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Archive for August, 2010

Jim Arthur, 1921-2005

The name of Jim Arthur has recently popped up on the TurfNet.com Forum. Since I have met the man and listened to his lectures, I checked into his life history.

Jim Arthur was born in England in 1921, studied agriculture but dropped out of school to join the British Army during WW II and reached the rank of captain. He is reputed to have been a crack sharpshooter who shot down a German plane with a machine gun. An ankle injury prevented him from continuing active duty and instead he focused on training other soldiers.

After the war he continued his studies and upon completion joined a seed company, then started his own landscaping business. As a sideline he consulted on the maintenance of golf courses, including the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews. As his reputation grew, he often supervised the preparation of golf courses for national and international golf competitions. As a consultant he spoke out against the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and recommended restraint in watering. “Turn off the tap, lock the fertilizer shed and throw away the key” was Arthur’s standard recommendation.

He wrote the book Practical Greenkeeping that was published in England in 1997 and detailed his philosophy on golf course maintenance in Great Britain.

Arthur was also a frequent speaker at golf course conferences in England and Scotland. It was at one such meeting that GCSAA past President Mel Lucas attended his lecture. According to Mel, “Jim was a very controversial British golf course advisor who disdained most anything American – but especially our golf courses.”

A year or so later, I attended a similar conference in England and my presentation was followed by one of the renowned Jim Arthur. Since by then I had become aware of Mr. Arthur’s sharp tongue, I toned down my speech and escaped his wrath, possibly also because I was Canadian.

“Turn off the tap, lock the fertilizer shed and throw away the key” was Arthur’s standard recommendation.

That same year Sleeping Bear Press, publishers in Michigan, sent me a copy of Arthur’s book and asked for a private review for the purpose of possibly publishing the book in America. I read the book from cover to cover and thought that it needed serious editing and that the content would be of limited interest to American readers. To the best of my knowledge the Arthur book has not been published in America but is still available on Amazon UK.

It seems that since his death in 2005, Jim Arthur’s philosophy of greenkeeping has gained adherents in America among them several prominent TurfNetters. Time will tell if this is just another fad like squared tee boxes and striped fairways or if Arthur’s legacy will become commonplace on courses on this side of the Atlantic.

Love Thy Green Chairman

While Green Chairmen are fast becoming an endangered species, they still prevail at private country clubs where the committee system is an important part of governance. For superintendents, it is critical to have a positive relationship with the Green Chairman to ensure professional longevity. During my career I worked with more than a dozen Green Chairmen. Some were good, others not, one was bad and all of them needed educating.

During my career I worked with more than a dozen Green Chairmen. Some were good, others not, one was bad and all of them needed educating.

The bad one thought that the maintenance department was available to improve his home landscape. He needed seed and fertilizer and borrowed tools. I drew the line when we he wanted my brand new chainsaw to take down a tree. I gave him a sharp axe instead. While chopping at the tree, he suffered a heart attack and died, never to bother me again. All the other Chairmen survived their tenure.

The process of educating the Chairmen involved establishing lines of communication such as written reports and memos. I learned quickly that the Chairmen were not interested in technical explanations. They wanted factual information and no surprises. Knowing full well that action speak louder than words, I made it my business to provide a superior product within the limits of the budget. I also kept track of the playing schedule of my chairman and tried to be around at the clubhouse to welcome him and meet his friends.

I learned quickly that the Chairmen were not interested in technical explanations. They wanted factual information and no surprises.

I kept a low profile at committee meetings, listening rather than talking too much. I presented written reports and kept the minutes. Draft minutes were scrutinized by the chairman and sometimes amended before circulating to other committee members.

Nearing the end of the golfing season, when work pressures begin to diminish, I invited the chairman and some carefully selected committee members to visit and play other golf courses and meet my colleagues. Such excursions were ideal opportunities to create lasting friendships that have endured long after my retirement.