The R&A’s agronomists have explained to golfers why standards on their course may not be at the level they expected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.
Following the outbreak of Covid 19 and the implementation of Government restrictions on movement and working practices, The R&A, in conjunction with BIGGA, published a series of statements on Essential Maintenance for golf courses. The idea was to develop a safe framework for the way in which golf courses could be maintained during this difficult period.
The aim has been to help ensure that working environments are safe and one in which greenkeepers are comfortable going to work. Many clubs in the UK have furloughed staff and reduced the staff hours available for maintenance. To keep greenstaff safe, measures such as social distancing, the introduction of rotas, enhanced hygiene/cleaning procedures and one person one machine directives have been introduced. In other areas of the industry, there have been inevitable difficulties with sourcing products and equipment for course maintenance, with many clubs pausing spending. Consequently, course maintenance levels and product supply have been reduced, and operations and applications have focused on the main playing surfaces.
Golf courses are living entities and can deteriorate quite rapidly if nothing is done to them, particularly when growth is strong. Consequently, practices such as mowing, irrigation and nutrition, and machinery maintenance were identified as essential in order to maintain a holding position and allow for swift recovery at limited cost once restrictions are lifted. Given that courses differ in type, location, soil types and grass species, it is accepted that what is deemed essential at one club may not be deemed so at another, so there needed to be some interpretation and flexibility in the guidance.
As golf returns, time will be required for staffing and maintenance levels to return to something like “normal”. It is likely that social distancing measures will remain in place for quite some time and there may be a lag period for greenkeeping teams to get back to a full complement following furloughing.
It is important for golfers to realise that in some cases the course they return to may not be as they would expect for the time of year. We all have to have realistic expectations for the course when we do return. The following describes some of the scenarios golfers may encounter:
If you ever wondered how long it takes nature to take over a golf course, the answer is about 3 weeks.
With reduced mowing frequencies and elevated heights of cut, combined with relaxed refinement practices, nutritional inputs and top dressing, it is likely that putting surfaces will not perform as well as normal for a while. With the potential for reduced staffing and budgets in the future, a general resetting of performance standards and expectations for greens may be required in the longer-term.
With relaxed top dressing and less footfall, organic matter may have increased, resulting in softer and more receptive surfaces. With patience and targeted practices, greenkeepers will rectify any deterioration. The initial focus upon the reopening of golf courses will be to get golfers back playing and enjoying the course again. Therefore, it may be wise to pause summer/early autumn renovation windows to minimise surface disturbance and make way for golf.
But there are some positives to consider for the putting surfaces. The lack of play will mean there are no pitch marks and the relaxation of mowing, refinement and golf will have reduced disturbance pressures on the turf and favoured the development of the finer grasses.
Our initial focus as restrictions ease should be on gradually restoring the height of cut, the implementation of refinement operations and top dressing practices, but the emphasis should be on patience. Aggressive implementation will only compromise long-term sward health and reduce any gains made with grass composition.
Tees, Approaches & Fairways
The main impact on these surfaces will be from reduced mowing frequencies and higher mowing heights, both of which will have reduced the general presentation and texture of the turf. This will be felt most on courses with richer soil types and more productive grasses. As with greens, a gentle increase in mowing operations will help restore turf quality and presentation of tees, approaches and fairways, but a patient approach is required.
Weed control will have been limited during the lockdown (especially on courses that have been readily utilised for daily exercise by the public), so the presence of flowering weeds may have to be tolerated for a period of time until sufficient control measures can be safely implemented.
Rough, Penalty Areas & Bunkers
Maintenance through the lockdown to rough, penalty areas and bunkers may have been limited to just weekly mowing of the in-play rough. Maintenance to the bunkers, wider rough and penalty areas was not considered “essential” so golfers should expect some significant deterioration to these areas. Stronger growth and longer grass may heighten punishment for errant shots and it will take time to restore routine mowing operations.
With the potential for restricted staffing levels continuing for some time, this may be a good opportunity to assess whether all areas of rough need to be routinely mown or whether this activity can be relaxed in some areas without being detrimental to enjoyment and pace of play. This approach could save time and fuel as well as providing a more natural feel to the course.
The impact of a lack of raking and general attention to bunkers is likely to have allowed animal damage, sand blow, weed ingress and sand contamination to have developed. These issues, alongside use by non-golfers during lockdown, will create work that will require significant efforts to redress. Large scale bunker work tends to be a winter job so it needs to be understood that rectifying this type of damage at this time of year is likely to take longer given the concentration of available resources on mowing operations.
Operations that contribute to the general presentation of the course, such as trim mowing around tees, course furniture, out of bounds and clubhouse areas, have all been relaxed and will take time to restore. However, consideration should be given to whether all this is necessary. Just because it was always done this way does not mean it needs to continue in the same way.
