Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

Upon taking the course, color is everything

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 07/23/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT

It has been said that a golf course is a collection of eighteen masterpieces.

It’s true — the golf aesthetic is a source of beauty, tranquility, drama and emotions that many people associate with art. The elements of design are definitely imbedded in art. Space, line, color, shape, texture and form translate into a three-dimensional art form. But one of the unique aspects of golf is in the ability of the player to become a part of the composition; to put him or herself inside the art and compete within it. Perhaps this is the reason that just about anyone that tries it is hooked.

So about now you’re probably asking yourself, “how is color everything?” After all, a golf course is 95 percent green, right? Yes, let’s hope so. But, the different shades of green are key. Light and dark, bright and dull. these variations in the color green, along with the splash of bunker sand and hopefully the deep blue of a lake define lines and shapes, and enhance or diminish forms.

Whether a course has warm season grasses in the fairways and roughs (primarily Bermuda) as does the New Mexico State Golf Course and Las Cruces Country Club or cool season grasses (primarily bluegrass, ryegrass, fescues and bentgrass) is a consideration as well. For several reasons, bermudagrass has been relatively consistent in its coloring — mostly a medium hue. Some of the newer, finer bermudas are a little darker, but often, the more coarse texture of the older common bermuda causes it to look darker than it is. So, the possibilities of color on courses with warm season grasses are somewhat diminished.

Cool-season grasses on the other hand have had a wide range of hues associated with the greater number of grass species that provide a suitable playing surface. Therefore, cool season grasses provide a much more flexible palette with which to “paint” golfing masterpieces. If you have recently been watching golf on television, you may have seen some very good examples of this at Aromonink Golf Club (ATT Championship on the Men’s tour) and at Oakmont Country Club (US Women’s Open).

Golf technology is most often associated with the equipment used to play the sport. However, the technology involved in selecting and engineering turf grass seed has had a large impact on the creation of the “postcard” views that most of the public sees on weekly golf telecasts. Unfortunately, the technology and methods used for judging qualities of new species is decidedly oriented away from a good array of hues. Therefore, our palette is gradually shrinking.

While I’ll admit to thinking more about how a hole plays when I’m designing, I am absolutely gaga over the visual impact of a light (some might say bright) green bentgrass fairway and tees against the dark green of a “blue-rye” rough. The contrast is simply sublime. The resulting fairway/rough line can direct the eye, frame the view, create drama or sooth the soul.

But for all technology has done for the game, it’s failed us in our quest for ever more beautiful, maintainable and environmentally friendly turf. Every year there are countless turf trials where new cultivars of all the different species are judged. Susceptibility to disease, turf density, drought resistance and other factors are judged along with color. Genetic color is judged on the basis of 1 (the lowest rating) being light green and 9 being dark green. This rating system is across the board — for all species.So seed researchers and growers select cultivars for growing and distribution based upon this rating system. Of course it’s only one of several factors in the rating of varieties, but there’s no telling what we might have in the way of varieties that were dragged down by nothing more than a lighter color. I’ve been lobbying for more light colored Kentucky Bluegrass and Ryegrass varieties for nearly 15 years. I guess it could be a lifelong quest.

Some of you might be a little more on the practical side and could be wondering why you should care. There’s much more at stake than aesthetics. A golf course that has easily identifiable fairway and rough edges makes it easier for players to visually “mark” where a stray shot was last seen. In turn this can speed play. Also, a golf course that clearly defines positive space (fairways and greens) and negative space (rough, bunkers, desert areas and lakes) makes it easier for a player to focus on the positive spaces. If you doubt this, imagine a situation where you were hitting a drive off a very elevated tee and you can’t see anything but a cloudless blue sky. It would be pretty hard to find an aiming point, don’t you think? The next time you’re at the course, take a moment to reflect on the beautiful masterpiece you might have if the fairways were all a nice bright green and the roughs a deep dark green with splashes of white sand strategically positioned along the way.

A golf architect for over twenty years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, LLC, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.

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