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  • Alistair Tait

Thanks to the keepers of the greens

Who on earth would want to be a greenkeeper?

Imagine having to deal with members who want Augusta-like conditions 365 days a year, green committee chairmen who want to make changes to leave their mark, committee members whose knowledge of agronomy could be written on a small post it note, and members who think the greenkeeper isn’t up to the job.

On thank a greenkeeper day my response to my opening question is: No thank you!

I always feel greenkeepers are almost comparable to football referees, indeed any official ruling at a sporting event: they’ve done a great job if they don’t get mentioned.

How many times have we listened to a champion’s speech and the greenkeepers haven’t even got a mention? Too many times, albeit some take the time out to remember the most important cog in any tournament. Remember, there is no tournament without the greenkeepers.

The people with sweat under their armpits, the bags under their eyes and the dirt under their finger nails are often the last to be acknowledged. It’s the same at golf clubs. I reckon the only time greenkeepers get any sort of acknowledgement is when members think there’s a problem with the golf course. As in, this bloody greenkeeper hasn’t got a clue…. on how to shape fairways, cut greens, place pins, blah, blah, blah…

I’m fortunate to play at one of the best golf facilities in the British Isles. Woburn Golf Club has three great courses. The Duchess, the Dukes and the Marquess offer a wide variety of challenges with conditions that are among the best in the British Isles. Oh, and yes, I am biased.

Yet the number of times I’ve heard complaints about various aspect of the courses in all my time as a member are too numerous to count. I’m getting to the point of just saying:

“Do you know what, go and join somewhere else if you don’t like it!”

The conspiratorial nature of such complaints is often hard to resist. All it takes is one to point out a perceived flaw before another is seeing it as a flaw too. I tend to get a lot of complaints sent my way because of the nature of my job. They’re dialling the wrong number. Pardon the pun, but I know sod all about agronomy. It’s not my area of expertise and I don't pretend it is.

Silence is golden when it comes to dealing with the fellow member who thinks the head greenkeeper is doing a poor job because he's just three putted the 11th green. Although I do admit there’s been the odd occasion when I couldn’t resist the urge to respond with a sentence that starts with

“Oh for goodness sake….”

At least Woburn superintendent John Clarke doesn’t have to deal with a greens committee, unlike private clubs. The late Alex Hay explained why Woburn didn’t have a cadre of members opining on golf course conditions on the day I had my interview to join the club. He said:

“We don’t have a greens committee because we don’t want amateurs telling professionals how to do their job.”

In The Spirt of St Andrews, Dr Alister MacKenzie called for all clubs to a have a permanent greens committee to overcome Hay’s fear. MacKenzie writes:

“It would be wise for every club to have a permanent green committee. The history of most clubs is that a green committee is appointed who make mistakes. Just as they are beginning to learn from experience of their mistakes, they are replaced by fresh members who make still greater ones.”

Before I get angry rebukes, let me make it plain that not all greens committee chairmen, all greens committee members are total numpties when it comes to agronomy. Some are very knowledgeable, and most have the course’s best interest at heart. Just to balance out this argument, head greenkeepers don’t always get it right either. As Mackenzie notes:

“Errors in greenkeeping not infrequently arise from a misconception of what is required for a golf course. Agricultural experts, greens committees and greenkeepers often make the mistake of treating turf for playing fields on similar lines to that required for feeding cattle.”

However, on thank a greenkeeper day, I’m putting my faith in the greenkeepers. Find yours and say a big thank you. Without them there is no golf.

#JustSaying: “To provide good putting greens for the whole of the twelve months of play … is the greatest difficulty in greenkeeping.” Harry Colt

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