Road Hole Shorts

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Archive for August, 2011

NMSU’s Turfgrass Research – working for the future of golf

By: Mary Armstrong

Posted in the Las Cruces Sun-News 8/5/2011


By any other name, grass – spinach, cabbage, grunkel, graminoid – is still grass. But do you appreciate grasses for the extremely diverse and versatile organisms that they are? After all, we don’t just use grasses for sports turf, we make beer, whisky, paper, clothing, flooring, and insulation from them. Bamboo and cereals are actually closely related to the sports turf you’ll be playing on this weekend.

I sat down the other day with NMSU Associate Professor Dr. Ryan Goss at his Skeen Hall office to see what’s been happening in turfgrass research. While there is no official designation, Dr. Goss and his colleague Dr. Bernd Leinauer carry the NMSU load when it comes to the golf course maintenance industry. The two are known to many former students and their colleagues across the country as the NMSU “Turfgrass Department”.

Both devote half their time to research, while Dr. Goss teaches and Leinauer does extension work for the other half of their positions. Dr. Leinauer’s work takes him to golf courses, playfields, parks and even private homes across the State. As one might expect, both Goss and Leinauer’s research focus is on water use, or rather finding ways to reduce it.

Dr. Goss has been testing and tinkering with various non-pesticide management (often called cultural) practices to minimize water use. The use of wetting agents, plant growth regulators and maintaining optimal fertility levels are ways to reduce water requirements of various turfgrass types. He is fond of the old expression, “the number one way to control weeds is with a healthy turfgrass.” Dr. Goss believes and his research shows that the use of pesticides can be reduced with better cultural practices. He “spreads the gospel” of cultural practices over chemical use through his teaching, writing, and speaking at various conferences and educational seminars. Matt Alcala, Dr. Goss’ graduate research assistant has been pursuing a control of khakiweed, Alternanthera pungens. The weed is persistent with a long tap root, prolific seed production, extreme drought resistance, and a spreading habit in soils where fine turfgrasses struggle. He repeats that maintaining a strong turfgrass stand is the best way to defeat weeds – even the notoriously tenacious khakiweed.

Dr. Leinauer and his research assistants have been testing various types and cultivars of grasses at very low irrigation levels to determine what is the most drought tolerant and where there might be promise for developing even more drought tolerant strains. Test plots of the various trials are registered and available for review in the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program. He also has been exploring the use of drip irrigation in turfgrass applications.

Historically, NMSU has been at the forefront of turfgrass innovation and development. Since the 1950’s turfgrass research has been a part of what is now called the Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences College. In the 80’s, NMSU professor emeritus Dr. Arden Baltensperger developed the first improved, seeded bermudagrass. NuMex Sahara, as it was named, has been used on golf courses and sports fields in semi-tropical and tropical areas all over the world. Previous improved strains of bermudagrass could only be reproduced vegetatively to retain their improved characteristics– through plant parts such as stolons or through the transfer of sod. The availability of a seeded variety that would maintain its improved features proved a boon to NMSU as well as golf courses and sports fields worldwide. Today, NuMex Sahara is distributed through such retailers as Walmart and Lowe’s as well as commercial wholesalers. NMSU has received well over a million dollars in royalties for the NuMex Sahara cultivar.

Later, Dr. Baltensperger developed ‘Princess-77’, which has proven to be competitive with most other seeded bermudagrass varieties, but with a longer growing period into the fall and earlier spring green-up. It also requires less water and has a higher wear tolerance. Aggie Stadium received an overseeding of ‘Princess-77’ in 2003 and the results have been even better than expected. ‘Princess-77’ has been the bermudagrass of choice for several Super Bowl fields. Incidentally, neither Sahara nor Princess is used at New Mexico State Golf Course.

Lately, re-use of water in the form of effluent has become a hot topic. Dr. Leinauer have been testing turf species against highly saline water sources. Bermudagrasses have proven to be most tolerant, but there are some promising results from cool season grasses as well. Here as well as in other southwestern areas, cool season grasses are getting more attention as they produce a better golf surface during the time of year that people want to play golf the most.

