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Can any old Tom, Dick or Harry produce a Performance Bowls Green?


In a previous post I was talking about the 4 barriers to success that I regularly encounter at bowling clubs. These were Desperation (for a good green), Traditions (that aren’t as traditional as we think sometimes), Myths (not dragons and wizards, but greenkeeping myths) and of course Consistency or rather the lack of it.

Well today I want to tell you a story about a typical bowling club. Just for the record this isn’t based on any one club, but is a very common pattern of events. If you are a bowling club member, you might instantly recognise this pattern and think I am talking about your club, but I assure you I’m not. If you are a bowling club member and this doesn’t ring any bells, then I would put money on your green being the best in your area, that you have a thriving membership and everything at your club is rosy. If that’s the case you are to be congratulated. To the story then:

Back in the late 1970’s our bowling club was doing ok, membership was thriving and the green was playing well. The greenkeeper, who we’ll call Tom, was an enthusiastic amateur and up until that point he had the full backing of the membership, he was doing a good job. Tom happily accepted advice and bought some of his materials from, a local man who worked for a turf supplies company and had a good grounding in turf maintenance. Let’s call him Harry.

Tom followed a fairly traditional maintenance program, which included 3-4 applications of granular fertiliser per year, regular scarifying and aeration and the occasional use of fungicide if there was some disease in autumn and winter. When the green closed at the end of September each year Tom would spend a bit of extra time reducing the thatch that had built up during the year and taking care of moss and doing running repairs etc. Harry usually came along to offer advice and support.

Now due to the fairly basic set up he had, Tom usually had the green in OK playing condition, but the use of straight, granular fertiliser usually meant that the green would be very slow for the 2 weeks after application and it would slowly improve in speed as the fertiliser lost its first flush of nutrient release. The main thing is that the members were happy with the green for the most part and understood that it was overall in pretty good shape.

Everything was fine and the  green was improving slowly year on year until one of the club’s “elite” player members, who we’ll call…Dick, who had a bit of a gob on him (to use the modern parlance), decided that the green was inconsistent, not predictable enough and a bit too slow for his high level of bowling skill and due to his aforementioned facial attribute was able to drum up the support of a few members in his quest to get the club to take a different approach to maintaining the green.

To cut a long story short Tom was fired and replaced by Bob, the new greenkeeper who was a young, fully qualified guy from the local golf course and a good friend of Dick’s. Bob had been to college and was keen to make his mark on the green.

It was coming up to the end of the season and Bob had a lot of great ideas for the green. First thing he did was drop the cutting height from Tom’s cautious 4.5mm to 3mm; he even had to get a new bottom blade fitted to the mower to achieve this.

Come the end of the season, Bob had 10 tonnes of sand delivered and hired in a contractor to deep spike the green to 12 inches depth; he then spread the sand onto the green to fill the great holes created by the machine.

Bob continued in this vane, copying the maintenance his boss at the golf course was doing on their USGA golf greens and for the next 2 years everything went smoothly for him.

The following year there was really wet summer and the green flooded badly and despite all of the sand and the deep holes the green seemed completely unable to deal with the extra rain they had that year.

Well Bob suffered the same fate as Tom after the club had consulted with Harry, who told them that they should never have allowed Bob to use the deep spiker on the green as it had irreparably damaged the subgrade or base of the green and disrupted the green’s ability to drain properly.

Dick of course, spoke up and convinced the committee or at least enough of them that Harry was out of touch and that he had heard of a new contracting company who could turn the green around with some new products and techniques they were promoting.

So…the new contractor started and followed a program very similar to Tom and Harry’s, but they were never told about the trouble that Bob had caused with the drainage, largely because the club had now collectively “forgotten” that episode and didn’t really believe Harry anyway.

Two years on the new contractor was kicked out even though most members agreed that the green was more consistent due to their better quality machines and less aggressive fertilisers which didn’t produce flushes of growth and the problems that go with them, namely peaks and troughs of fast and slow green surfaces. It was now 1989.

Since then the pattern above has been repeated another 3 times and the green is now in a pretty sorry state, although there have been flickers of brilliance from it when the weather conditions landed just right on 2 or 3 occasions over the last 20 years. In 2008 and 2009, it was closed a lot of the time due to flooding, but they were exceptionally wet summers. However, the damage caused by Bob to the subgrade is never going to go away and will come back to haunt the club time after time in the future.

What’s the moral of the story?

Well I could get a cheap laugh by doing a joke about not letting any old Tom, Dick or Harry look after your green… but I won’t!

The story illustrates without exaggeration the situations I have been involved in at more clubs than I care to remember over the last 30 years. In some of those situations I was Tom, in others I was Harry and in many others I was the hapless contractor who didn’t stand a chance. I was nearly Bob on a couple of occasions, but thankfully I was never the other guy, although a couple of times when my back’s been turned on a bowling green I’m sure the committee members must have got confused and thought I was… sounded like his name anyway!

As I said yesterday, if you have been a member at a bowling club for more than a few years, you will recognise this story. If you don’t, then its likely that your green is already very good or getting near to it and that you have been following a sound greenkeeping program consistently for many years.

In this story we have seen the 4 greatest obstacles to achieving a High Performance Bowling Green; Inconsistency (how many times did this club change its course?), Greenkeeping Myths (the dreaded deep spiker that will cure all), Traditions (the “tradition” of applying sand or sandy topdressings year after year for no sound reason) and of course Desperation Mode, which is the state a club gets into when it realises it has made a mistake but doesn’t have forever to wait for results. Unfortunately that is exactly what a club in Desperation Mode has to do…wait forever for results.

In  Performance Bowling Greens, I detail a more measured and calm approach to bowling green maintenance based on scientific fact, a deep understanding of nature and the interaction between turfgrass and soil. An approach, in fact, a full program you can follow to ensure that your green performs to a very high standard at a reasonable cost.

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