Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Green Golf?

Published in the Las Cruces Sun News on 23 April 2010 and titled:

In 40 years, golf course conditions have improved by leaps and bounds

By Mary Armstrong, Golf Architect

 Global Earth Day celebrated its 40th anniversary yesterday.  The golf industry has gone through many changes during that time.  When I was in High School, I worked at the local Municipal Golf Course.  I remember “dragging” hose for the foreman while he made weekly-sprayed applications of various products to correct and prevent turf diseases on the greens.  I would wear shorts, t-shirt, and no shoes.  I also remember applying “full-strength” 2-4D to weeds in the concrete joints on the Clubhouse Patio.  Things have changed a lot.  We all have a greater awareness of dangerous materials and most of the products that we applied back then are no longer permitted.  In fact today, the chemical half-life of some of the products in use on golf courses is so short that if it needs to reach the turf rootzone or thatch layer, it may become inert before it reaches its target.  Preventive treatments are pretty much a thing of the past and a lot of Superintendents have resorted to spot treatments, especially on roughs, fairways and tees.  Today, anyone that applies chemicals on golf courses, public parks, athletic fields, etc. must be licensed and I believe that most states require an annual reporting of the material, rate, and quantity applied over the year.  Meanwhile, John Q. Public is pumping anything he wants into his lawn at whatever rate he guesses is best, at his own and his neighbors’ risk. 

The United States Golf Association, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, and American Society of Golf Course Architects have special campaigns to address environmentalists’ issues by “greening” the industry and informing members of the benefits that they should promote when the opportunity presents itself.  According to the USGA’s website, since 1983 the Association has supported more than 400 university research projects at a cost of more than $30 million.

In the area of turf species, there are endless cultivars available of most any of the turf types you may need and there is recent progress in introducing new cultivars of species previously thought of as non-turf types.  Poa annua, Seashore paspalum, and Buffalograss are among them.  The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) conducts comprehensive quality ratings on in-use and newly introduced cultivars on a monthly basis.  Their ratings are invaluable to seed companies for marketing and sales information, but more importantly, specifiers and end users depend on NTEP for specific characteristic evaluations.  NTEP has been invaluable in helping people like me select the proper cultivar for the climate and microclimate of the site.  In turn, the turf on golf courses and other sports fields require less irrigation, less fertilization and fewer pesticide treatments.

All this has led golf courses to be considered one of the best “built environment filters” of pollutants.  The thick turf found on golf courses slows water movement, allowing more water to filter through the root mat into the soil and eventually replenishing the water table.  This is especially true on the sandy soils that are preferred for golf courses.

Golf Course irrigation has also made significant strides.  In the last fifteen to twenty years irrigation manufacturers, such as Toro, Rainbird and Hunter, have developed systems and components that emphasize water conservation.  They have done this with super-engineered spray nozzles, individual sprinkler head control and smaller coverage areas per head.  These technological advancements have not only saved water they have improved turf quality by improving water distribution uniformity.  Better water distribution uniformity in turn improves the effectiveness of chemical applications, if they are needed. 

If any part of the golf course epitomizes the environmental and conditioning improvements the industry has seen; it’s the putting green.  Forty years ago the stimpmeter (which measures green speed) had not been invented.  However, my memory is that we mowed mostly at right around a quarter of an inch, perhaps just a smidge less.  I doubt those greens would have topped out at more the 7 or so on the stimpmeter.  Today, with superior cultivars and cultural practices, bentgrass greens are mowed at half that amount and sometimes less.  It seems that most players enjoy faster greens and that has become a standard of excellence.  This is unfortunate, because fast greens are ordinarily unhealthy greens.  The putting greens you see on television are groomed specifically for that four to six day event.  Often, the course receives no play for a period of time before the tournament and much pampering and rest after.  Players should actually be asking for smoother greens, after all – really – most of you can’t handle fast greens anyway.  Smooth greens provide a truer roll that will more often reward you with a holed putt when you’ve read the green and stroked the ball properly. 

In the last forty years golf course conditioning in general has improved markedly.  In my estimation, golf’s environmental “imprint” has improved even more.  Technology has given us the tools, but your golf course superintendent has put the tools to good use.  The golf course superintendent profession has grown to be widely respected, with many well-educated, industrious and hard working individuals.  The next time you see your superintendent be sure to say “hi” and thank him or her for a job well done.  He or she prepares a wonderful playing surface while using ecologically sound land management, protecting you and the natural resources of the golf course.

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