To close, or not to close.
Allan Tait, Course Manager, Sweetwoods Park.
With much of the country battling unprecedented rainfall and more recently freezing conditions, mid winter is undoubtedly the toughest time of year to manage the upkeep of an 18 hole golf course. Course Managers up and down the country face many challenges and here, Allan Tait, Course Manager of Sweetwoods Park Golf Club, in Cowden Kent, talks about the decisions he has to make, when faced with potential course closure due to the wet and freezing conditions…
More damaging that you may think
It’s obvious to most people that excessive rain can cause waterlogging across some areas of any golf course. This in itself isn’t the end of the world. The real damage comes when trollies and hundreds of footprints push down onto this water logged area.
If the grass plant is submerged into the muddy conditions during the harsh winter months, it is at this time of year it will inevitably die. Cold conditions mean the plant doesn’t have the energy to ‘stand itself back up again’ towards the sun. The smearing effect of the mud covering the plant and the lack of sunlight and air all contribute to its death. In summer the grass plant is growing so strongly that any ‘traffic’ over it will cause little to no damage, it is simply ‘grown out’ by the plant.
Putting preventions in place
At Sweetwoods Park we heavily top dress and spike our main ‘wear areas’ or ‘walkways’ with sand to try and protect the plant from damage. This is fairly successful, but expensive. Over 60 tons has been used this winter so far. These areas eventually become quite thin and grass coverage can be sparse. These areas recover well in the spring with the help of seed and fertiliser.
Months of recovery
If the areas are allowed to become boggy and total grass coverage is lost, then clubs find themselves in big trouble. Not only financially (the cost of seed, sand, rootzone or re-turfing), but the resulting course quality. These areas can take months to recover, if allowed to become too thin or bald, poor surfaces can develop well into the summer. For the sake of playing a few days winter golf, is it worth it? Not in my opinion. Winter golf in the UK is what it is. The course must not be allowed to deteriorate to poor conditions and this is something I feel very passionate about for Sweetwoods Park.
Worth the risk?
If courses do open in extreme wet conditions, you have to ask yourself why. They may be on a free draining site. The downside to this being free draining sites tend to ‘burn off’ in the summer, where as Sweetwoods Park remains very green. The question has to be asked, does the repair bill outweigh the income and was it worth it? If the conditions become slippery and dangerous and the course stays open, what’s the price of someone falling over and saying it’s your fault because the course was clearly too wet to play? Is your course reputation going to improve through opening in bad playing conditions? Unlikely.
Protect now for an outstanding summer
Every morning we check our rain gage. If there’s more than 10mm in the gage then we know to be very cautious at this time of year. We inspect the course with this in mind. It’s a challenging time, but keeping the course open as much as possible, whilst putting protection measures in place remains our aim.