SEPTEMBER is one of my favourite months. The weather is warming and golf courses begin to blossom again after not wearing their best dresses for the previous three months. Well, most areas of the course, anyway.
September in many parts of the country means coring, that reviled but restorative act whereby the agronomy professionals who’ve spent months lovingly caring for the most delicate parts of the layout suddenly turn all Mr Hyde and begin treating the greens like one of those Whack-A-Mole games.
It’s entirely necessary, of course, and it’s worthwhile asking your superintendent about the agronomic benefits behind the coring process. It is informative and enlightening, and gives everyday golfers a window into the practice and why it happens. We just don’t have to like it when it does.
My club cores our greens twice a year. The first coring takes place in late March or early April – often depending on when Easter falls – and the second occurs anytime from late August to early October. Our greens staff generally give the surfaces a solid pounding both times and it can be four, even five, weeks before they’re back to pristine.
Other clubs, dealing with different grasses, climates, traffic volumes, event programmes and other influencing factors, opt for just one coring annually. Or they make any second coring a ‘light’ version of the process, perhaps by Verti-Draining and/or dusting their greens regularly. Others get around the process altogether.
Across the ditch in Australia, The Dunes Golf Links on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula doesn’t core at all but instead replaces one green entirely each year. The Dunes is one of the country’s most popular public-access courses and doesn’t want to face the prospect of eight to 10 weeks annually when every green is considered to be substandard.
Travelling around the world, I am repeatedly fascinated by how what is essentially the same practice – maintenance of a golf course – is carried out so differently. There is no one-size-fits-all rule.
I am, however, in favour of clubs doing at least one of two things during the recovery period post-coring:
1) Informing golfers who book rounds during this time that the greens have been cored; and
2) Discounting the green fees as an acknowledgement that the course is not in peak physical shape.
Some clubs do these, others don’t. The counter argument to discounting suggests that a premium isn’t added to the green fee when the layout is in exceptional condition, so why should it be discounted when it’s not? In other words, the ‘it all evens out in the end’ theory.
Two of my good friends work in golf-course maintenance and are low-handicap golfers themselves, so they own a perspective from either side of the argument. Interestingly, on the whole, both agree with these two points (particularly being up front with golfers), although one did make the point that regular players are mostly aware that twice a year – and almost always in spring and autumn – coring is going to take place. So golfer ‘surprise’ shouldn’t be a huge factor.
He added that course maintenance does possess a certain grey area. For instance, does fairway coring – another common exercise – or other important maintenance practices warrant the same declaration to green-fee golfers?
It’s true, course recovery is a little like the ‘relief from a divot’ argument whereby we might be inclined to ask golfers who insist that divots should be treated as GUR: “When is a divot no longer a divot anymore?”
Bottom line: it’s murky.
So enjoy the warmer, more agreeable golf weather this September. But if your local course’s greens are all furry, holey and sandy this month, don’t curse. It’s for a good reason.
And spare a thought for golf-playing greenkeepers like my mates, who probably simultaneously love and hate turning the greens into Swiss cheese.