Why golfers shouldn't expect courses to look like they did when they finally get to play again after coronavirus restrictions are eased

Managing member expectations are among greenkeepers’ biggest worries when courses reopen after the coronavirus lockdown.

Golfers were warned to expect “inevitable disappointment” when they were able to return to play whenever government lockdown restrictions are eased.

Only essential maintenance has been permitted, often by stripped down greenkeeping crews, since the decision was taken to shut the doors on clubs on March 23.

Images spread across social media over the past few weeks have shown courses looking striped and fantastic during the spring sunshine.

But the reality, when getting up close, will be areas – such as rough – that have not been as closely monitored as teams have stuck to guidance issued by governing bodies and worked with limited numbers.

Speaking during a Talking Shop webinar held by the British & International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association (BIGGA), a panel of course managers urged caution.

“It’s expectation. They (golfers) are going to come back and they’re going to think that everything is fantastic,” said Scott Reeves, Leyland course manager and BIGGA chairman, when asked what the biggest challenge was going to be on the resumption of golf.

“(The perception will be that) The course has been empty, so the greenkeepers must have all been beavering away making everything absolutely perfect in their absence.

“We’re going to have to manage that. We’ll have to manage the expectation prior to opening, or partial opening, communicate effectively and, once they are on site, explain and build relationships back up again with golfers.

“There’s going to be inevitable disappointment.”

Andy Ewence, course manager at Woking, explained he had stopped using twitter when the lockdown began to temper expectations.

“We can keep the surfaces looking OK, fairways, greens, tees, but it is the strimming, the rough, the weed spraying,” he said.

Ewence continued: “The problem is there’s what you’re doing and the golf course down the road could be doing something totally different and the members speak.

“It’s going to be hard one. One golf course might look absolutely outstanding that have had most of their staff there, and the other one doesn’t. Going from public, private, exclusive, they are all going to be different.”

Craig Haldane, golf courses manager at Gleneagles, said communication – and doing it at the right time – would be absolutely crucial in getting everyone on side.

He added the possibility of full crews not being able to return for some time even after reopening, because of various restrictions that would still be in place, meant greenkeepers would also have to moderate their own expectations.

“We are perfectionists and I think the guys are going to have to come to some form of acceptance that it’s not going to be absolutely perfect,” he said.

“Even when we are out there we’re not going to get the full crews right away so our ability to really deliver that standard as much as we want is going to be challenging.

“We’re going to have to internally accept that – that it’s not going to be perfect – and that is quite a different mindset.

“Communication has never been more important. Right now we should all be working on what we say, how we say it and, very importantly, when we say it. We really should not be pre-empting any communication – we could be doing this, we might be doing that – until we get some clear guidance.

“Of course, behind the scenes, we are working extremely hard on putting the plan together that ‘if this happens, we do that’. You do that quietly.

“Once we know, and have a firm date in play (for reopening), then we can really start to communicating to the membership what the expectations need to be – and work out exactly what timeframe we need to get things to the standard.”

He added: “It’s really important we don’t all jump the gun too soon and almost give false hope.”

What are you expecting when you return to the course? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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