Being a Greenkeeper is a tough job at the best of times, mainly because we are always at the mercy of mother nature. So often even our best efforts are thwarted by the weather and this winter has been as difficult as I can remember for a number of years.
Obviously there isn’t anything that we can do to influence the weather, we just have to do our best to prepare and set up the course for you to enjoy.
It’s part of every profession to take criticism and Greenkeeping is no different. In my experience this mostly comes down to people not knowing or understanding the reasons for any decisions that are taken. This leads to assumptions being made and conclusions reached without the benefit of knowing what’s really going on.
Recently our main issue on the golf course has been with course closures and we have received criticism for it being both closed and open. So with that in mind, I thought this week I would explain the process we go through when making a decision on opening and closing the course.
This is actually one of the hardest parts of our job because we are never dealing in absolutes. There are so many variables we simply have to use our judgement, based on our experience and local knowledge of the course to make a call.
The most common problem is with saturated ground due to rainfall, but there is also frost, snow (which is usually straightforward) and occasionally ice.
It’s impossible for me to explain every eventuality here as virtually every day is different, so what we do is ask ourselves 3 questions.
The 3 main factors that have to be considered when making the decision are:
- Is it safe?
- Is it playable?
- How much will the course be damaged?
In no situation is there a guarantee of 100% safety, therefore we risk assess the conditions and make a decision based on the level of risk. If we feel the risk level is acceptable then the course can be opened, if not then it will be closed.
To give an example, I recently opened the course despite it being frozen but not too long ago closed it because of it being frozen which sounds strange doesn’t it? However, there were huge differences in the conditions on both days.
- Last Saturday the course was frozen, but on the whole the paths, roads and tee mats were sufficiently dry with only a few areas of the course where ice was an issue. As a result I felt that the risks were acceptable and therefore opened the course.
- In contrast the previous occasion when the course was closed due to ice, there had been heavy rainfall in the night, followed by clear skies leading to black ice forming all over the place. All of the paths, roads and tee mats were treacherous and therefore I felt the risk was not acceptable and therefore closed the course.
This part of the decision making process is the most subjective, however as a team we regularly walk the course and discuss what we believe is acceptable from a playing point of view. And despite it being impossible to objectively measure, we believe we are consistent with our decision making, regardless of which team member is making the call.
We follow a process that we have found to be the quickest and most effective is to assess the course.
We start by walking down Pennington’s & Davy’s, if there are no dry areas at all (in other words every step is in water) then we would know at that point play wouldn’t be possible. If still unsure we would then walk several holes under the railway line, as these are certainly drier than both Pennington’s and Davy’s. After that we would walk around Morgan’s Mound green and then up Fox Covert and Toon’s Tier.
Obviously if all holes are the too wet then the course will close, but often we will open the course if the majority is dry enough even if a few of the holes were quite wet.
Again, we have to have a level of tolerance as we can’t expect perfect conditions in the winter time. Usually it ends up being an easy decision as we so badly want the course to be open, we tend to keep walking around until we realise that it’s just not going to be possible.
Damage to the course
In the winter, damage to the course is inevitable. We simply have to limit the damage as much as we can and we do this with the use of tee mats and roping off susceptible areas.
Limiting damage to the course can be much better achieved with your help. This means repairing pitch marks, replacing divots, avoiding worn areas of turf. Carry a small bag of clubs instead of using trolleys or if you must use a trolley then use a pull trolley with lighter bag, instead of heavy tour bags on electric trolleys. Having winter wheels fitted also makes a big difference as they grip better instead of smearing the turf.
All of these things will result in better conditions come spring.
There will always be some of you that agree with our decisions and some of you that disagree, but it is our job to make the decision and we will continue to do so in a sensible and consistent fashion.
Ultimately it is in no ones interest for the course to be closed and please believe me that we do everything we can to have the course open.
To finish on a positive note, we are lucky to have a course that drys out very quickly after inclement weather, with many inland courses currently weeks away from being in good condition again. As the days become lighter and we finally get a period without a constant battering from rain, sleet & snow, the course will soon return to it’s normal dry and bouncy condition and we may even be lucky enough to get a chance to enjoy some sunshine!