Poor maintenance, mismanagement deface Royal Springs Golf Course
B R SINGH
Srinagar, June 23: A decade or so after Royal Springs Golf Course first revealed its stunning vistas to ecstatic golfers and casual visitors its beauty still overwhelms; the golfer’s ecstasy has waned though because it is no longer the leading golf course of India. The thing of beauty did not alas fulfill the promise of being a joy forever. Robert Trent Jones would be disappointed in his creation.
American Golf magazine publishes annually a list of the greatest courses in the United States. The courses vary in ranking from year to year; a course topping in one year may be a lowly tenth the next. One frustrated reader wrote a letter of protest to the editors asking how a course could be ranked differently each year, ranking below some other course that it outranked the year before. The editor’s answer to the reader is worth pondering. His reply was that courses once built do not indeed change from year to year. What does change is the quality of the maintenance. This is a huge variable and probably the only variable. Golf courses are maintenance-heavy. They need looking after. Ignore them and nature takes over. A golf course is like a garden; it needs care. A beautiful garden is a tribute to its gardeners. Pretty much the same is true about golf courses.
One of the attractions of Royal Springs is the turf. Three separate kinds of exotic grasses were planted in the fairways and roughs. These are the cool season grasses, Bent grass and Kentucky blue (itself a mixture of shade loving and sun loving types). In addition a number of tall fescue grasses were used in the deep roughs. Surprisingly, the fescues in the deep roughs and the Bent grass on the greens have taken very well and established; Kentucky blue has also managed to survive in the normal roughs, it is the Kentucky blue fairways that are a mess where the native grasses have taken over. But it is not just the invasion of native grasses that has altered the character of Royal Springs. Lack of care is as much responsible as invasion of weeds for converting Royal Springs from the top ranked golf destination to an also ran. Grass pokes out of the bunkers their edges undefined and bare, earth meeting the club head where it should blast into sand. The subtle deceptions of the greens no longer allure because the grass isn’t cut very often, the trim neat look of a well maintained course replaced by that of a casual neglect. Ad hoc improvisation substitutes for designated maintenance. Royal Springs looks and plays like a second rate municipal course in the United States. In its present condition it would never make any list of top courses in Asia let alone the US.
Maintaining a golf course is a constant battle. A good golf course superintendent works with nature as far as possible, just like a good gardener, to maintain the designed beauty. Except for links courses which are a different sort of entity, golf courses need professionally trained superintendents. In the US they have college courses to train golf course superintendents who often start out at salaries in the range of 50,000 dollars. Golf course management is mostly turf management. Turf management is not quite the same thing as agrostology, the scientific study of grasses as practiced in agricultural universities. Turf management of cool season grasses which are exotic to Kashmir requires specialized training. Successful management of turf grass species requires specialized skills of mowing, fertilization, and liming or acidification, of grass diseases as well as of herbicides and fungicides. This lack of specialized skills shows up in the appearance of the Royal Springs turf, and this is without comment on the quantity of care that is actually given, of which I have sparse knowledge.
It is high time that a professionally trained golf course superintendent was appointed. He would have to be an expatriate; to my knowledge no one in India has expertise or experience of cool season grasses. A good superintendent willing to come to work in Kashmir would cost around 100,000 dollars annually. This may seem excessive but is not really so and can be easily met from the existing budget of the course which is reported to be nearly five crores of rupees annually. If just one tenth of this sum were spent on a professionally trained superintendent it would pay rewards many times over the cost. When Royal Springs first opened it employed an Australian expatriate as Golf Course Superintendent. It turned out to be a mistake because he knew nothing about cool season grasses though otherwise skilled. After him came a properly qualified American who could not adjust to local conditions and left after a short stay. Royal Springs has been managed with local talent ever since.
One learns that a struggle is on for the post of Secretary of the Course. I hope the authorities are aware that the Secretary of the Course is an administrative position that has nothing whatever to do with turf management. Appoint a Secretary by all means to look after mundane issues such as membership, catering matters, security, billing, tournaments, budgeting and so, on but do not confuse routine administrative tasks in a golf club with maintenance of a golf course. That is tourism department should separate out the tasks of golf course turf management from the administrative side of running a golf club and appoint two separate persons who can then function under a managing committee or single head of institution.
Tourism department should also encourage the University of Agricultural Sciences to start turf management courses. As far as I know it would be a first in India. Both warm season and cool season grasses should form part of the curriculum and J&K could be the only place in India for many years to provide golf course professionals in the service of this game, still emerging in the sub continent.
WRITER IS A FORMER FINANCIAL COMMISSIONER J&K
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Jun 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 23 Jun 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 24 Jun 2012 00:00:00 IST
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