With many golf courses, especially those in coastal and urban areas, having been used widely as open green spaces by the public during lockdown, some collateral damage is inevitable and will take time to repair. Seeding and turfing may be required in more extreme cases but weather and lack of resource may mean that imperfections have to persist until conditions are more suitable for repair work to establish.
Whilst the general public have enjoyed using our golf courses for exercise during the lockdown and have appreciated what wonderful places they are, there will need to be a carefully managed, sensitive transition back to golf and full maintenance. The manner in which staff and members engage with the public during the return to golf will be key.
Catering for increased demand to play from golfers while allowing greenkeepers to prepare the course, and ensuring the safety of all, are matters that each club will need to consider.
Resources & Expectations
The serious impact of Covid 19 on golf course operations cannot be underestimated. Some will be more affected than others but the majority of clubs are looking to cut costs in some way, and with course maintenance being the biggest cost for many clubs, the trimming of course maintenance and staffing budgets may be seen as very necessary for those charged with ensuring the ongoing existence of clubs.
For many, this will require a rethink of how courses are maintained. The need to save money will force many clubs to identify what is important and what is less so in terms of the playing and presentational standards. If these difficult decisions are being made, full transparency is encouraged so that members understand why things might not be as they were.
It is important for all of us who work in and play the game to understand that courses may not be in the same condition when we return as we have come to expect. We need to collectively exercise the need for patience to allow greenkeepers the time to implement their expertise and restore course conditioning back to what we consider to be normal. As has been said in relation to many aspects of life since the emergence of the Covid 19 pandemic, golfers may have to adjust to a “new normal”.
Alistair Beggs, Richard Windows and Adam Newton from The R&A Agronomy Team.
When we do resume golfing again it will be necessary to keep the Locker rooms closed. This will also include the toilets in these areas.
Prior to the lockdown members should have removed their clubs from their lockers before we officially closed the clubhouse. However we are aware that not everyone managed to do this.
Arrangements have been made so that any member who needs to retrieve their clubs can do so on the following dates –
The locker rooms will be open on Friday 22nd & Saturday 23rd May
during the hours of 10.00am – 2.00pm both days.
Entry will be by a strict one in one out system and be controlled by a council member, in order that the process can be carried out safely.
CADDY CAR SHED
Any member who has a caddy cart in the shed should also uplift their cart as their will be no access to this area when play does resume.
I hope that this update finds you all safe and well. It has been a very difficult time for everyone coping with the restrictions and adjusting to the changes in our lifestyle. I am sure we are all missing our family and friends and the normality we always took for granted until this terrible virus engulfed us all.
As you may have seen from the newsletter sent out on Friday, Council has taken the decision to postpone our celebrations for the Centenary until next year. It was felt that with the level of uncertainty surrounding the possible reopening of golf courses, to try and hold the Centenary would diminish what we would hope to be a memorable occasion for every member. By postponing until next year we would hope to have a full golfing calendar along with the social events planned for the Centenary.
Plans have been made for the course reopening. It would appear that for some time we will only be able to play social golf. You will have probably seen speculation in the media that this may be limited to singles or two balls, but until we hear officially nobody really knows what may happen. I mentioned previously that we were looking at a revised fixture list. When possible, we would hope to play our Club Championships and major Stroke competitions. These would take priority over any Medals that may have been due to be held. Everything is dependent on when and how we can reopen. We hope that depending on circumstances that the Flag raising ceremony will be able to be held later in the year. A list of local rules are being drawn up that will enable us when we are able to open, to do so safely. The BRS booking system is being closed down until we have a definite date when the course can reopen. Members will be kept up to date with any information as soon as we have it. There is a statement on the website from Scottish Golf which is worth reading.
The Seniors Texas Scramble has been rearranged for Tuesday 4th August. It is hoped that we will be in a position by then to hold this very popular competition but it will depend on any restrictions imposed on us by government. Liberton members have expressed disappointment that owing to the popularity of this event they were unable to get a time. There will probably be cancellations due to the change of date. Liberton members will be given priority for the revised date and should contact Iain Seath by email, in order that they can be fitted in where possible.
A waiting list will be established and entries will be taken in order by the date they are received.
Iain’s email address is – firstname.lastname@example.org
As I have previously stated the support we are receiving from the members who continue to pay by direct debit is very encouraging. Currently we have 262 members who pay by this method. To date when the May payment was received, the number who felt unable to pay was in single figures. This is extremely positive and shows the depth of feeling that everyone has for Liberton.
