2020 comes to a close and it’s hard to describe a year that has been unlike anything we have ever experienced before.
I find it hard to say it’s been tough for us since the pandemic began, especially when compared to the millions that have lost their lives, the suffering of those to have lost someone and the countless more difficulties people have had to face, but the truth is it’s been incredibly difficult for us all.
In this blog I’d like to summarise the year from our perspective, but also to look towards what we all hope will be a more positive year ahead.
The year began much the same as any other, with us looking towards the new golfing season and making our preparations for it. Although news had broken about the virus in China, there was no sense of what was to come. Things remained business as usual and despite a wet January and February the course was shaping up well.
Things had changed significantly though as we moved into March with cases of covid-19 beginning to increase in the UK and we had adopted many precautions to try and cope. Increasing sanitary standards, staggered break times and split shifts were introduced to reduce the possibility of transmission. The course set up changed too with rakes, benches and bins removed and devices were installed for golfers to safely retrieve their ball from the hole. Then there were restrictions on tee times and the way the facilities were used, amongst others.
Life had become very different.
On 23rd March we went into full lockdown and for us that meant the whole facility closing. The industry bodies got together and produced some guidelines for essential maintenance and as a result some of the Greenstaff continued to look after the course during the lockdown.
Driving to work the roads were deserted and once at work it was eerie carrying out our duties with no one around. We dropped to 4 staff and split up our shifts so that we could cover 7 days, with always 2 people at work each day for safety reasons. This worked well and the team did a fantastic job under difficult and very strange circumstances.
The course remained in good condition and the weather was absolutely glorious throughout the lockdown. This was of some consolation, however this brought some extra challenges, some of these you would somewhat expect, but others that came around you most certainly wouldn’t.
Initially the biggest problem was with trespassing, although on the whole there was no real harm in people walking the course while it wasn’t in use. Unfortunately though this quickly began to be abused.
Dogs roaming off the lead was a real problem as they frequently disturbed the many ground nesting birds, Hares and other species that live onsite and we found ourselves constantly asking people to keep to the public footpaths.
Then came the vandalism. First to our fleet of buggies that were broken into and badly damaged and then it was the irrigation system.
By the start of spring we had the system operating as well as it ever had been, but 3 separate bouts of vandalism made life very difficult for us to water effectively, which during a drought couldn’t have come at a worse time. All watering had to be done manually and often just with the use of a hose.
By mid May some of the lockdown restrictions began to be eased and fortunately golf was one of the first things to be allowed. Having people back on the course was a huge lift for us and to a large extent many of the problems during the lockdown subsided.
We stuck to working split shifts and although we were still only a team of 5, the course condition was easily the best it had ever been, with years of changes towards sustainable management making this possible.
We were very pleased when the irrigation system was repaired at the end of summer and although quite late in the season, it was a welcome sight when it could again be ran automatically.
Other restrictions slowly lifted and things began to feel more positive with the bulk of the golfing season going well. We were receiving excellent feedback and an influx of new members and a growing number of casual golfers gave rise for much optimism.
However the numbers of covid-19 cases were rising again and it was clear that things were far from returning to ‘normal’.
By early October things were worsening and a tiered system was adopted by the government and saw a return to more in the way of restrictions. The timing of this came as Peter Fenton left his position as 1st Assistant to become Head Greenkeeper at Whitby GC.
We decided to hold off on any new recruitment at that time and were delighted to promote existing team member Gavin Kitching up to 1st Assistant. Gavin has helped give new impetus to our course developments and despite a lack of available resources the team have been able to complete many projects through the autumn.
It was also of great benefit that many members volunteered to help and gave up considerable time to the cause. A particular thank you to Dave Smelt, Ray Harker and Dave Pearson on that front.
Another full lockdown came in at the start of November, where all facilities again had to close.
Just prior to the lockdown though, we were fortunate to take advantage of the availability of a very experienced Greenkeeper in Simon Becconsall. Having spent over 20 years in Greenkeeping, possessing all the qualifications and practical skills, we felt it was too good an opportunity to miss and this was a real fillip for the team at that time.
However, Neil Thomas’s family made the decision to move to Portsmouth only a few weeks later, having had an excellent 18 months with us, and this found us quickly back to only 3 staff.
Again being in a lockdown, with limited income and faced with deteriorating weather, we felt it better to be cautious and hold on until the new year.
We did continue with recruitment plans though and are pleased that Callum Richardson, a local lad from Guisborough, will join us on the 4th January.
The future does look very positive for the club and it would be remiss of me to not pay tribute to the tremendous support we have had from the government. Through the furlough scheme and relief from monthly rates, it has undoubtedly kept people employed with us as well as keeping us functioning through such a difficult economic period.
With a vaccine roll out starting at the end of 2020, there is certainly reason for hope, but with cases rising and hospitals struggling to cope, we have to face up to things getting worse before they begin to improve.
I believe golf has a huge part to play in that recovery though, such is the very nature of the sport. Outside in the open air, being able to safely socialize at distance, gaining exercise and enjoying beautiful surroundings will be something that everyone can look forward to in maintaining their health and wellbeing.
Despite all the challenges 2020 presented we have come through it. The course has never been better and we are beginning to match the quality of many others across the UK.
Below lists some of the improvements made over the last year –
- New and additional signage has been installed.
- The new layout of Rawcliffe has come into play and after some initial issues, the green has been recontoured.
- Drainage has been installed to Warsett fairway, around Wetlands green and problems have been solved on Redding’s Apron and Morgan’s Mound too.
- Astro turf paths have been installed on several holes for better access between holes.
- Landscaping has taken place around several tee boxes to reduce maintenance and enhance both ecology and aesthetics.
- Surrounds on Morgan’s Mound, Wetlands, Warsett and Walker’s Gully have been sanded, smoothed out and readied for new fine turf to be laid in January.
- Fox Covert tee has been levelled out as well and will also receive new fine turf.
I do have a real belief that 2021 will see us turn the tide against the pandemic, as we see an incredible effort coming across the nation from all involved.
We will certainly need to be patient though and remian vigilant at all times. We can all do our bit and in doing so can help each other get through these unprecedented times.
That’s it for another year and can I wish everyone good fortune and good health in 2021!