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Will the wet winter leave a sting in the tail for our courses?

We might be through a terrible winter but its effects may linger for some time on our golf courses, BIGGA chief Jim Croxton told The NCG Golf Podcast

 

Is the worst of the weather now behind us? While we may have seen some sun over the past couple of weeks, the impact of months of rain may continue to affect our golf courses long into 2024.

Jim Croxton, chief executive of the British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association (BIGGA), told The NCG Golf Podcast saturated conditions and the postponing of important winter projects could bring a hangover later in the year for some inland and parkland courses.

While we’ve fixated on the downpours when it’s been coldest, Croxton revealed we’ve experienced around 10 successive months of above average rainfall.

New Met Office figures reveal the UK recorded 445.8mm (17.5 inches) over the winter – 129 per cent the 1991 to 2020 average and the eighth wettest on record.

Croxton said while that rain brought obvious problems, it also had other effects which impacted the golf course. 

“When it’s too wet, particularly on inland courses, you can’t really get machinery onto those golf courses because you’re just going to do damage,” he said.

“All the winter project work is behind at many clubs. A lot of them have just aborted their winter work and I did hear of clubs not doing their spring renovations because when the weather finally turned around, the last thing you want to do is go out there and punch holes in greens and make them unplayable for another week.

“It does huge things to the golf course itself. It is sat with the soil saturated for months. It means the roots can almost be drowning. It’s not great nutrition wise.

“It’s been very difficult to do all the agronomic processes you would normally do through that winter period.

“So while courses look great now, inland and parkland courses are probably going to have struggles as the year goes on – as a hangover because they haven’t been able to do the work they really wanted to over the winter.”

wet winter

‘We always say, greenkeepers don’t close golf courses. The weather does’

Croxton added on the podcast that his members shared the frustration of golfers who had endured long spells without golf over the last few months.

“It’s not just golfers that are annoyed,” he said. “Our members have been really struggling that they just relentlessly go into work – ‘fingers crossed, can I get something done today? No. There is another 25mm on the rain gauge. Golf course closed’.

“We always say, greenkeepers don’t close golf courses. The weather does. But, essentially, it’s still the greenkeeper that delivers the message. They’re still the harbinger of bad news.”

Asked how much pressure greenkeepers came under to get the course open, he continued: “When I first came into at BIGGA, I remember asking, if I went to an event with golf club managers and greenkeepers, ‘how many clubs had a course policy document?’

“At that time, very few clubs had a written document, which I describe as their business plan for the golf course. Nowadays, when I ask the same question, the vast majority have got that written down.

“Within that, there should be guidelines as to what your policies are around whether you close for frost, when you close for fog, danger, health and safety, and what you do around your procedures for the golf course closing.

“This winter has been extreme. It’s been beyond that. You’ve been making a business decision on a daily basis whether opening the golf course brings any benefit or is outweighed by the damage.

“I know some clubs have just opened it when they can, because they know their members are getting really antsy and they want to give them the opportunity.

“Very often, golfers come back in and say, ‘it should be closed out there’. But at least you’ve given them a chance to go and play.

“I think the decision to close almost feels like failure. These guys come into work at five or 6am and, if their first decision is ‘no play today’, that’s a pretty poor way to start your day.

“You can’t deliver the thing you’re employed to deliver, even though it’s not your fault. That’s a pretty hard thing to take.

“I don’t think it’s taken lightly, or as lightly as it ever used to be. But I do think this winter has been so extreme. Driving around, I’ve seen flooded areas on roads near me that I’ve never seen flooded before. We know it’s extreme.

“I think golfers have been largely understanding. It’s just pretty difficult when it comes to Saturday, isn’t it? You’ve been waiting all week, you want to go and play in the winter medal, or whatever else it is, and ‘I’m sorry, course closed’.

“Or you’re playing eight holes, or whatever. For a lot of people, it’s their one chance to go out and get fresh air, competition, and community. It’s disappointing for people.”

Now listen to The NCG Golf Podcast

Tom Irwin and Steve Carroll are joined by Jim Croxton, chief executive of the British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association. You can listen to the full episode here.

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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