As of 10th May our Bank balance is currently down by just under £14000 compared to 10th May 2019. At the time of writing we are still waiting for our furlough payment from the government. This shortfall is represented by a slight decrease in membership numbers therefore lower subs, and the fact that we have had no green fees or bar / function income over the past weeks. Unfortunately even in the present circumstances the running of the club does not stand still. There are still invoices to be paid on a monthly basis. The Secretary has been attempting to negotiate a payment holiday with some companies, but even if that is successful it only pushes the problems further back in the year. We will receive a rebate from Scottish Golf of 25% of our affiliation fees which amounts to £2000. We are continuing to furlough all the Bar staff, the Office Administrator and two of our green staff.
Some members have been asking about Iain Seath’s position and whether the Club are continuing to pay his retainer. As I mentioned in a previous update Iain is continuing to work on behalf of the Club. As well as working on the fixture list he is undertaking other work on the Club’s behalf. He is not receiving a full retainer payment, but is receiving a payment commensurate with the work he is doing. This month like all self-employed members he will receive any payments that are due to him from the government.
I can assure all members that the Council are keeping a very tight rein on expenditure.
Some members have asked about the possibility of a reduction in their fees due to the fact that we have been unable to play golf for a couple of months. In an ideal world that might be the case but the harsh reality is that without members support the Club would struggle to survive. When circumstances allow Council will be discussing our financial position and making plans for the future.
I would now like to give you some information on another matter but one that relates to Club income. We have been in discussions for some time with a mobile phone company regarding the installation of a mast on the course. Negotiations have been going on for sometime now and in March we concluded all contractual arrangements. In the last few weeks we have received the payment for this project. It had been hoped that the money received would have been able to be used for capital projects, but in the present financial uncertainty a good part of it will have to be used in order to help with the economies of the Club. While this is disappointing, it is essential that as far as possible we keep the Club on as firm a financial footing as possible. A timing schedule for the work has still to be finalised but it will not be until the golfing season is over. The mast will be erected in the rough on the right hand side of the 10th fairway. It will be very near the wall and have no effect on the playing of the hole. There may be some disruption to the playing of the 10th during installation but it will only be for several weeks. More information will be made available near the time.
Before a word about the course I would like to thank the members who have been working around the clubhouse area & also on the course.
Anne Elder, Maureen Graham & Moira Kinnear have been tidying up the flower beds at the 1st & 9th tees and Gordon Finney has been working on the area beside the wall at the 13th. Jas Robertson & Bill Carlyon have also been helping with some general maintenance work. I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of all the members to thank you for your efforts.
The following is a short report from our Head Green Keeper Brian Toall.
Over the last four weeks we have been working hard preparing and maintaining our beautiful golf course. We are following the government guidance along with both B.I.G.G.A and the R& A, in which guidelines have been set out for all golf courses, which stipulate essential maintenance tasks.
These guidelines have slowed our rate of preparations but despite this, we are managing areas with the aid of chemicals to help us maintain them.
We are managing to undertake a level of work which has allowed us to deliver a good standard of course. However, we know it will not take us long to restore the course from its current state, to the excellent playing
conditions we have enjoyed over the last few seasons.
Head Green Keeper
I know that many of you have been up to the course and walked over the fairways and have seen for yourself the great job that is being done with limited resources. Obviously when we get back to playing, as Brian alluded to, the greens staff will need some time to bring the course up to the standard that we have all been used to over the last few years.
However, members will find the course in very good condition and I share Brian’s view that when staffing is back to normal levels, then we will very soon have our course in great condition.
Finally can I once again thank you all for your continued support. I realise that this continues to be an extremely difficult time for us all.
I hope you and your families keep safe and that it is not too much longer before we can be back on the course.
Following on from the Prime Minister’s announcement last night, we are writing to confirm that the position outlined by Scottish Golf on Friday, 8 May for Golf in Scotland remains unchanged. The message is still clear – Stay at home and save lives.
We remain in daily dialogue with the Scottish Government and other golfing bodies throughout the UK, to ensure that when it is deemed safe to do so in Scotland, that we are ready to support our golf clubs with a concise protocol for reopening.
We will update our membership as soon as the Scottish Government agrees a plan on a safe return to golf. Scottish Golf would like to thank all of our members for their continued support in following the guidelines in such difficult times.
Members will be aware that this year is our Centenary year. Owing to the dreadful virus that has swept
through the country, when we are eventually able to get back on the golf course, it will probably be with
some restrictions. Our Centenary year was planned, that along with golf competitions, there would be
a good number of social events to coincide with the golf events. At this time it looks highly unlikely
that we would be able to hold these in the way that they were originally planned, due to probable
Government guidlines. In order that we can make the most of this great occasion in the best way
possible, Council have taken the decision to postpone the Centenary celebrations until 2021.
