an extra fifteen minutes to a round of golf. The recreational golfer should not have to worry about the six footer coming back after just touching the first putt. It takes too long and putting should not just be about not three-putting.

A shaved Augusta green ready for The Masters.

Golfers must resist being infected by ‘Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD)’, as Finegolf has labelled it, which unfairly puts pressure on greenkeepers to increase putting speed and grass stress by demanding the putting surface be shaved too low (below 4mm); this can only end in having ever weaker, annual meadow grass (Poa annua) surfaces, which will eventually die from rampant disease. This is for example exactly what happened at Hunstanton a few years ago. (Their greens are now playing wonderfully firmly and truly having been converted to at least 75% perennial fine grasses (cut at 4.75mm running on a moist day at an ideal nine foot) by course manger Peter Reid’s team with Gordon Irvine’s help).

This is a quite complex subject and as modern professionals, greenkeepers have a responsibility to communicate effectively with golfers exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Historically, however, greenkeepers have not been good communicators, preferring to be out there and hands-on rather than indoors influencing their customers. Finegolf sees this as an enormous weakness and when coupled with a club policy that often hinders members talking to greenkeepers, it can be disastrous. Although most Chairs of Green see their positive role as protecting greenkeepers from criticism and their budgets, nevertheless, if progress is to be achieved through agronomic sward change, then it is the experts who need to explain the vision to the membership so as to get them on-side and thereby alleviate the pressure on their own greenkeeping profession.

Only if the greenkeepers and their work are respected as being of a similar status to golfers, will golfers continue to enjoy their privilege of playing golf in the future on firm, running surfaces at affordable cost.

Mutual respect between golfers and greenkeepers must be the way forward.

Norbert ‘The Turf Fox’ Lischka can be contacted through his website HERE