A small favour, if I may
I trust you are looking forward to your game? It’s a fine morning out here, and due to stay dry for you, so I hope you play well, and return home replenished by the fresh air, the company of your opponent, and a good performance.
I have a small favour to ask, but before I do, let me put your mind at rest on a few things. I knew you were coming, so the weekend crew and I have been out preparing the way for you, carefully checking that everything is as it should be. Your job is simply to enjoy your morning out there, so I hope this reassurance of what we’ve been up to helps you relax, and focus on the matter in hand - chasing that little white ball around.
At 5am, I am already pulling on the thermal layers that sit under my waterproof coat, as it takes a while for the temperature to rise in these winter months. It feels a privilege to work in a role where you can so clearly experience the coming and going of each season, and to watch the sun rise as it did this morning brings a certain joy to my working life out here on the heath, but for the first hour or two, it is very cold!
By 5.25am I am in the mess room, intruder alarm deactivated, and the kettle bubbling to a boil. While I let it cool for a moment, in order to not over-extract the compounds of the coffee powder, I check the weather station data, and see that we had 7mm of rain in the last 24 hours. That’s manageable, but we’ve had a fair bit this week already, so I lean a squeegee against the back of the truck, as I suspect that puddle at the left of the 13th will have formed, and perhaps the one at the front of the 4th (I was right about the former, but the work of last month repairing the old clay drains in the 4th approach is already working well. The old mantra of golf course maintenance is “drainage, drainage, drainage”, and nothing much has changed in that regard).
The truck engines are running at 5.30am, heating the synthetic oil that will in turn lubricate and protect the pistons and gaskets, and extend the life-cycle of these vehicles, and I check in with Jim and Paulie, who are also in early today. Jim had a late one, his wife’s 33rd birthday, but as always he is on time, clean and sober, and eager to get out and moving. Paulie looks tired this morning, though he is cheery in spirit. I’ll chat to him in the week, when we’ve more time. You work so closely with people on a crew despite the often solitary nature of the actual tasks…I can always tell when there is something going on outside work. We work hard for each other, and I want to know he’s ok, but this morning we’re in a hurry to stay ahead of play.
Jim heads out in a truck, with a bunker rake, the hole-changing kit and a knapsack blower plus fuel. Paulie will catch him on the 1st green, but only after swinging by the putting green where he will switch the light dew away ahead of my mower. It should be too cold for fusarium patch and other diseases in January, but it has been mild since New Year, and when the dew sits there the spores, present in turf at all times, might test the health of the plant. We have to spot it early to avoid it spreading.
Coffee drained and the mug washed up, I am also out of the door, attaching the trailer to the truck tow-hitch and wheeling the hand-mower on. With just three of us at the weekend, there is a long walk ahead for me, but it gives me plenty of time to observe what is going on in the 200-odd acres of natural space that we get to polish for you each morning. At this hour, we share the space with owls, both little and tawny.
Nothing brings you into contact with your greens like hand-mowing, and after all these years I can judge soil moisture even through the soles of steel toe-capped boots; sense the nutritional status of the sward at a glance. Before you step on to that 1st tee, I’ll have walked the equivalent of a marathon, and the same again tomorrow. And, knowing you and your fellow Members are coming behind, it feels good. It’s a wholesome and sometimes spiritual job, this stewardship of the land, and it often provides its own reward in satisfaction, which is great, as if we went into this field to earn lots of money, we’d be barking up the wrong tree, a tree with no leaves at all.
Out on the course, I have a moment to wait as Paulie’s dew-sweep completes ahead of me, and so carefully spin the 12 blade cylinder of the suspended mower against the leading edge of the bottom blade. This time of year, the growth of the grass is so minimal that mowing is more about presentation and ball roll than plant leaf removal, but it remains very important that the cut is clean.
Just as with a cut on your finger, if the leaf blade suffers a ragged cut - if the mower’s cutting apparatus is blunt, or not set at precisely the point of “no contact” - the wound will struggle to heal, and that exacerbates the likelihood of disease taking hold. But if the cut is sharp, clean, the plant has a far easier time mending the damage, and will use less energy doing so. It takes a sharp eye to see torn rather than sliced grass leaves, but I needn’t worry. The back-lapping paste has done its job here, and the cylinder is right “on cut”, slicing through my trial Co-Op receipt with ease.
The height of cut is up at 5mm for your winter golf, and Des, our mechanic, will have checked the bench settings of all the mowers this week, also changing the oil and checking all the delivery hoses. It’s a good time for this sort of stuff, as we have a bit more resource to spend on preventative maintenance in the winter, and this, and the often manual clearance work, provide a nice change from the endless mowing of the summer months - the “cutting season”.
