Making the most of your course

Simon Olver, course manager at Ganton Golf Club, on maximising each golf course’s natural characteristics and taking a more holistic approach to greenkeeping

Each golf course is a unique environment – a delicate balance between golfing challenge; visually inspiring design; natural landscape; and complex networks of flora, fauna and habitats for animals large and small. Greenkeeping teams must ensure this balance doesn’t sway too far in any one direction while making sure their golf course remains true to what makes it unique.

The number one aim of any golf course is to be playable for golfers. At Ganton, we must balance playability between our membership and elite-level championships. This means having options in our setup – from a wide selection of tee positions to being able to make short-term adjustments. 

Any change we make has far-reaching impacts. For example, introducing longer carries from each par five tee box presents benefits and challenges. Environmentally, the change is a positive one as the area requires less mowing. However, the golf course would be less playable for many golfers. In this example, we must balance sustainability and playability.

You must also think about aesthetic heritage – is the change you want to make inkeeping with the overall vision of the original architect? This is particularly important when changing bunkers and green complexes on older courses.

Ensuring you make the most of your course is individual to each site. There has been a great deal of work done across the UK in recent years to remove non-native trees from courses and while invasive, this is important to maintain the character of many courses. Look at old photographs and drawings, and analyse what is important to your golf course, what is historic, and where nature has begun to reclaim the land.

Making the most of your natural resources is also important. At Ganton, we are blessed with a very sandy site and can make use of that in a number of ways. Work to make all of our pathways sand-based has improved the overall aesthetic of the golf course while a major project to clear an overgrown area on the 18th hole and remove gorse bushes has revealed a uniquely Ganton feature (pictured below).

Understanding what makes your golf course unique is vital education for greenkeepers and members. While revetted bunkering looks fantastic, it is not inkeeping with many architectural styles. Meanwhile, huge bunkers present great golfing challenge but are incredibly time consuming to maintain. Understanding your club’s unique history, position and budget should inform every choice you make – from changes to the features of the golf course down to your signage and pin flag designs.

Working in a more holistic way across your whole site will also become more important as the world becomes more environmentally conscious; legislation restricts the use of pesticides and chemicals; the cost of maintaining courses increases; and access to mains water changes.

We’ll undoubtedly see more clubs turning to conservation greenkeeping and being far more sustainable. There is a great deal of support available from BIGGA and GEO on areas such as reducing environmental impact and water management, and clubs should seek this out sooner rather than later.