of the Twentieth Century
by Jim Arthur
is perhaps no more appropriate time to review the history of greenkeeping over
the last century than at the start of the next. Any assessments must necessarily
be subjective and open to opinions and debate, which I would personally welcome
from any reader.
However, I have on my side the very considerable research which was involved in
producing (with a lot of help from my friends), Practical Greenkeeping, and the
fact that for more than half this century I have been actively and continuously
involved in golf course agronomy. I have also been closely involved with many
of the 'greats' of yesterday and today in golf architecture, who have been generous
with their views and experience.
must be admitted at the outset that most of the milestones in greenkeeping history
have been spin-offs from either other industries, especially agriculture, or have
come from America. This is simply because there has never been a big enough greenkeeping
market in Britain to pay for the cost of research. Thus, most new machinery has
come from America, though they may be improved or copied here and most products
started in the agricultural world.
research in a pure form has been virtually nil, but valuable assessment and evaluation
work has been carried out in adopting agricultural standards to greenkeeping ones
and in comparing products or grass strains by trial work.
selecting those practices, products or machines which have had a profound effect
over the past century in the management of golf courses, the first criterion must
be whether they resulted in significantly better conditions, with lower manpower
and lower costs.
first milestone is not debatable! This was the introduction and general use of
mowing machines, replacing scything and before that four legged mowers, sheep
and rabbits. Here again, the prototype for the reel-type grass mower was Edwin
Budding's machine which he designed to produce a smooth textured tweed, by shearing
the nap - a job previously done by hand. Poor Budding made no money out of his
1832 invention, and it was many years before the very heavy and cumbersome machines
in the late 1880's were used by other than a few rich eccentric gentry.
these very heavy machines were not suitable for golf greens and after many false
starts in 1924, the first specialised hand-pushed greens mowers, Ransomes' Certes,
came into general use. This was not motorised until as late as 1950 - as much
an indication of the poverty of Golf Clubs as of any innate resistance to change
can remember when even 18-hole links courses were looked after by one man, assisted
by a boy in summer, whose job was to help his headman by pulling a hand machine
with a rope. Needless to say the greens were still pure fescue and bent, primarily
because (naturally enough) they were never fed. Why make a hard life harder by
producing more grass. Of course, there was less traffic and therefore less wear
in those days.
drawn fairway mowers came in from America just before the First World War and
were developed over the next seventy years via tractor towed to direct -mounted
and then self-propelled units. Very early in the century there were moves to improve
greenkeeper education - early organisations being primarily based on golfing meetings
between neighbouring greenkeepers as an early golfing society. This developed
into the formation in 1912 of the Golf Greenkeepers Association with a huge input
from a few dedicated individuals including the trade.
perspective, it should be noted that the Scottish Golf Union was not formed until
1920 and the English Golf Union not until 1924. Just after the First World War,
the Scots set up their own greenkeeping association (SGA) and in 1934 they amalgamated
with the British GGA in a somewhat uneasy partnership. This broke up in the period
after the Second World War and led to the establishment of SGGA and ultimately
the SIGGA, where the emphasis was always on education as opposed to golfing meetings.
1979 there was an even more fundamental breakaway with the establishment of a
like-minded English Association formed by a number of forward-thinking head greenkeepers
and top course managers, who perceived that the future lay in education and the
recognition of the professional standing of greenkeepers. This was the English
and International Greenkeepers' Association, which in my opinion did more to improve
the standing as well as the education of greenkeepers than perhaps any other body.
of the most rewarding periods of my life was working very closely with those stalwarts
of the profession, especially in getting Clubs to value their greenkeeping staff
and to recognise that the course was their most important asset. It was even more
rewarding to see the results of my honest brokering behind the scenes which led
to the eminently sensible amalgamation of GGA, SIGGA and EIGGA, and to have retained
their friendship over so many years of those who at all levels shared my vision.
establishment of BIGGA in 1987 has indeed been one of the most important milestones
of the century. The emphasis on education led to the formation of the Greenkeepers
Training Committee which sensibly became independent of both employer and employee
under the R & A guardianship in 1993. Today it has enormous influence as the industry's
recognised independent leading body, way ahead of any comparable training organisation
in agriculture or horticulture, and much of the present professional recognition
and qualification in greenkeeping is due to its hard work.
a significant change in a century; from the perception of greenkeepers as mowers
of grass to skilled and qualified technicians. But, we should never forget that
those few skilled, if only basically educated, men of yester-year had ideas far
ahead of their time and could express them so eloquently !