Everything that was planned for this year will as far as possible, be held next year.
It is naturally a great disappointment. However Council feel that in the present circumstances it is the
right thing to do and will give us the opportunity to celebrate the Centenary in the proper manner.
Council thank everyone for their understanding.
I hope that you are all well and staying safe in these unusual times as well as looking forward to getting back to some sort of normality. I have been walking the dog around the course three times a week and things are looking great for when we can get back to playing.
In line with Council decisions regarding the Liberton annual hole and hole competitions the 2020 Senior’s hole and hole competition will be abandoned. The situation regarding all other matches and trophy competitions will be reviewed once the Government relax the lock down restrictions.
It would appear that whatever happens it is unlikely that we will be able to access the clubhouse so any communication will have to be via the website but if any of you have my phone number or e-mail address I will be happy to receive text or e-mail messages.
Please stay safe and I look forward to happier times in the very near future.
I hope you are all keeping safe and managing the present situation as well as can be expected. With the latest Government information on the lock down it looks as though it will be about May 7th before we know any more on what their plans are.
With that in mind I felt it important to give you some information on plans the council have with regards to our golf competitions this year.
It is highly likely that even if some restrictions are lifted after May 7th there will still be some form of social distancing in place. This would make the playing of our Club matchplay events very difficult. (Hole & Hole Singles & Foursomes etc )
With the uncertainty that we are dealing with, Council have taken the decision to cancel these competitions for this season.
We have also decided to cancel all the competitions in May, again due to the uncertainty of the restrictions.
Council do feel it is important that if possible the Club Championships should be played. The Ladies Summer Stroke & Championship Qualifying due to be played on the 23rd & 24th May will therefore be rescheduled. At this stage it is not possible to give an exact date for this.
Every effort is being made to get as much of our fixture list played as possible. Iain Seath is looking at this & is reworking the competitions in order that when we are able to get back on the course we can get as many played as possible.
Members will be aware that in our major strokeplay events we enter and are then drawn with a partner. We are looking at the possibility for this year only, of not having a draw but members would enter with their regular playing partners. We feel that members may feel more secure playing with someone they know.
The Seniors Texas Scramble which is always a popular event has been rescheduled for the 4th of August. The tee times will be the same as for the postponed event of 5th May. Iain Seath will enter the names on the BRS system for the new date & all players that we have an email address for will receive an email informing them of their tee time in the near future.
Unfortunately at this time there is a problem with the club internet system, but it is being worked on and hopefully it will be up and running soon.
Stuart our Secretary continues to work from home and is managing to keep the Administration of the club going as best as can be under the present restrictions.
The two members of the Greens staff who are still working are doing a good job of keeping the course looking in great condition. As I said before, Brian Toall is confident that when we do get back to playing, and the staffing is back to normal levels, the course will very soon be up to the standard we have become used to.
There has also recently been a disappointing event that has recently been brought to my attention. Brian Toall and his team have now had to clear fly tipping from the Course on two separate occasions. If any members who use the course for walking see this happening please can I ask that you contact the police urgently to report this.
Some members have asked if the club have applied for the Government Grant of £25000. This Grant is based on the rateable value of the club.
Unfortunately we are outside the upper limit of £51000 so are not able to apply for this money.
Can I just remind everyone that we are still under the Government instruction regarding social gatherings & social distancing.
As much as we are all tiring of this situation it is important that we all adhere to the regulations and that there should be no social gatherings either on the course or in front of the Clubhouse.
The police have been in touch to say that one such gathering had occurred on the 18th of April. Council would expect all members to refrain from any such activity. Failure to do this could lead to a suspension of membership.
As I mentioned earlier there is a lot of work going on in order that when we can restart our golf we are in the best possible position to do so.
Finally can I thank everyone again for the messages of support that we have received during these very difficult times for us all, I realise there is a lot of pressure both financial and personal on each and everyone of you and your support is greatly appreciated.
I hope you and your family keep safe and well.
With another three weeks of lockdown confirmed I thought for a bit of fun I could help out with your golf swing’s, please video your swing and email it to me at email@example.com . I shall analyse and send back feedback and tips.
I hope you’re all keeping safe and well and look forward to seeing you at the Club soon.
There will be no charge for this service but if you wish to make a donation to NHS or charity of your choice during these tough times please feel free.
As I am sure you all appreciate the current health pandemic situation led to the cancellation of the Mount Vernon Sportsman’s Breakfast which was due to be held on Sunday 29th March. I am delighted to say that the Breakfast has now been reorganised for Sunday 25th October with same line-up of speakers.
Please also note that the “Drinks Hamper” raffle will now be held over until that date. The Mount Vernon committee would like to say a big thank you to those who have purchased raffle tickets at this time.