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Education Must Start With The Members


Clearing out old records for paper salvage aroused two emotions. Sadness at the loss of archival material and frustration at the exhortations of twenty years ago having been so obviously ineffective. I find that I am still having to stress the advantages of sensible greenkeeping in terms of better course condition at lower costs and less risk of disaster.

The advantages and merits of the pitch and run-up principle over target golf still seems unacceptable, especially to today's new-entrant golfers. It must be emphasised that this advocacy of our traditional centuries old game and criticism of that lush target version, developed on the other side of the Atlantic, has nothing to do with old fogies nostalgically striving to retain the standards which applied earlier in their golfing lives, but everything to do with costs and playing conditions.

Austere greenkeeping not only produces better all round conditions - remember that our winters last from October to April - with less disease and better grasses, but costs much less. Good management avoids problems - and the cost of disease control alone on overfed courses is enormous. Everything, plus and minus, hinges on money. Highly paid tournament professionals make it clear that they want the element of chance (luck) taken out of the game completely, as they are horrified at the prospect of the 'rub of the green' affecting their finances. Furthermore, televised golf demands that courses are 'photogenic' and are thus 'peaked' for events, but remember that peaks are always preceded and followed by troughs !

The biggest problems in golf today are, beyond argument, the demands of new entrants into the game for those golfing conditions which they see on television. This in turn plays into the hands of some (not all) fertiliser companies who grossly over-sell the wrong fertilisers, justified all too often by showing so called deficiencies 'revealed' by soil analyses. The fallibility of soil analyses in greenkeeping, based on wrong and arbitrary standards. I have, in writing, one fertiliser company's report advising fertiliser application in 10 of the 12 months and an assurance that the average order for any Golf Club should be around 40 tonnes. All golf courses use a fraction of this amount - and no fungicides ! This indicates one saving !

Education is the key - but it must start with the Club members. If they demand lush conditions - "plenty of grass under the ball" - then clearly they have not been educated in the skills needed to impart backspin from a tight lie; the virtues of the pitch and run-up game; the benefits of having the option of taking a putter some distance off the green (hazards permitting); and the desirability in terms of all-year-round golf of firm fast putting surfaces as opposed to soft holding annual meadow grass greens.

Enlist (and if necessary educate) your professional to help such newcomers to realise the error of their ways. Education is also needed for (some) fertiliser company reps - and directors. However, the lure of commission in the one case and profits in the other makes this an unlikely starter. We have of course seen all this before - in the sixties and early seventies when many of our first class courses were ruined by gross over-feeding (and over-watering). Does no one else remember the days when many inland courses switched permanently onto winter greens at the end of October and did not play to full greens until Easter.

Educating of greenkeepers is a happier story, but with no grounds for complacency. A national structure provides the foundation for a sound instruction of new entrants both at their place of work and through guidance from approved and invigilated colleges. Such colleges also provide qualifications at higher diploma levels for more the mature and experienced. In greenkeeping we are blessed with a greater number than ever of brilliant course managers and a solid cadre of experienced head greenkeepers, enjoying the confidence of their Club management.

However these sadly are not a majority and there are clearly too many poorly educated greenkeepers. They fall into a number of categories. Some, perhaps with reason, fear dismissal if they oppose the 'green is great' school and others claim that while they know it is wrong they must "give the punters what they demand". Others became greenkeepers primarily so that they could enjoy free golf all the year round and were not good enough to become Club professionals. Whilst others are plagued by the changing ambitions of changing green committees.

All these groups are prey to ill-educated sales reps and all desperately need educating. During this process debate may convince them of the essential correctness of standard traditional methods in terms of lower running costs; trouble free playing surfaces; better grasses than annual meadow grass (whose faults have been so heavily debated as to need no further condemnation); better winter conditions; better conservation and anti-pollution management; and above all less nerve-wracking and more stress-free general management.

Secretaries/Managers have unequalled opportunities to encourage education at all levels for all staff - and also members. No barrier should be permitted against further education, even if this means staff losses as they move to better jobs, for their replacements will themselves be better educated. Correct education is an obvious corollary - so never send youngsters to the 'college down the road' (unless it happens to be on the GTC fully approved list).

There are hopeful signs that the leading authorities in golf are supporting the need to get away from the 'green is great' school - and this should help you as Secretaries/Managers to achieve results. It all starts with educating (some of) your members !