A tough start to 2021

Simon Olver, course manager at Ganton Golf Club, reflects on the year’s challenges so far – from lockdowns to weather and everything in between

As the 2021 golf season dawned, greenkeeping teams around the country were praying for good weather, life outside of lockdown, and a more structured way of working after an incredibly disruptive and challenging 12 months.

Well, that could not have been further from the situation we found ourselves in when March and April arrived! Every greenkeeper has had to dig deep in these early weeks of the season to achieve the best playing conditions possible.

Following extremely wet conditions throughout the winter, weather patterns switched and delivered prolonged periods of dry weather and cold temperatures. Here, we recorded nine days of frost in April, having had no frosts in April 2020. These cold conditions then persisted well into May – far longer than I can ever recall. This combination of cold and dry weather led to most inland golf courses losing around four weeks from their expected schedules just as golfers were released from lockdown.

The consequences of these severe swings in weather patterns have been far reaching with impacts on our application of treatments on playing surfaces and mowing schedules through to the time we can start work in the morning.

In adapting, greenkeepers had to analyse and change targets carefully while maintenance and course setups were also adjusted. Planned operations had to be delayed or cancelled as focus shifted to presenting acceptable playing conditions without the normal lead in time we’d expect.

For those carrying out key maintenance projects, particularly in fine turf areas, this presented a massive challenge. For many, these areas are just beginning to heal and grow as we would have expected weeks ago, yet the playing schedule has already reached its peak. Inevitably, many courses have been presented below the expectations of greenkeepers so far, but the signs in recent weeks have been far better and we’re very much looking forward to being back in prime condition in the very near future.

For those who have been out playing, you will have seen many examples of what nature’s delay to proceedings has unavoidably resulted in – particularly as Poa (meadow grass) has seeded a lot later than normal. As a result, playing surfaces have been slower and bumpier as this broader leaf plant dominates other species. However, the impact will be short lived, seed heads will subside and this will lead to smoother surfaces with a little more pace very soon.

I hope we have seen the back of this gruelling period. As I write, the forecast predicts warm and wet weather. I hope it is not too wet so we can get out there and play golf courses at their absolute best again soon.