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Fresh from the Fairways November 2023 | Richmond Park

Hi everyone, 

It’s getting close to the end of season and what can I say… it’s been a whirlwind few months for me, with becoming a father and with starting a new role as Course Manager.

I wouldn’t exactly say it’s been plain sailing in my first year at Richmond Park Golf Course – there’s been some hiccups along the way, but this inevitably happens when trying to make changes.

Golfers expectations have increased noticeably in recent years as the gap between private members’ clubs and ‘pay & play’ courses narrows, due to many now preferring a more flexible approach to playing golf. This is no bad thing as it means golf course operators have had to up their game in terms of course quality and presentation.

Short term pain, long term gain

There’s a saying that it’s sometimes necessary to take one step back to take two forward.

Since my appointment, I’ve been keen to introduce a number of maintenance intiatives to ensure we’re also upping our game. Some of these have been quite disruptive, including more aggressive aerifying and rough conditioning. Both these examples can have negative aethestic consequences for the short term, but are vital to ensure the long term health and quality of our courses.

The latter example was especially dramatic in terms of visual impact. Many acres of long rough on the course have been mown as part of a cut & collect programme. Those that have been playing the courses for many years won’t have seen this before (hence the shocked reaction from several long termers!). It’s an expensive, disruptive, labour intensive task and for these reasons is often only carried out by high-end clubs.

Flail mower in action

At the moment this may look like we just cut everything down like a field, but it’s starting to grow back as you read this. By the time you’ve stopped jumping up and down in horror, the result will be gorgeous long, wispy rough that’s free of weeds and great for preserving the area’s rich biodiversity.

The bucket’s already half full

This winter has caused many greenkeepers to weep, and it hit our course harder than ever this year. We’ve had 290mm rainfall in space of two months (we usually have much less than half of this). And thanks to a glacier from 20,000 years ago, the lovely free-draining chalk that London used to sit on was replaced with heavy clay deposits, which is notoriously difficult to permeate and holds water like a bucket.  

Just to make things even more interesting, we entered these conditions after a pretty damp summer, so the ‘bucket’ was already brimmed. The recent spell of intense rain means the bucket is now overflowing, resulting in soft, wet ground conditions. Once we have a break in the weather, the water table will start to drop and you’ll see a noticeable difference.

In the meantime, you will have noticed we’ve temporarily taken some of the worse-affected greens out of play so we can use aeration machinery to get air in to the surface. Again, the onlooker might think like we’re unneccessarily damaging the greens, but we’re anything but. This work is essential in allowing the greens to breath, while preventing disease. The greens may look bumpy as a result, but they will roll out and soon return to prime condition.

Aerifying the surface of a green

I would like to thank the vast majority of golfers who’ve been patient and understanding and have allowed us get on with our job (and enjoy it). But I’m experienced enough to know that we’re never going to please everyone and regretfully we’ve had to witness a small group of golfers choosing to publicise the above work in a negative light, instead of approaching us to better understand the reasons why we carry out this work. We’ve learned from this experience and seen it as an opportunity to figure out how we can improve communication, when it comes to managing winter conditions.

As the worm turns

Notice how wet conditions encourage worms to rise to the surface? Nobody knows exactly why this, but the theory is they In the winter they take to the fairways, with the wet soil making it easier to move and find food, new habitats or a mate. When the rain hits the ground it creates vibrations on the soil surface. This causes earthworms to come out of their burrows to the surface, resulting in worm casts – another bain of the greenkeeper! Before the days of global warming, winters were cold and grass stopped growing and didn’t need cutting. The milder winter weather means grass is merrily growing away well into November, but worm casts make it almost impossible to use mowers. We’re trialling some new organic products to try and control the amount of worm casting.

Wormcasting

This winter the bunkers are also getting some treatment. We’ll be removing old, compacted sand and replacing with a fresh layer, helping some of the bunkers drain a little better and make them more playable

Every winter leads to spring

My team is working tirelessly to keep the course in play, but we try as we might, we can’t beat the weather. Greenkeepers are hardy souls and we don’t give up in keeping the courses open as much as possible, so everyone can still enjoy a round. So you may see the odd winter mat and and temporary green in place, to make sure we protect the course.

We’ve just had a delivery of fresh new signage to go out on the course to replace old signage. This includes snazzy new tee signs along with updated wayfinder signage.

Before we know it, it’ll be spring and we’ll be back in short sleeves! On that note I’ll leave you with a quote from John Steinbeck:

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

Hope to see you around the course and as always, feel free to ask me any questions.

Roger Mills

Course Manager

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