Is it time to ditch greens’ committees?

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 6, 2022 11:33

A comment by a head greenkeeper who also part-owns a golf club has sparked a major debate about whether golf clubs should have greens’ committees.

John Rowbottom, the head greenkeeper at Woolley Park Golf Club in Yorkshire, who is also a member of the family that runs the club, was asked by GreenKeeping magazine how he would improve the greenkeeping industry.

Rowbottom said: “By eradicating greens’ committees. Golf clubs around the country employ skilled individuals with the knowledge and qualifications required to look after fine turf. The biggest problem in the industry is that these qualified people are often hampered by a group of individuals who don’t know the first thing about turf. Let greenkeepers make decisions about their golf course.”

Many golf clubs in the UK have greens’ committees in which usually volunteer members who regularly play the course decide its maintenance and improvement policies. They typically operate in tandem with their club’s greenkeepers but often are not as qualified on, for example, agronomy as them.

This was posted on the magazine’s LinkedIn page and received hundreds of likes and dozens of comments, mostly from within the golf and greenkeeping industry.

The vast majority of the comments were in agreement with Rowbottom.

Some fellow head greenkeepers thanked him for speaking up, and gave examples of how courses they’d worked on had been affected by them not being given full power for their maintenance. Golf course designer Barrie Gregson said: “I agree with John and for as long as I have been in greenkeeping for 54 years now, unless the golf course has someone with specific agronomical experience, then a bank manager or a schoolteacher should not be dictating either a budget, or greenkeeping direction on the course via a greens’ committee.”

Golf course manager Paul Copsey added: “That was what was great about working in the commercial sector, you were mostly in command of your own policies, procedures and budgets. Results were based on footfall, customer satisfaction and profitability. In the end we get back to the private member club governance issues. Some are very poor, while others can be well meaning, but the club gets hijacked by an unscrupulous individual and his mates. By the time the rest of the good people at the club find out and rectify the disaster of blown cash, the loss of their best staff and managers, a destroyed course, clubhouse and struggling business, it can be too late. Golf courses are so much better when not run by golfers. It is akin to letting kids run a sweet shop.”

Others in the industry agreed with this point about governance.

Doug Poole, CEO of the UK Golf Federation, wrote: “Seen it all. Must be hard for greenkeepers to follow some committees’ instructions.” Former golf club manager Jerry Kilby CCM added: “It is true that in many member-owned golf clubs, unqualified members are trying to tell qualified and talented greenkeepers how to do their job. This however is not the case at all member-owned clubs. A good number get it right, but still too many have a poor governance model. The industry needs to take the issue of governance seriously and explain to individual clubs the weaknesses and problems caused by a poor governance structure.”

Others stated that while a greens’ committee can be a problem, if it is a good committee it should benefit the club.

PGA of America life member Tim Wilkins said: “A wise greens’ committee will be sure to hire the best candidate available … then … give that person the responsibility, the tools, the budget and the respect to let him / or her run the department, answering to the committee. The committee is the club’s liaison to the membership. The same goes for the head professional and the club manager. Micromanagement doesn’t motivate a thoroughbred … and is fear-based management. Great organisations know this to be true.”

And some replied that committees should play a role in the maintenance of a golf course, as it is their golf course. Matt Kimball, regional superintendent at Troon Golf Management, said: “It’s not ‘your’ course. You’re the help. The members will have a say and given it is their course, that’s understandable. It’s your job to find a way to educate while not offending those members. Earn their trust.”

And turf agronomist Dr Daniel Hahn stated that it could be a risk to give all head greenkeepers the freedom to do what they want. “It all comes down to communication, understanding the club’s situation and vision and then creating a plan that works for everyone. A members’ club is owned by members … of course they want to be included in the decision process,” he wrote.

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 6, 2022 11:33
Write a comment

16 Comments

  1. John G Turner June 30, 11:55

    Dear Mr Dunsmuir

    I would respectfully raise issue with your Issue 64 of The Golf Business and the Page 11 comment, that in error uses a plural to describe a green committee, that may or may not have merit based on informed or personal opinions, intended I would say to represent a club’s playing members? It is not a ‘greens’ committee, possibly a course?

    I once upon a time had long conversations with Jim Arthur regarding greenkeepers and greenkeeping, that in basic terms mandate is a profession established to provide a healthy, robust year-round golfing terrain, consisting of various grass species? Nature provided before influence of ‘man’ and alleged expertise, in providing a grass environment – often against existing examples of species of grass, that had grown and survived the elements* for thousands, if not millions, of years, before ‘man’ came up with an idea to use energy in outdoors sports as distinct to gladiatorial entertainment for the masses. I have literature of the early 20th century, when it was concluded bent species of grass tolerated the ravages of nature: drought, frost, diseases etc better than any other grass and provided a true putting surface. Unlike fescue, that’s leaf grows in the horizontal, difficult to cut and provide consistent ‘true’ putting and I would suggest causes moss to thrive below its overlaying leaf structure, unlike bents.

    I have played a great number of inland and coastal links courses over the years, some abroad too and witnessed construction of courses in the UK and Algarve. So I can speak first hand on The Belfry construction, by Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas, that was to be constructed on farmland, impacted by the very cole north east wind, for months each year this caused the grass seed failure to germinate, then there was the damage to golf clubs on terrain that had not been cleaned of surace stones … at £4k a knock.

