Temple GC Biodiversity

AN EVENING AT TEMPLE Golf Club ON THE SUBJECT “MANAGING WITH LESS” by Malcolm Peake.

Over the years Berkshire’s Temple has received numerous calls for advice and support from other golf clubs that have adopted, or are considering using, a more natural style of course management. The Club is now working closely with the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust and the two bodies decided to host an evening workshop entitled “Managing with Less” which was held at Temple at the end of February 2012.

The evening was sponsored by Symbio, an environmental biotechnology company, and drew an audience of Secretary/Managers, Chairs of Green, Course Managers and greenkeepers from clubs over a wide area.

Its aim was to explore the economic and environmental benefits of a sound and sympathetic course management policy whilst maintaining the quality and playability of the golf course and respecting and positively contributing to the indigenous and social environment.

This natural style of management epitomises the ethos of FineGolf and produces the style of running golf many of us know and love.

It also replicates the creed of austere greenkeeping espoused by the late, great Jim Arthur  and so ably described in his definitive book “Practical Greenkeeping,” a must for anyone interested in the classic game of golf.

Some now call this approach “sustainable”, I prefer the term “natural greenkeeping, and what ever its name, the process is the same.

Put simplistically, if one reduces water and fertilisers, and increases aeration, you will promote the poverty indigenous grasses, which are so good for all year golf.

Importantly, in this day and age, it costs less, and keeps the golf course open for more days of the year.

temple golf club, finest golf courses

Temple in the Autumn

Since the 1990s, Temple has worked hard at reducing course management costs and enhancing biodiversity, while improving without compromise on the quality demanded by today’s golfer. The workshop told the “warts and all” story of the journey.

Michael Barratt, broadcaster and former advisor to the R&A Golf Course Committee, chaired the evening and welcomed the guests, which included the Club President’s wife Strilli Oppenheimer, a world-renowned environmental conservationist.

Temple’s Club Secretary, Keith Adderley, spoke, not without a little irony, of the problems currently facing golf clubs. He posed the question “why do we need to manage with less?” Answer; because many clubs are suffering from less income, and therefore having to reduce expenditure, yet golfers have increasing expectations. What golfers see on TV, with tournaments being played around the world in eternally summer conditions and on golf courses especially prepared for one week of the year, bears little relationship to the real world of golf played in the UK during the winter months.

Keith explained the issues affecting clubs comparing the expectations of the “Old Guard” of traditional club members, the lifeblood of any golf club, and the “New Kids on the Block” being those who were juggling an exceedingly busy workload with family commitments, with retirement seeming further and further away, and trying to squeeze a round of golf in whenever and wherever possible. The time pressure of work and home life meant that most were unable to commit to joining a golf club full time but when they took to the course their expectations were even higher because their leisure time was so precious.

Keith expressed the opinion that communication was the key and stressed the importance of golf clubs having a robust Course Management Policy Document in order to ensure continuity and protect the Crown Jewels. Keith talked about the benefits of holding informal members’ liaison meetings and the use of the internet and email to inform and educate members about what was happening on their golf course. He also reminded the audience, that normal business principals should apply – even to golf clubs.

temple golf club, strilli oppenheimer, martin gunn, finest golf courses

Strilli Oppenheimer with Martin Gunn

Course Manager Martin Gunn then took over and spoke eloquently of how a sound course management policy benefitted the playing quality of the course and the indigenous natural environment. He talked of how the low-input, natural “poverty” grasses had been restored at Temple, with as much as 85% fescue/bent present on some greens and at worst 60% on others, and explained the substantial savings arising.

He then discussed how some clubs are using mains water at £1.17 per cubic metre, where as Temple is using borehole water at £.09 per cubic metre, and since the early 90’s has cut consumption by nearly 70%. Even these supplies are at the mercy of the Environmental Agency and a water extraction license can be revoked with 24 hours notice,

another reason to encourage the fine poverty grasses in the current drought climate.

(Since the presentation the Agency have announced a hosepipe ban in S.E. England from 5th April and it seems likely that golf clubs will only be allowed to irrigate tees and greens).

He also talked of huge 75% savings in fertilisers and how he used to apply 7/8 applications of pesticide to the meadow grass (Poa Annua) dominated greens. Now only one application is the norm, which at around £800 a time is a big saving.

Martin discussed how course management objectives could best be achieved and provided guidance on quality standards with an emphasis on the benefits of using today’s measuring tools.  The importance of recording information was vital and soil moisture content could be measured by a probe, firmness by a Clegg Hammer and trueness by conducting holing-out tests using a specially designed HOT-Ramp.

