Greenkeepers can carry out 'essential maintenance' but how much? A turf expert says interruptions could cause delays in golfers returning to the course

If we’ve all been cooped up for weeks, faithfully following the Government’s strict curbs on movement to tackle coronavirus, it’s natural we’ll want to get straight in the car and head down to the club the moment restrictions are lifted.

Whether we’ll immediately be able to put club on ball, though, may depend on how long it takes greenkeeping teams to get our courses back into playable condition.

At the moment, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have stated greenkeepers can work “for security and essential maintenance purposes”.

Perhaps they will be able to carry on as normal. But the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA) are still seeking clarity on what ‘essential’ means. And, of course, the health and safety of their members is their priority.

It may be, for many clubs, a skeleton staff trying to do as much as possible.

If the crisis continues, and restrictions are further tightened, it could be the powers that be decide to prohibit all maintenance on a course.

Stuart Green, a former greenkeeper and head of member learning at BIGGA, says that if staff find themselves stuck indoors with the rest of us, or if what they can do while working is seriously curtailed, it might take time as the task of removing that excess grass off tees, fairways, rough and greens begins.

“We’ve all learned to be a little more patient in the face of this new pandemic and for golfers, that patience is going to have to extend a little longer than they would perhaps hope,” he said.

“You’re just not going to be able to play on the standard of course that you have come to expect and this will take time to correct. Putting greens are going to take weeks before they’re in a good enough condition to play on, so it’s probable that your club may ask you to play on temporary greens.

“Depending on the management that’s been in place previously, your rough is going to be like the US Open, while weeds will have sprung up all over the course.

“The weather’s fine at the moment and if it stays like this then weeds will most likely spring up in bunkers and that’s going to take some time to clear. On the other hand, if the weather changes and we get a lot of rain, those same bunkers may wash out and you’re left with untended scrapes of mud.

“Either way, if greenkeepers aren’t able to get to the course for an extended period of time, it’s going to take an inordinate amount of work to get it back in shape.

“The best thing golfers can do in this situation, when we’re free to go about our business once again, is to offer to help their greenkeepers in any way possible.

“Simple tasks such as picking weeds out of bunkers can go a long way towards helping them get the course playable as quickly as possible.

“This situation is unprecedented, not just in golf but across our entire society. Like pubs, shops and religious centres, golf courses have never before been ordered to close and we’re learning new ways to cope with it every single day.

“There’s never a good time of year for this to happen and all I would ask for from golfers is that they have a reasonable level of expectation for the coming season and they understand that not only are greenkeepers doing the best they can at a time when they are also worrying about their livelihoods and the health of their families, but it’s also going to take some time for this situation to be completely resolved.”

Are you a greenkeeper? How is your club adapting to the Government measures? Have your say in the comments or tweet me.

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