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golf competition

It’s too early for proper golf! Why we should move the start of the competition season

Whether it’s frosty mornings, or the remnants of a wet winter, playing trophy events in April is nothing but a slog. Steve Carroll's back on his soapbox
 

The email everyone expected arrived on Friday afternoon. The forecast was ‘too many temporary greens’. The club’s first trophy would require rescheduling.

The following week, and just two days before the opening medal, the course was closed entirely. Flooding. A theme was emerging.

It was no surprise. I’d spent the previous month looking out of the window at rain falling. March was the wettest in England for 40 years. The deluge in Wales and Ireland both made their respective nations’ all-time top 10.

Greenkeepers all over the UK have frankly performed miracles to keep our courses playable at all but there is only so much you can do when Mother Nature is in this kind of mood.

And, unfortunately, she seems determined to make early spring a miserable experience more often these days.

Whether it’s temperatures that barely get above freezing first thing, a short dump of snow, or a veritable monsoon, it’s getting harder to produce the kind of surfaces we’d all like when the golf competition season gets under way.

My club’s first medal beat the weather. Did I get involved? Of course I did. But moving back to the furthest tees, and adding another 700 yards to the golf course when it was wet, with no roll, and little growth was a bit of a shock. I hit driver, hybrid, and long iron A LOT.

My handicap will probably get an unexpected lift this month. I’ve got two counting rounds about to disappear from my best eight.

I’ll be giving it my absolute all, but 6,400 yards in April with no run and damp fairways is not the same as 6,400 in July when it’s gloriously firm and shots run for miles.

I certainly know which set of conditions I would prefer.

So let me propose something. Why don’t we stop playing competitions altogether in April? Why not move the season just a few weeks to start at the beginning of May?

I’ll bet your course manager would be happier. They’ve been under a lot of stress to try and hit what is a really tough deadline.

I reckon they’d love that extra four and a bit weeks. It’s 30 more days where everything gets a little warmer and the days get longer. 30 days where aerated greens and surroundings knit into lovely smooth putting surfaces. 30 days where saturated ground can dry out before tournament shots are hit in anger.

I’ve travelled the country for the better part of a decade talking to greenkeepers and committees and asking them about the scheduling of some of their big early season events.

Many have told me it’s probably too early for them to take place. Their course conditions, purely as a result of a winter that refuses to leave or an early spring that’s yet to truly fire, just aren’t as they would want.

So the question is: if it’s so hard, why hold those important competitions so early? Tradition? Prestige? Why not just alter the calendar?

We don’t need to worry about losing time. These days, October is basically an extension of summer but lots of clubs have already packed the golf competition tees away before the month has really begun.

If your club doesn’t do it already, why not utilise all of it in a glorious last tribute to the year? The conditions are still on our side – at least until the clocks go back.

And if we can’t, careful scheduling can still mean the only casualties will be the odd midweek medal and will anyone be so bereft about that?

Maybe I’m looking at things through my own experience, and through rose-tinted spectacles, but it feels to me like the best golf of the year is now happening later in the calendar.

Surely, it is common sense to take advantage of that.

What do you think? Is dealing with early season conditions just part of the test or would moving back the golf competition calendar a few weeks benefit everyone? Let me know with a tweet.

Now listen to the From the Clubhouse podcast on Augusta Syndrome and golf competition calendars

Steve Carroll and Tom Irwin are joined this week on the From the Clubhouse podcast, in association with TaylorMade Golf, by Sam Evans, Master Greenkeeper and North Hants GC Course Manager, to talk about the challenges of preparing a course for a very early season start. To listen, click on the player below, or on your preferred podcast platform.

More on golf competitions

More podcasts from National Club Golfer

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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