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  • Alistair Tait

The Real Heroes of Golf

It’s thank a greenkeeper day. Mark down Tuesday 14 September as the only day in 2021 when many golf club members say thank you to those who make playing this great game possible.

Green keepers seem to get very little thanks the rest of the year.

I mean seriously, who’d be a greenkeeper? It must be the most underappreciated job in all of golf. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from playing this game over the years it’s that greenkeepers only come in for comment when there’s something perceived to be wrong with the golf course, as in these greens are too slow, the greenkeeper must have been angry this morning to set that pin, the rough is too long, the face on this bunker is getting too steep, the greens are getting smaller, these fairways are too narrow, this tee is a shocker, why are all the tees set on the righthand side of the teeing area…. And on it goes ad nauseum.

Think about it, why would you want to be a head greenkeeper when members expect perfect, Augusta National-like conditions 365 days of the year? With a fraction of Augusta's budget, and even in the middle of February after six weeks of constant rain!

Why would you want to take on the job as keeper of the greens when it seems every single member of the golf club thinks they know more about agronomy than you do? When new, incoming chairs of the greens committee bestows expert status on themselves just because they’ve played off a single figure handicap for 20 years, or have read Dr Alister MacKenzie’s The Spirit of St Andrews cover to cover?

I consider myself extremely knowledgeable about this game of golf, but I’m the first to admit I know absolutely nothing about agronomy. I’m in no position to make any sort of valued judgment on golf course conditions. I did spend two summers working at an exclusive golf club in Canada, and I can tell you the people I worked with were extremely dedicated to their work even if they were often treated with contempt by some members. I felt that contempt on a regular basis. Never have I felt so many daggers stared into me than I did over those two summers. The expression “F’ing golf club members!” was muttered under my breath on more than one occasion. I’m sure greenkeepers reading this have muttered those words too.

All I know is that NO greenkeeper sets out to produce poor playing conditions. It’s not as if they wake up in the morning and think: “How can I upset the members today?” They set out to present the best course possible considering the weather, budget, rounds played, staffing levels, etc.

I’ve got a wee book in my library which G.C. Nash penned in 2002 entitled Letters To The Secretary Of A Golf Club. Some of the complaints are absolute, head-shaking crackers. Can you imagine how some greenkeepers would respond to the plethora of barmy complaints they receive if they were allowed to take off the shackles and say what they really felt? The air might be a wee bit blue. As for dealing with greens committees, there must be an awful lot of biting of tongues upon hearing some ideas put forwards to, er, “improve” the golf course.

Thank a greenkeeper day? Every day should be thank a greenkeeper day. So don’t just thank your greenkeepers today, make more of an effort to thank them on a regular basis. Remember, without greenkeepers there is no golf.

#JustSaying: “I remember many years ago at Sunningdale a fussy oily individual coming up to Harry Colt and saying, ‘I really must congratulate you, Mr Colt, on your fairways. They are perfect.’ Colt, who objected to this type of man, answered somewhat testily, ‘I don’t agree with you at all.’ ‘Why not, Mr Colt?’ he asked. ‘The lies are too damned good,’ was the answer.” From The Spirit of St Andrews

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