It always feels to me like autumn comes around when you’ve just about had enough of the mowing, and the spring flush of growth arrives in turn when you’re about done with winter works, and want to feel the warm sun on the hibernating forearms. Like the course when it presents well, it’s all a balancing act.
I am sorry, dear golfer. I’m rambling, and I know you have a match to contest, so I will try and get to the point. It’s now 9.15am, and after another quick coffee to take the edge off our early start, we lock the sheds and prepare to head back to a weekend with our families, who should be awake by now. Jim and Paulie head out the door, until tomorrow, but I stay back for a moment, to record what we’ve done this morning, save the weather station data in my own chart, and think hard about the week ahead.
The golf course is a living canvas, and this morning’s mowing walk has prompted a couple of extra things to think about, jobs to try and squeeze into this week’s schedule. I need to call the tree surgeon, as there is a branch I am not sure about up beside the path on the 16th, but it is a case of climbing to inspect and/or remove it, and I am happier outsourcing those jobs, as the chainsaw is an unforgiving tool. I’ll get him to cut the couple of low limbs on the approach road while he is here, as that will save the Club money in the long run.
And there’s something funny going on at the back of the 6th, I noticed this morning. The turf seems to be floating slightly - I suspect I may need to head out and release some gas under the surface there. It’s always been different, that little shelf behind the bunker - goodness knows what went into the soil up there when they extended the green. Anyway, these are now in my diary to explore in the morning, when the full crew are in (bar one, whose wife tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday, and who is thus self-isolating as a precautionary measure).
I can’t wait to get some fresh holes in the soil, to release some compaction in the run-offs particularly, and get some oxygen back into the root zone, but as the next two weeks are tight with project work, and with a couple of staff holidays booked in, we’ll have to see. No golfer likes to see holes in the ground, but the way we do it these days, you barely notice, and the data we take proves that the golfers’ perceptions around ball roll and trueness are nothing more than guesswork, really. This living blanket of turf, sand and heather that we polish each morning for you is remarkably resilient, and that shouldn’t surprise us. The oldest species of grass have been around for millions of years, so they are natural born survivors, and we are just the newcomers.
I put the keys to the workshop in my top drawer, and then notice that the business card of that company rep with the soil moisture probes is peering out at me. Another thing I’ve been meaning to get done, so I stick the card in my diary, as a placeholder. There’s always something…
Rambling again, dear golfer, I am sorry. My goal here was to let you know that the way is clear for you, and I keep dragging you into the details, into the weeds. Let me now let you know how things lie, so we can both get on with our days:
We have cut all 18 greens, plus the putting and practice greens, in case you favour a warm-up shot or two rather than your usual chaser. We’ve checked all the hole locations for either damage or proximity to puddles, and Jim moved the 7th back, as where we cut it yesterday was quite close to the front hollow, so if it rains heavily as per the forecast for tonight, it should now be fine. When he’d finished cutting the new hole, and checking that the flag sits straight, he trimmed the edge with those funny bent scissors, so it is perfect, awaiting the aluminium chime of your ball dropping in.
We’ve raked every bunker, and moved the markers of all three sets of tees, though I know you’ll be off the whites for the match. That wind last night seems to have dislodged the last few oak leaves on those two by the 13th, so we’ve blown the green and surrounds clear, and the greens are running at 9 feet on average, which is quick for the depths of winter. You will feel they are a little soft underfoot in places, but we’ve had 32mm of rain since last Monday, and the footfall remains high for this time of year, so it’s not unexpected. They are still running well, and I know a few of the other courses have closed this morning due to damp conditions. We’re open, of course.
So, in short, we’ve done all we can to make sure it plays well for you this morning; the rest is up to you. But getting back to that favour, if I might. I wonder…when you are out there today, could I respectfully request that you just take an extra moment to look for and repair your pitchmarks, and perhaps any others you happen to find? I know we go on and on about it, but it makes such a difference to the way the greens roll. I’ve been doing this long enough to know not everyone cares about the course the way I do, but the rest of the team get upset when they find dozens left un-repaired, after everything they’ve put into getting the course ready each morning.
Who knows, maybe there is karma at play here, and for every one you repair, one of your own putts might evade a bobble, and drop in for a change. It’s got to be worth a try…
Every Course Manager on earth
I hope you enjoyed this latest, aimless rambling. If you did, please subscribe, share it with a friend or two, and encourage them to subscribe. This in turn will encourage me to keep on writing this stuff! Asking to receive more emails is akin to turkeys voting for Christmas, but I promise I will try and keep them different from the rest.