    Now I observe preservers of the sward, using ‘irons’, rollers, to create preserve? Flat putting areas on top of their ‘ride on’ heavy machines, dead weight, no matter what tyre spec fitted. The result has been, is still, compacted play areas, caused by greenkeepers work practices they try to remedy, by aeration operations.
    Their world wide behaviour causes, at a cost to golf clubs, manygreen committees don’t know they are paying for self-destructive work methods, but some people do, and this sometimes results in heated debate! Weeds, plantains etc love compacted ground, as does moss, that is avoidable if greenkeepers used manual lightweight mowers rather than ‘ride on’ needing to be followed by correcting (hopefully?) slitting, tining of the play areas compacted, airless rootzones they cause!  

    Will the greenkeepers admit they are the cause of many avoidable sports turf issues? Doubtful.

    * recalling 1975/76 droughts

    Sincerely, 

    John Turner

    Reply to this comment
  2. Morten (Players 1st) June 2, 08:48

    The greenkeeper’s (in close partnership with the club management) finest task is to balance the customer expectation and perception of value for money with the quality of the greens. You can spend millions on getting the perfect greens but if your members and guest don’t appreciate it it makes no sense. It is very difficult to balance the expectations of a scratch golfer vs. the social golfer in regards of what makes a great golf experience. Listen to your customers and adapt your services. And if commities don’t work then set up a running customer feedback feed 🙂

    Reply to this comment
  3. Steve June 2, 08:39

    In what business would you not want your ” customers” to tell you what they want from the product. Our greens committee “get stuck in” and help the green keeper under his instruction, to achieve what they want.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Hywel June 2, 08:24

    As a Chair of Greens I agree completely. My role is to be the link between the members and the HGK . He and his team are the experts and they have a vested interest in making sure the course is the best it can be. I keep the members informed of what is going to happen and why so the team can get on with what they do best. Having attended meetings with HGK and Suppliers & Agronomist I can see Greenkeeping is a very underrated profession.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Lofty June 1, 21:54

    Totally agree, only thing is the course manager should be capable and confident in his opinion

    Reply to this comment
  6. GBM June 1, 01:23

    Especially ones with a lack of knowledge

    Reply to this comment
    • The Greek June 2, 09:40

      The treatment and maintenance of greens, tees and fairways should be left to the expertise of the qualified Course Manager(CM)/Green Keeper(GK), who should have their own specified budget and that CM/GK should answer to the Greens’ Committee (GC) and Board if any of those areas are not in top condition.
      However, I think that a GC is valuable as it is these Committee members who then feedback information from other members where collective decisions can be made at GC meetings. And, yes, on the whole, CM/GKs should be left to do their job, but there are members/volunteers within a club who could offer other areas of expertise to GC and GK such as Project Management skills, finance or budget management skills, for example. And I think it’s that where GC are useful.

      Reply to this comment
  7. FedEx May 31, 11:22

    This type of situation can be seen in all industries. Organizations hire folks with specific skills and expertise. If they need that type of management they are not the right hire, if they need help allow them to obtain the help they need.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Witchard May 31, 09:27

    Totally agree. I actually lease a golf course/club and I wouldn’t dare tell the greens staff what to do. I know how I’d personally like it to look, but know my limits when it comes to advice. Let them do what they do best!

    Reply to this comment
  9. TDM May 30, 21:53

    Couldn’t agree more, however FTH has a very experienced greenkeeper that sets up courses for PGA events that provided free advice in the format of a report as to what was required to fix the course that was completely ignored.

    Reply to this comment
  10. MIHT May 30, 21:38

    As a “Greens Chairman” our club has made our Course Manager the new chair due to me taking up the Captains role.
    I see the frustrations, however if you have a Greens Committee (max 4 in number) that works with the CM you will always get the best results. We have two working groups of members, one that divot fill the fairways & the tidying up brigade, borders around clubhouse, twig collection, halfway house etc and it works very well. You can’t beat telling the members what’s going on and a good CM is a great communicator.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Adrian May 30, 20:42

    Bin them – pay the man and leave him or her to do there job – measure the results, feedback

    Most of them on committee haven’t got a bloody clue and think they can tell a course manager of 20 years experience how to do there job – where would that be acceptable in any other business

    Reply to this comment
    • Johnny June 2, 10:08

      Adrian,
      Who? measures the results? who? writes and delivers the feedback? Oh let’s call him a Greens Chairman !!
      At my club, the greens committee work on behalf of the greens staff.
      Golf clubs in the UK rely heavily on volunteers (as do most other sports clubs). Most would go under if they had to hire the personnel needed to function effectively.

      Reply to this comment
    • Johnny June 2, 10:08

      Adrian,
      Who? measures the results? who? writes and delivers the feedback? Oh let’s call him a Greens Chairman !!
      At my club, the greens committee work on behalf of the greens staff.
      Golf clubs in the UK rely heavily on volunteers (as do most other sports clubs). Most would go under if they had to hire the personnel needed to function effectively.

      Reply to this comment
  12. Peter May 30, 19:22

    OF COURSE ! Not only greens committees either ! How about house committees who tell F&B pros what to do ! Clubs can longer afford to be run, by committee! These are very difficult times ! They only work in a few select clubs where leadership is exceptionnaly strong and membership supportive!

    Reply to this comment
  13. Maylor May 30, 15:18

    Every golfer I’ve met has an opinion about how a golf course should be maintained. Very few have actual knowledge about the consequences of an action (or inaction) to green-keeping.

    Reply to this comment
View comments

Write a comment

<

Join Our Mailing List


Read the latest issues

Advertise With Us

For editorial enquiries in the magazine or online, contact:

Alistair.Dunsmuir@hdidmedia.com


For advertising enquiries in the magazine or online, contact:

Barry.Dyett@hdidmedia.com

Social media