Dr. Goss made a point of letting me know who was sponsoring what research. Money from all over the country comes here for their work. The local Golf Course Superintendent’s Association, the Southwest Turfgrass Association and the United States Golf Association, as well as various industry sources have contributed significant sums in support of the NMSU “Turfgrass Department”.

One thing you’ll be happy to know – bamboo isn’t being touted as the golf course rough of the future.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:



Not so fine whines

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 08/19/2011 01:58:00 PM MDT

This year’s PGA Championship lacked the controversial conclusion of “bunker-gate” last year (thank goodness), but controversy is never far away when a major is played.

Perhaps the most mentioned was the 18th hole at Atlanta Athletic Club. The converted par 5 was easily the most difficult par 4 on the course. Add to that it was the finishing hole and you get lots of big numbers followed closely by crying to the media. If the PGA gave away tee prizes at registration they should have included a crying towel designated for use after playing the final hole.

This kind of whining about a hole being too difficult is just too “rich.” Most of us play par 4’s every round that require us to hit a driver and everything we have in the bag and still can’t reach the green. The winner, Keegan Bradley, hit a 2 hybrid and 6 iron to the middle of the green in the playoff.

Perhaps the deeper issue here is that of “par.” The concept of “par” originated in the early part of the 20th century as the score an expert player would expect to achieve on a given hole – always considering two strokes on the green. But the concept of par has given us the kind of controversies that the 18th did and perhaps even restricted the golf architect’s pallet in creating great golf holes. It has long been accepted that golf holes that fall in the “no-man’s land” of lengths are controversial and for many years they were avoided.

Before the latest escalation in shot lengths, the USGA’s guidelines for par/hole lengths made holes up to 250 yards par 3’s, while holes between 251 yards and 470 yards were par 4’s. This meant that holes between about 230 and 270 yards were regarded as a poor hole, as were holes between about 450 and 490 yards. These are sometimes refered to as “in-between” holes as they might more easily be described with – stroke pars. Today, you can probably multiply those yardages by about 110 percent to account for equipment improvements.

These “in-between” holes are actually the most exciting for fans – and maybe for players as well. Besides, if all the players scored 4’s on a given hole, regardless of the par, wouldn’t that be boring? To my mind, I want to see lots of variation in scores and these “in-between” holes provide that. Assigning a par value runs counter to creating holes that are exciting.

Phil Michelson’s observation that the course wasn’t member friendly is one of those “duh” moments, but the tee sets designed by Rees Jones do allow for players to select a length that fits their game. However, the two longest sets – 7,603 and 7,304 yards – should probably be “retired” as I doubt any member will play them more than once. True, the course has many punishing bunkers and more lakes than Minnesota. But what major championship course considers the members as much more than an afterthought anyway. Truth be told, Michelson’s pronouncement of all that is wrong with the Atlanta Athletic Club’s Highlands Course was simply a self-serving “look at me” since he has begun to dabble in design himself.

During Open week, Tim Rosaforte, who writes for Golf Digest, broke the story that Sir Nick Faldo has been promoting the idea of the last eighteen major winners designing each of the proposed eighteen Olympic Golf Course holes in Brazil. Greg Norman, probably one of the more accomplished celebrity designers immediately chimed in with a “logistical nightmare” label. Rosaforte then commented that an old rivalry between Faldo and Norman was rekindled.

In response, Faldo recruited Golf Architect Tom Fazio to do the “backroom” work, which basically amounts to doing all the actual design work – all the plans and managing the project. Fazio indicated that he was interested, but needed to think about it for a few days – my guess is that he would like to wait until it goes away. It’s rare that two architects can work well together. Having eighteen strong personalities to deal with will be disastrous. Mark my words, if this happens, you can double the cost and if it is finished at all, it won’t be in the kind of condition that an Olympic event merits. There’s history between Faldo and Norman, but if we end up with the course that Faldo wants, there’ll be history between lots of the major winners as well.

There’s barely room for the ego of one person in the design of a course – eighteen or more egos? Forget about it.

