Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Weekly Golfing Update... from Irish Golfer Magazine

The majestic par three 4th at Royal County Down
Following the success of their monthly magazine, Irish Golfer Magazine has now launched a weekly ezine to keep the Irish golfer (and everybody else) up to date with what's going on around the country and world.

I am writing a weekly column and first up is a piece focusing on the superb conditioning of greens around the country. You'll find the article, entitled
Green Light below (as well as in the ezine, here), but first I put the question about why our greens are so good to a couple of experts. Ronan Branigan's answers are in the piece itself, while Dave Edmondson, the head greenkeeper at The Island Golf Club, gave me some additional feedback. Here's what he had to say about Ireland's greens in general and The Island, specifically:

"I would say in this day and age, through improved education and experience, there is a better understanding as to why we carry out tasks and cultural practices. Every task carried out on any playing surface has to be well timed and executed. Take topdressing, for example: as an industry we carry out this task to reduce organic matter and provide truer firmer surfaces. Here in Ireland we are pretty religious from what I can gather from other guys on the topdressing front. Most guys will go little and often, probably every 2 to 3 weeks. Advancements in machinery technology have allowed us to carry out this task more regularly without annoying the golfers....that's just an example. In a nutshell, our industry has really moved on over the past 15 years. Greenkeepers are trained to effectively communicate to club members these days; a good explanation to a member as to why tasks are carried out through, say, a newsletter, social media etc., allows us to explain processes and why we carry them out. If a member has a better understanding of the work and why it is happening then they are more accepting of our efforts. Such work benefits their clubs, resulting in better playing surfaces year round. 

The Island's 4th green
Regarding The Island's greens and playing surfaces, we are working hard to reintroduce native links grasses, ie fescue. Benefits of such grasses in conjunction with well timed, non disruptive cultural practices, will lead to better year round playing surfaces. The major benefits of introducing native grasses back into our surfaces are less water usage, less chemical and fertiliser inputs, and slower growing turf so we don't have to mow it as often. This results in a better carbon footprint. The more we advance with our programme the more sustainable we are getting and we are producing quality links surfaces day in day out."

St. Margaret's golf club
The 8th green at St. Margaret's golf club

“Green Light”

Golfers and clubs around Ireland have spent several years wallowing in a pool of negativity… so it is time to embrace the more positive aspects of our beautiful game. 

Ask any golfer how they enjoyed a new golf course and the answers will touch on scenery, value, the welcome and how they played. But there is one aspect every golfer will discuss… and that is the greens.

Were they a bit slow… or fast… or big… or as smooth as silk? It seems to be something golfers instantly relate to, a common frame of reference which leads to further discussion about the course or greens elsewhere. It can also typically define an experience. Paying a green fee and playing on poor greens will get a golfer’s back up faster than any other issue on the course.

And that’s why 2015 has been such a good year. Greens around the country are in fantastic condition and golfers are busy talking about them. I can’t count the number of times this year that I’ve heard someone say a course has ‘the best greens in Ireland’. And they’re spread across the board. These are not just the top tier courses being lauded… not at all… smaller member clubs are receiving even greater praise. We’re talking dozens of courses but the ones I’ve heard mentioned most often are Douglas (Cork), Kilcock (Meath), Hermitage (Dublin), Shandon Park (Belfast), Portarlington (Laois), Beaverstown (Dublin) and Castletroy (Limerick). Lucan is renowned for its excellent greens and my home club, Greystones, has been getting rave reviews, too. St Margaret’s deserves a special mention as the greens are back to their best following a few difficult years for the club. There are many more that could be added and such feedback is excellent news for clubs who pride themselves on the quality of their greens and the tireless efforts of their greens staff.

Of the top tier courses, Dooks, Belvoir Park, Fota Island, The Island, Waterville, Druid’s Glen, Malone, Portmarnock Links, Slieve Russell and Killeen Castle have clearly impressed this year. Royal County Down’s are breath-takingly good; they are the best I’ve played on this year… although that may just be because I sank putts I don’t normally make.

The question is, what makes 2015 so special? I asked Ronan Branigan, Golf Course Agronomist and Architect:

“We had a very late spring and a wet July, so it has not been a good year for courses, weather-wise. Getting green surfaces right is very tricky to do. It’s about agronomics and the skills and knowledge of course superintendents and their teams,” says Ronan. “The key elements of green-keeping, such as top-dressing, sanding, grooming and applying fertilisers, cost money and take up a lot of man hours. It is possible the improvements golfers are discussing are a reflection of increased budgets.”

As the Irish golf industry returns to better days, investment in course maintenance – and greens specifically – is only logical. They are, after all, a course’s greatest asset. Try any of the courses listed above and you’ll see what I mean.

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