Respect the 'Keepers
by Duncan Forgan / Image courtesy of Laguna Golf Lang Co
Not all jobs are created equal. And few callings are as thankless as that of the course superintendent: the perennial fall guys of the golfing world. Like referees and goalkeepers, they are frequently undervalued. When things are running smoothly, scant credit is given for their efforts. More often than not they are castigated for
shortcomings – both real and perceived.
Way back, many moons ago, at the golf club in Perth, Scotland where I was a junior, slating the greenkeepers was a popular clubhouse hobby among a set of elderly members.
PG Wodehouse famously observed that “it is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine”. Well, these guys relished living down to the stereotype.
From the length of the rough to the pace of the greens, the grumpy buggers enjoyed moaning about the state of the course as much as they did playing it.
This was no municipal paddock with rudimentary course design and fairways torn to pieces by hapless novices.
It was one of the finer clubs in the Fair City, and one that was generally regarded (among visitors and the sane majority of members anyway) to be in consistently good nick.
Successive head greenkeepers were tormented by those whining know-it-alls, who seemed to believe that old age had imbued them with mystical wisdom on all matters relating to course management.
Supers around the planet will attest to the fact that such scenarios are not restricted to wizened Caledonian misanthropes.
As Royal Birkdale’s head greenkeeper Chris Whittle said before the 2017 British Open, which was held at his club: “I will just be happy to have a quiet Open where all the headlines are made by golf rather than the golf course. If no one makes a comment about Birkdale all week, that will be fine by me.”
I was moved to think afresh about the plight of the greenkeeper by recent news from Vietnam where one of its top clubs – Laguna Golf Lang Co – has deployed a crack squad of water buffalo as part of its maintenance team. The bovine brood act as “biomowers” on the course, tending to the rice paddies that grow between some of the holes.
It struck me as a genius move. Not only do the beasts enhance the natural beauty of the course, but they also serve a practical purpose and provide the greenkeeping team at the club with some valuable PR. Perhaps more clubs should consider bringing more loveable animals onboard as a way of dulling criticism of course maintenance? Surely nobody would be heartless enough to have a pop at a docile mammal.
I put the idea to Adam Calver, Director of Golf at Laguna Golf Lang Co. “We’ve generally had a great response to the water buffalo,” he replied. But added: “One or two members have said that they preferred it when the animals weren’t there. They thought the rice grew a bit higher.”
It seems that when it comes to golf course maintenance there will always be some whining to be done.