Before I get going, I would like to pass on my best wishes to all our members, and hope everyone is staying safe and positive during this difficult period. The current situation with Covid-19 is a far greater issue than golf and greenkeeping and that fact has been at the forefront of our minds over the last month or so. It is said, in times of crisis, it often brings out the best in people and I have to say I am proud of how the team across the whole of Mortonhall GC has reacted and adapted to the challenges thrown at us in recent weeks.
I hope that this update provides some clarity of the ongoing situation and gives reassurance that your course will be in an excellent position for when golf returns.
At all times over the last month, the health and wellbeing of the greenstaff has been the primary concern, so from the outset of the lockdown, measures were introduced to the workplace to navigate the difficult conditions. At all times we have taken guidance from numerous governing bodies such as Bigga, R&A, Lothian & Borders Police, Edinburgh Council and Scottish Golf to identify the best working practices to ensure that staff and members of the public remained safe. The guidance we received continues to evolve during this unprecedented situation and we constantly adapt to put safety first and comply with the guidance recommended.
- Social distancing guidelines followed at all times
- Only one staff member in greens facilities at a time
- Greenstaff welfare facilities closed
- PPE to be stored in cars, change clothing outside
- Protective gloves to be worn at all times
- Use the hand sanitiser, disinfectant and towels provided
- One machine, one person policy used
- Machines cleaned before and after use with disinfectant
- Observe in house safety guidelines and videos provided
- Lone working as much as possible
- Work meetings to be carried out via WhatApp, Zoom or by phone
- Pay close attention to safe working practises and H & S guidelines
Some of the safety measures in place
The government acted quickly and announced that greenkeepers were able to complete essential maintenance on the course during the period of lockdown, so to maintain golf courses to a level which would result in no lasting damage or reduction in long term performance. In other words we can carry out the tasks required to ensure that important areas of the course are able to recover quickly once the course reopens.
Over the lockdown period the greenstaff team have split into two groups of three to limit the chances of exposure and contamination to a minimum, and one staff member put on furlough leave due to family circumstances. To maintain the course on these staffing levels, has at times proved very difficult but we are very pleased with how the course is coming along. To put it into perspective, the reduction in resources of the greenstaff team over the lockdown period to date has resulted in the loss of 840 man hours against a routine year.
The essential maintenance guidelines we are following were developed and recommended by the R&A, which were recommended for all UK golf courses during the Covid-19 outbreak. They set out a reduced essential maintenance regime for greenkeeping that protects workers, their jobs and golfing facilities futures. They realised that the country’s £2bn golf industry is only sustainable if greenkeepers continue to work safely and securely. The amount of time the greenstaff are at work should be kept to a minimum and be tailored to fit with the agreed essential maintenance programme, which can include –
- Mowing according to the rate of growth
- Dew removal
- Mowing on greens, tees, fairways, aprons and managed rough
- Applications of plant growth regulators
- Irrigation and nutrient inputs
- Completion of unfinished winter projects
- Wetting agent applications
- Cultural practises to improve health of turf (dressing, aerating, overseeding)
The aim of the above operations is to maintain uniformity, density, texture and health to allow all playing surfaces to be back in action and to a high standard, as we understand you will all have high expectations and excitement once golf resumes.With the work we are currently carrying out, and within the guidelines we are extremely confident that the course will be up to scratch when you return.
2nd Hole on the 29th April
We at first adopted a height of cut on the greens that would minimise unnecessary stress but we have gradually lowered them down to their current height of 4mm. We have also applied two light applications of granular fertiliser and additional light top dressings to keep the surfaces healthy and improve the profile. We have also put down applications of wetting agent (so soil can hold onto water) and a preventative fungicide so to limit the chances of disease outbreak. At the moment they are rolling nicely and we are happy with their condition for the time of year.
The tees took quite a battering over the winter, but they have now started to improve during the warmer weather. Again the height of cut was slightly raised to protect the grass leaf during the colder periods of early April, but they are now starting to come on since light inputs of water and fertiliser. As with the greens and aprons, we are trying to avoid excess irrigation and fertiliser input to limit unnecessary growth and necessitate more maintenance during this period. The tees which are behind in growth terms (mainly tees which winter golf was played from) have been cored and top dressing, fertiliser and seed will follow shortly.
These are the areas where you will notice the most change when you visit the course for the first time, as most have been reshaped and realigned. The changes have made a massive difference to how each hole will be played, viewed and most importantly enjoyed. All fairways have had an application of growth regulator, which is designed to inhibit vertical grass growth and divert growth downwards into the root system. This practise is very good for the health of the plant but it is also delivering less aggressive growth and in turn less man hours mowing.
