Every industry has its iconic characters. In the UK few would argue Old Tom Morris, Jim Arthur and Walter Woods are not icons among greenkeepers. In the US for me we have Sherwood Moore, Oscar Miles, Ted Woehrle, and my personal favorite, Wayne Otto. In Australia there is Claude Crockford.
Crockford was the greenkeeper at the Royal Melbourne for 40 years from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. In 1993 he published “The Complete Golf Course: Turf and Design” as both an homage to Royal Melbourne and practical guide for the next generation interested in the lost art of low-tech greenkeeping.
I was able to observe the “art of turf laying” during my visit with Richard Forsyth that mirrored the chapter in Crockford’s book. In speaking about the need for renovating putting surfaces he discusses the need to remove the organic mat below the surface and goes on to remind, “despite the poor underlying conditions the grass usually remains quite healthy on the surface, a fact that will prove beneficial to the turf after relaying.”
Crockford would carefully strip the sod by hand, a process he describes in explicitly specific details, so as to ensure the exact contours of the greens can be restored. After stripping the sod, any organic layer would be removed and replaced with properly specified rootzoone material. The sod would then be meticulously relaid and within a ten days open for play.
I can think of several courses I have visited over the years where this approach would have made sense. More often than not we rush to rid ourselves of annual bluegrass when it might be performing well. We may have a good stand of bentgrass or Bermudagrass but notice the rootzone not performing well. Is a complete renovation needed or can we simply strip out the layers and re-lay the sod?
Surely this would be considered a throw-back approach reminding us of the artistry lost on modern day golf turf maintenance, to which Crockford might simply respond as he does at the close of his book, “you cannot just let it happen, you must make it happen.”