Golf wouldn't be possible without greenkeepers

Kevin Smith, head greenkeeper at Machrihanish Dunes Golf Club.

MACHRIHANISH, Scotland – I have nothing but admiration for Kevin Smith. In fact, I’d like to use this column to salute men and women like Smith without whom golf wouldn’t be possible.

Kevin Smith is head greenkeeper at Machrihanish Dunes GC. On a wild and windy May day, Smith is doing what he does every day – trying to make Machrihanish Dunes as good as it can possibly be.

It isn’t easy. The temperature is eight degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s impossible to grow grass in such temperatures.

Many would say “impossible” is the operative word for greenkeepers. Impossible to meet the unrealistic expectations of golfers who think their course should look like Augusta National every day of the year.

Smith’s seemingly impossible task is made all the harder by the climate on this remote, wind battered West Coast of Scotland. Mother Nature may seem like a beautiful old lady, but not on the West Coast of Scotland, where she can be quite cantankerous.

She was especially angry this past winter.

Smith had scheduled important course changes this past winter. Nothing new there, every golf club makes improvements during quiet periods. Problem for Smith is that this past winter was one of the worst on record.

While the South of England experienced drought conditions, wind and rain hammered the West Coast of Scotland throughout the winter months. For example, wind speeds of 92 miles per hour were recorded on January 3rd. There were two other occasions when wind speeds neared 100 miles per hour.

As for the rain, well it just didn’t stop.

“We had planned a lot of work over the winter but just couldn’t do it because of the weather,” Smith says during a casual conversation in the Machrihanish Dunes clubhouse.

Smith also has the problem of working on a site of special scientific interest. Machrihanish Dunes features five types of rare orchid, two of which are considered endangered. Needless to say, Smith has severe limits on what he can do on the golf course. He has to work closely with Scottish Heritage to ensure he does nothing to endanger this area of outstanding natural beauty.

All that said, he and his team of four have done a sterling job of getting the course in pretty good shape for the upcoming summer. I noticed obvious areas where the winter weather had taken its toll, but the course was presentable, playable and enjoyable, despite the 25 mph wind that accompanied my round.

I’ve long maintained greenkeepers are the most under appreciated people in golf. Many golfers never give a moment’s thought to the efforts greenkeepers like Smith put in. In my experience, the only time the greenkeeper gets any recognition is when the course is in poor shape. Then people start to criticise without knowing the circumstances.

I sometimes wonder how many club members even know the name of their head greenkeeper. They are the invisible men and women with the bags under their eyes, the dirt under their fingernails and sweat under their armpits.

Most greenkeepers certainly don’t work their trade for the money. They do it because they love the land. And they care about their course, just as Smith cares to get his links in the best shape possible, regardless of the elements.

So if you haven’t said thank you to your greenkeeper in a while – or ever – seek him or her out and acknowledge their efforts. Because here’s the thing: Without greenkeepers there is no golf. Sadly, that’s a fact we too often forget.

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