Again these areas have been reshaped and adjusted to make the course more interesting and improve playability. After a slow start, it is encouraging to watch them start to improve growth wise weekly (their improvement has definitely coincided with the irrigation system being fully up and running). If time allows us it would be greatly beneficial to them if we can get them aerated, dressed, fertilised and seeded, as some are rather compacted and desperate for some air to get into the surface.
Under the essential guidelines, only rough considered in direct play should be mown allowing naturalisation to areas largely out of play. This recommendation has not been an issue for us as we had already planned before lockdown that we were going to leave areas out of play largely unmown. There were a few reasons for this, such as lowering fuel and labour costs, providing separation between holes, adding character and providing habitat for the local wildlife. There are now many areas of rough which will now be unmown in the future, but we will counteract this by having much more time to maintain the in play rough areas. This will give us the opportunity to deliver greater consistency and aesthetics going forward.
View from the Clubhouse 26th April
If you spent your hourly exercise, walking around the course, you will have seen the bunkers were in quite a sorry state at times. For a good few weeks of lockdown we pretty much left the bunkers to their own devices as it was in our opinion it would be a waste of our time maintaining them, only for them to get destroyed by the new influx of visitors we have been experiencing on the course in the past month of lockdown. Lately I have witnessed dogs, bikes, grown adults, tennis matches, sandcastle making and sunbathing in our bunkers, but it got to a point that we had to focus on maintaining them to a standard so we can have them ready for open play with minimum maintenance.Over the last week or so, the bunkers have had a serious makeover, with bankings and edges mown, sand added and redistributed, desired levels installed, watered heavily and compacted. We plan to have all the bunkers in perfect condition by next week and will continue to rake, maintain, water and check levels regularly until we are open for business (just hope the tourists respect the keep out signs we have put in them).
As already mentioned we have one greenkeeper on furlough leave at the moment, with Robert spending time away from the club solely to look after the welfare of himself and his family. However, just because Robert is not at work, does not mean he can’t keep himself busy and continue learning. Over the past month we have been sending him out some homework to work through, mainly to keep him part of the team, broaden his education and keep him motivated during these strange times. His work so far has been excellent and we will continue to send out the work to try and make the best out of the current situation.He has also, off his own bat put together a blog of his own, detailing his time spent on furlough. After reading through it, I found itrather entertaining so I thought it would be a good idea to share a few snippets from his “Diary of a Furloughed Greenkeeper”
Went on a 4 mile walk, realised I am seriously unfit. To counter act this problem, I ate a lot of chocolate to make myself happy. Walked past the gates of Mortonhall and it suddenly hit me that I won’t be at work for a while. Miss the place already.
Had to stand in my first queue to get into Tesco’s for essentials. Thankfully they were well stocked with Kopperberg, so the queuing was worthwhile. Saw some Mortonhall members en route, waved to them but wished it was in a different situation that we bumped into each other. Me mowing the greens and them playing in the sweep.
Have been on walks ranging from 90 minutes to 2 hours (don’t tell Boris or Nicola) every day. Have lost half a stone. Watch out Idris Elba, I’m coming for your world’s sexiest man title.Striped the lawn today to satisfy my need for fine mowing
Now not entirely sure what day of the week it is. Every day blurs into one is maybe more than just a phrase. My homework is coming along nicely, never would I have thought that I would look forward to doing homework.
Decided to practise my chipping in the back garden, using a hula hoop as a target. A truly disgraceful session. I will not give away how many balls I got on target out of 20 attempts but it was between 0 and 2. Must remember to apologise to next door neighbour about his greenhouse.
Weighed myself on the scales again, have now lost 10 pounds. Who knew walking was good for you. Unfortunately, most of my trousers don’t fit me anymore. Think I will be raiding Dad’s wardrobe if this lockdown continues. My homework has been handed in, marked and positive comments received. Wonder what they have in store for me next.
Over the winter period the course has been damaged more and more by our resident badgers. We have always had them on site over the years but they only damaged areas on the 1st and 2nd holes normally. This winter we have had widespread damage across holes 10, 11, 12 and 16, plus other areas, which looks to me that a new family has moved in or the original family fancied a change of scenery.
As their main food supply is worms, insects and grubs, the damage usually goes away when course conditions dry up and their food supply heads deeper into the ground but this year seems different, with them still damaging the same areas even though it has not rained for 5 weeks. They also prefer to forage in grass under 5cm in height, so that is why they are targeting our mown playing surfaces.
Their scrapes can at times be very deep which causes problems regarding aesthetics and course playability but unfortunately there is very little we can do about them, apart from raising height of cut in the area, box off the clippings, heavily sand problem areas and try to improve the drainage all of which willhopefully limit worm populations (what the badgers are looking for).
There is good news however, as you can get relief from their excavations. If your ball lands in such an area “through the green” you may apply rule 25-1 and lift and drop it without penalty within one club length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief. But hopefully this problem will have eased by the time you are back playing.
By Shaun Cunningham
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