The UK lockdown was difficult for everyone and the grassroots golf industry was no different, writes BIGGA's Karl Hansell.
On average golf courses have between six and seven greenkeepers, although the number can stretch from a single course manager up to more than 50, depending upon available resources.
But with golf courses closed and clubs looking to save as much money as they could, golf facilities utilised the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, placing on average between three and four greenkeepers on furlough.
That’s around half of the greenkeepers in the UK asked to remain at home during what is traditionally their busiest period, to try and save the facility they work at.
For those who remained at work, times were just as tough. With reduced staff and strict guidelines on what work they were able to do, many found themselves working long hours just to keep the course in manageable condition so that golf courses could quickly be brought back into a playable condition once play was allowed.
John Rowbottom at Woolley Park in West Yorkshire was one head greenkeeper who saw his entire greenkeeping staff furloughed, other than himself. He was left to maintain the family-run golf course himself throughout the lockdown period and told us the seven toughest things he had to do to keep things going.
#1 - Leaving my family
Having a young family stuck at home and me having to work most of the week was one of the toughest things. My daughter is five and my son is two, so having school, nursery and that routine taken away was difficult for them. Home schooling was difficult and my wife took on a lot of the responsibility, but it was difficult not being there to help every day.
#2 - Struggles with mental health
I have grown up in a family business where working every day is normal to us. To have to shut down and work a lot less was tough mentally. I’m an outdoor person who enjoys working, so after a week of no work I was beginning to climb the walls. I really felt for some of my time who experienced this for a lot longer.
#3 - Ignoring attention to detail
As a greenkeeping team we have always had a keen eye for detail as it’s the little things that really finish a golf course. During lockdown it was difficult to try and get out of this mindset and instead we just had to focus on cutting grass as efficiently as possible.
#4 - Watching the course fall apart
We have taken huge strides forwards in the last five years as we worked towards our aim of creating a golf course that is one of the best in our area. To then watch it slide backwards during lockdown under essential maintenance was tough. We were only able to cut greens once a week and it meant the surfaces were certainly not up to scratch when we started golfing again. Bunkers were ignored and became waste areas and areas of rough were left to grow long.
We are now back to where we should be, but it was certainly not something I would like to repeat. It’s far easier to maintain high standards than it is to let them slip and recover them again.
#5 - Working without my team
In some ways it was nice to work as a family, just me, my mum and dad. However, my usual crew of Andy, Richard, Stuart and Liam are like an extended family. To have to furlough them and work without them was tough. We are a close-knit team who all has a passion for greenkeeping and our golf course and so working without them was difficult. They bring an energy and atmosphere to the job that I missed throughout lockdown and it’s great to have them back now.
#6 - Working on a budget of zero
Trying to temper maintenance and saving as much money as possible was tough. Just turning up on a morning to start essential maintenance incurs a cost. Fuel isn’t cheap, machinery needs repairing and fertilisers to help maintain greens are expensive. We had to manage our budget very tightly but there is no getting away from some costs and this is difficult to stomach when there is no income.
#7 - Having no golfers
At first it was a novelty, being able to maintain a golf course without golfers, who are usually a golfer’s biggest hindrance! But this soon wore off when you start to wonder why you bother striping grass and keeping a golf course looking smart when there isn’t actually anyone to enjoy it!
Thankfully the golf course was able to reopen and our members are back out there enjoying themselves again. Lockdown was incredibly tough for everyone and we made it through it, but it isn’t something I ever want to do again!
If you’re interested in finding more about what challenges your greenkeeping team overcame during lockdown then email your course manager directly. Alternatively, you can find out more on the BIGGA website, www.bigga.org.uk or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Images taken from @Woolleyparkgolf on Twitter with additional reporting by Karl Hansell