next milestone in my book was the mechanisation of aeration pioneered by Wm Hargreaves
who started Sisis in the middle of the biggest depression of this century. These
machines were used on fairways as well as greens and it was the constant progression
in their design which improved speed as well as depth. I can well remember lines
of stalwart greens staff moving backwards over greens, hand-forking in winter,
and especially raise forking - inserting the fork ('graip') and levering it back
before withdrawal. It
was the Dutch brothers, de Ridder, who copied this in 1980 to produce the vertidrain
- now used world-wide - to copy what old Scottish greenkeepers did so laboriously
80 years and more earlier.
next milestone was one with which I was also very closely involved - the use of
selective herbicides to miraculously rid greens and fairways of their ubiquitous
rosette weeds. Prior to this, control was by scorching the weed with ammonia and
iron (lawn sand) or hand weeding. Does anyone else remember the memorable sight
of lines of women (recruited from potato picking gangs) on their knees, hand-forking
out starweed and daisies from East coast Scottish links. Wise advisers exchanged
no badinage with those doughty characters !
these growth regulating weedkillers were not specifically developed for sports
turf but for agriculture, having originally been used against the enemies' crops
in the Second World War. It was fun being an adviser in the immediate post war
period, the problems were both simple and simply cured. One was welcomed as a
miracle man by ridding Clubs of tap rooted weeds - but of course other less easily
controlled species soon replaced them (nature abhors a vacuum) and home based
research and evaluation eventually produced an effective herbicide for virtually
next milestone was the development of power units from the cumbersome and unmanoeuvrable
pre-war agricultural tractors to the small tractor with direct attached units.
The war-time mini-Ferguson revolutionised small scale farming - Harry Ferguson
told me many years ago that all he had done was to identify the difference between
a horse and a tractor - "you can't bolt anything to a horse's backside". Up until
then, tractors were used as horses. This
development made it possible to mount greenkeeping equipment directly onto power
units which meant deeper penetration with aerators, the use of wider boom sprayers
and generally speeding up all operations. This was so essential, if only to keep
ahead of play.
the same token, triplex mowers from America in 1969-70 revolutionised mowing,
both in regards to speed and being able to mow in two planes, conventional horizontally
and vertically (verticutting). There
are still some who feel 'hand' mowing gives a superior finish (and I am amongst
them) especially in winter, but the demand for daily mowing by today's golfer
makes the use of triplex mowers essential in the 'growing season'.
event with unforeseen and widespread repercussions was the introduction of automatic
pop-up irrigation in 1964 - another development from America, where they had started
as long ago as 1912 ! Pop-ups have been rather unjustly blamed for the rot that
started in so many of our courses, but we should not just blame those who lashed
the water on but also those ordering them to do so, because they thought lush
was beautiful and target golf was preferable to pitch and run. It has taken 30
years of hard arguing and persuasion to get the culprits to see sense, but I am
the first to commend those few who from the start used their automatic system
with restraint and skill.
far we have discussed milestones in management but the last one is in construction.
Today only links greens would be built to old standards and virtually all new
or replacement greens are now constructed to the perched water table systems,
where a predetermined balance between free drainage and controlled water retention
is assured by specially composed root zones over a blinded and under-drained stone
the original concept was proposed and developed by the USGA Green Section in 1960
it is not the only one and I building to perched water table standards in 1966
in complete ignorance of even the existence of the USGA Green Section, let alone
their PWT specification!
course, the industries servicing greenkeeping have tried to improve their products,
machines, grass seeds and furniture - and deserve our thanks for their efforts
- even if they are motivated by commercial interests, and I find no fault in that
! There is, however, one aspect where harm has been caused - sometimes almost
irreversibly. This is in relation to fertilisers and soil analyses. Soil chemists
have an awful lot to answer for - and even though some of their worst excesses
of the seventies and early eighties have been modified, some (not all) fertiliser
companies are still justifying grossly excessive applications on the basis of
soil analyses - purporting to show deficiencies on totally arbitrary and unjustified
I first started advisory work in 1946, I took with me a big knife, a probe, a
golf ball or two and a pH indicator. We virtually never used soil analyses on
the basis that even then the enlightened amongst us were advising nitrogen only,
on phosphates and the ideal pH was the one you had ! Even in 1982 STRI reported
that out of 1800 golf green soil samples less than 5% showed phosphate levels
below 60 ppm - and that the level they then stated represented a deficiency. Everyone
lashed on phosphates and surprise, surprise got Poa annua. In passing there are
excellent greens with 3 ppm and anything around 10 ppm is quite alright ! Thus
it may be deduced, soil physicists good, soil chemists bad !
are a host of other improvements not least in the educational world and we certainly
could not run today's busily used courses without the machines and products developed
by the huge service industry that supports greenkeeping and for these blessings
we should be thankful but until we can knock sense into fertiliser companies and
their reps we will never beat Poa annua and all the problems it produces. Television
may have been the cause of the boom in the popularity of golf and its expansion
but it has much to answer for by suggesting that golf courses should be verdant
green and by endorsing target golf against our own pitch and run tradition.