As my diary for 2015 came to a close, my final duties as Captain involved my presence at the Board meeting in December, then the Chief Executive and I attending the PGA lunch at the Grosvenor House Hotel.
I hope you have found my articles of interest. Writing them has been fairly straightforward during my travels around the regions, but now that those very pleasant visits have come to the end, I was pondering what to write. Then it occurred to me (whilst playing yet again in rain) of the problematic decisions often associated with course closure, when the views of various factions within a club might need to be considered, not to mention the weather/ground conditions.
Probably the easiest weather and ground condition upon which to make a decision is lying snow, as it is visible and golfers understand that you can’t play, no matter what colour ball you use. It is also now widely accepted, mainly due to health and safety rules, that fog renders a course closed. However, making such a judgement with regard to wet ground conditions is the most difficult to manage, since all players are doing is walking in puddles and muddy ground and it is up to them whether they wish to do this, or not. Is it really so simple? I think not!
To give you some idea of the difficulty, it seems that at my club rain has fallen constantly during November and early December. On checking with the Course Manager, there hasn’t been a vast amount of rain (83mm in November), but its frequency has been significant. In fact there have only been eight dry 24 hour periods in the last six weeks. Playing (as I prefer) in the mornings, the course has often been very wet following overnight rain, and in the opinion of some of my golfing colleagues ‘the course should not have been open’.
Consequently making a decision about wet ground is very difficult, with the views of the Course Manager, Club Manager, Committee, Members and Visitors possibly needing to be taken into account. But, with so many people possibly involved, who has the final say in the matter? Obviously it is up to each club to decide and, in my opinion, the Course Manager’s view should carry the most weight. I accept that some members think a Course Manager would prefer not to have anyone spoil his prized course, but he, or his staff, are ‘on the ground’ and are probably the only ones to have seen the conditions fully. So where do the others fit in. It may depend on what is on at the club, eg competition, big corporate day, large society – all of which may have many playing, not to mention the potential revenue lost. However, the overriding factor should be safety of the individual, which is often sadly ignored by the player until an accident occurs. If such an incident happens, who will then take responsibility for leaving the course open? Do you think it could be the Manager? It is certain that it won’t be anyone on Committee or the player themselves.
How is a Manager to ensure consistency and clarity of decision making in these circumstances? In my opinion, the club should have clear guidelines, agreed by committee, laying down how the decision is made, who makes it and how it is communicated to those involved. Members and visitors should be made aware of this, preferably before such conditions cause a closure. I am not saying that this will ensure everyone understands all the time, but it is a good starting point. What happens when the decision having been made and communicated is challenged? After all, the Manager is usually ‘in the firing line’. My opinion, having been in this situation myself, is to support the decision and not be swayed, but in doing so try to get over the reasoning behind the decision and the certainty that the correct criteria have been used. In addition, emphasise that the safety element is fundamentally important and that injuries sustained because of wet ground conditions may result in cases of negligence being brought against the club.
I hope my thoughts are in accord with your thinking, but if you disagree then all I would say is ensure that all concerned know how any decision is arrived at in your club. Finally, let us hope that this wet weather pattern changes soon and that we experience some drier periods during the remainder of the winter.
By Mike Hyde