The HOT-Ramp is in the final stages of development and could take-over from the Stimp in the measuring of green performance and reliability. FineGolf will bring you the news as it unfolds.

Martin explained that this information could be used to assist in preparing a golf course for play in sympathy with the way the architect intended, in Temple’s case Willie Park junior in 1909. The essence of the British game was to play the running style on firm, fast greens requiring shot-making skill and imagination, rather than the American style of target golf to softer surfaces with power and brute strength being the important criteria.

He pointed out that this was now even being recognised in the USA where in 2010 the then President of the USGA stated the need to look at golf differently, where brown, as opposed to lush green, was beautiful.

malcolm peake, temple golf club, finest golf courses

Malcolm Peake on 10th green

In closing, Martin discussed the management and benefits of the secondary environments e.g. the meadow roughs. These not only visually enhance the course but give character and subtly seep into the subconscious of the golfer, and are less of a hazard than perhaps perceived. The meadows also improve biodiversity and act as wildlife corridors.

There was then a supper break, with lively discussion at every table.

Next, Gavin Bennett of the B. B. & O. Wildlife Trust took the floor and talked about the benefits, including cost savings, of a less intensive management style on the biodiversity. He discussed the management of the chalk downland meadow roughs and of their rarity and value as a UK priority habitat, containing many nationally and internationally rare and endangered species. Gavin pointed out that Temple’s meadow roughs represented 49% of those within the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, adding that as more than 80% of the natural grasslands had been lost nationally since 1950, this was a very valuable asset. He described how Temple took the decision in the early 90’s to allow about 20 hectares of meadow rough to return to – well, what Nature intended. So instead of managing – that’s to say, mowing – once or sometimes twice weekly, the grass was harvested ( at a profit, turning it into compost!) once a year. Also, the golfers had a course which was closer to the designer’s intent a century or so ago.

temple golf club, finest golf courses

Temple’s 2nd fairway

The savings from the decisions above include manpower, machinery costs, fuel, and servicing, all generating an annual saving of around £3,500 a year.  Gavin explained the importance of scrub as a habitat component and how it should be maintained sensitively with work completed by the end of March to avoid disturbance to nesting birds. He talked about the restored indigenous hedgerows and of their management, as well as grant-funding available for scrub and ancient woodland management. Gavin suggested the woodlands would benefit from alterations to promote more diversity particularly for ground flora and suggested most of this work be done when the weather was too bad to work on the primary golf course areas. He also highlighted the importance of deadwood where it did not interfere with play or pose a safety hazard.

Gavin concluded with the advantages of golf clubs working with their local Wildlife Trusts and to an agreed management plan. He explained that many rare and endangered species had been identified at Temple e.g. 425 species of moths and 24 of the 57 UK species of butterflies, proving that here was an exceptionally valuable environment although there were still many areas where improvements could be made.

The workshop was concluded by an open discussion and exchange of views, ideas and experiences and Michael Barratt closed with a vote of thanks to all.

The evening was promoted by the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association, The Greenkeeper Training Committee, the Golf Club Secretary magazine, the Golf Club Managers Association, and the English Golf Union.

The response since the evening has been very positive, and it was interesting to hear about the variety of reasons delegates came, some to save money, others to enhance the golfing experience, and some to learn more about conservation and habitat management. One of the conservationists later wrote “Thank you very much for an interesting and quite enlightening evening. I am astounded that golf members are so demanding and obstinate.” So we must be aware, that we must manage our land responsibly. There are in excess of 2,800 golf clubs in the UK and Ireland that cover an area larger than our home county of Berkshire, and they have a variety of valuable and rare environments.

So we must not get complacent or forget that we are part of a much bigger picture and that others may see us in a rather different light.

If managed sympathetically in a natural manner, what ever the environment, the golfer will get the thrill of squeezing the ball from fine firm fairways, of chipping and using a putter from yards off the green. Running the ball through hollows and up banks to a tricky pin position.

Even top tournament Pro’s are appreciating the running style of game, and are recognising that green lush courses (See comments by Tiger Woods and other top professionals FineGolf June 2011) are levelling the competitive fields and taking away the advantage to the top players.

Golf played on this natural style of golf course is much more fun, requires more imagination, takes less time, and costs less. It’s a win win situation.

 Malcolm Peake,  FineGolf Advisory Panel member. 

Ed:  Malcolm is the author of two authoritative and excellent books both published by and available from the STRI or direct from the author at temple GC.

Confessions of a Chairman of Green”  2001.

“A Natural course for golf ” 2005.  Click for Amazon’s best price

Reader Comments

On November 7th, 2012 Harold Humbard Said:

You’ve made some good points there. I checked on the web to learn more about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this site.