26 July 2019 / Golf /
This summer sees our greenkeeping team undertake five days’ intensive work on The Grove’s championship golf course. Golf Course Manager, Phillip Chiverton, explains why this annual ‘spa treatment’ is a necessary ingredient in safeguarding its world-class condition…
We would forgive you for thinking the greenkeeping team at The Grove has one job…to cut the grass! Our work goes way beyond early starts, late finishes and making sure the tees, fairways and greens are some of the finest in the UK. Every August we close the golf course for five days and embark on a programme of extensive renovation work that ensures the playing surfaces, that thousands of golfing guests enjoy each year, remain in first-class condition. You might ask, why close in August? It tends to be a slightly quieter time for us – many people are on family holidays – but there is also a strategic reason for the timing of this work. Our weather is normally warmer (even by British standards!) in August, and this makes the recovery time from any work to the golf course that much quicker. It takes roughly two weeks, if the weather gods are kind to us, to have the golf course back in tip-top form after the works have been completed.
However, this work is not just about five days in August. The planning begins earlier in the year, when we employ some very clever scientists to test our golf course – specifically the greens – to understand the current properties of the soil. They look at many things, and we receive a detailed report in the spring, including how compacted the soil has become, what nutrient levels it is currently carrying, what is the percentage of organic matter (dead roots and stems), and how much air and water is present in the soil. The list is long and often very technical! The sole purpose of this pre-works analysis is to give a clear point from which to plan. We then understand the physical tasks that are necessary to maintain the perfect soil balance, and we can go into the August renovation project with complete focus.
So what is it we do? Without getting too detailed, we work on the whole course – tees, fairways and greens. But talking technical for a moment, we scarify our greens in two directions with a scarifying blade that goes into the turf to a depth of about 5mm. This removes unwanted matter, ultimately making the greens firmer. We remove what we call ‘thatch’ from the grass, and aerate all putting surfaces through a process called hollow tining – mechanically removing 16mm cores from across each green (this process takes away about 8% of the current putting surface), before using another machine called a sand filler to scarify behind the hollow tining operation and to fill each hole with sand. We do this work on all our tee boxes too, and scarify every fairway, then spray fertiliser across the playing surfaces to promote all-round growth and root health. To give you an idea of the scale of this work, we use 800 tonnes of sand! Technology is now helping us do this work much more effectively than 10 years ago and we hire tools and machinery to undertake the work. It is now very precise, very clean (the machines pick up the cores taken from the green, for example), at it make renovation work much more efficient. It is a huge task to do this over just five days, and it is a monumental effort from the greenkeeping team. You can also understand why we need to close the golf course to have full, uninterrupted access to every hole.
This work, and the substantial investment that comes with it, is what gives The Grove its long-term quality and why so many visitors return to play time and time again. Clubs that do not invest in programmes such as this get into what in the industry we call ‘deferred maintenance’. Golf courses can take a huge backwards step by not investing in their most important asset. A golf course with very little investment can quickly show signs of poor management. Greens become soft, moss starts to develop and putting surfaces deteriorate. In bad weather you often see fairways becoming very soft because the soil composition has not been addressed. This list of potential problems is a long one but we are thankful that our owners constantly invest and you, our customers, see the benefit. Everything has a knock-on effect of what you do, or what you don’t do, but this gives you a little insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep your golf course in world-class condition, 12-months of the year. Please spare a thought for all the greens staff next time you are treading our manicured fairways… and please repair pitch marks and replace your divots.
We look forward to seeing you back soon!