Finally, Olympic organizers are considering a different competition format. You may recall that I reported the 2016 Olympic golf event would be decided by a 72-hole stroke play tournament. Apparently, Peter Dawson of the International Golf Federation heard our disdain for such an individual approach to an event that is so much about team competition. Dawson has been quoted as saying “perhaps the format is a little stereotyped.” Let’s hope they actually come up with something a little more novel than the usual week to week tour grind provides.

 A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:





A question and answer session for golf

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 08/11/2011 08:16:15 PM MDT


Over the last year and a half that I’ve been writing this column, I occasionally get a question that deserves more than a passing reply. I hope that the answers below are as interesting to you as the questions were to me.

Q: Why doesn’t Las Cruces have any night par 3 courses?

– Linda M., Las Cruces

MA: That is a very good question Linda. What’s more, I can’t find one in the El Paso area either. A lighted par 3 course is a terrific solution to our fairly warm summer temperatures and extends our winter golf day so that you can get a quick round in after work. A 9-hole par 3 course, with holes from 90 to 210 yards can occupy as little as 25 acres and a “pitch and putt” course even less. A par 3 or executive length course will ordinarily offer a fairly flat site for an easy walk; some courses don’t offer motorized carts at all.

My experience has been that artificial lighting can’t reproduce the feel of playing golf during the day. Our senses don’t react the same way and therefore we do not feel as comfortable judging distances and contours. This can be especially confusing when reading greens. But, a well-conceived short course can be very successful as it offers a less time consuming alternative and also presents a transitional experience for people that enjoy the game, but are intimidated by a regulation length course.

Lighting a course can be tricky, but there have been tremendous advances in understanding the effects of artificial lighting and in lighting technology over the past twenty years. Light pollution is handled much more completely and far less expensively than in the past.

Q: Some golf courses advertise their signature hole. How do they choose it and why do they choose it? What’s the point of a signature hole?

– Viann B., Las Cruces

MA: Signature hole-itis has bitten the golf industry hard. According to at least one online dictionary, signature means “a distinctive mark, characteristic, or sound indicating identity.” Basically, a signature hole is the hole someone thinks represents the experience of playing a particular golf course. We all have our opinions of what the signature hole might be on a golf course. When an owner or managing entity chooses a signature hole they want you to believe it represents the experience that a patron will have when they come play there. If you believe that, then I’ve got water front property at White Sands to sell you.

More often, the hole is the most beautiful, challenging, or well-maintained. Signature holes have become a marketer’s hype. Once golf courses began using the signature hole hype to hawk their course, golf architects began trying to fulfill the hysteria with EIGHTEEN SIGNATURE HOLES. Signature hole-itis is another one of those factors that has escalated the cost of the game. As a designer, I want every hole to be memorable. That’s easy to achieve when you spend upwards of a 1/2 million dollars on each hole, as some have. If we could get back to only a few signature hole candidates, the game would be more affordable and most likely, more fun.

 Q: I hear the announcers on TV talk about swing speed and ball velocity. Is that important information and why?

– Arthur L., New York, NY

MA: At first glance, I wasn’t sure this was a question for my comment, but after considering it for a while, swing speed and ball velocity are important to me as a designer and should be important to all you players out there as well. All other factors being equal, the faster the swing speed, the longer the shot. A ball struck squarely and precisely on the club will transfer maximum energy to the ball. Golf ball manufacturers have been fine tuning various characteristics to make the ball accept as much of that energy as possible and then release it in a way that results in the ball traveling as far as possible, within the USGA and R and A’s rules.

Actually, as a designer I’m more interested in the range of shot lengths by players with different skill levels. I use that knowledge in placing tees in order to give players a starting point that allows them to play each hole with a chance to make par. The intent of creating different teeing locations has been to reduce the importance of power and increase the importance of getting the most out of each players respective swing speed. Discounting the short game for the purposes of this point, if you play from the correct tee set for your swing speed and you are hitting the ball squarely consistently, you should be playing the game at near par regularly. This is doubly important for players to realize because often the HARDER you try to hit the ball, the SLOWER your swing speed and the more erratic your contact with the ball.

How can players find out their swing speed? Most any pro shop or golf professional has the tools to determine your swing speed. I would like to see each course set up a “swing speed station” (sss) near the first tee that allows the starter to measure each player’s swing speed and then recommend a tee set for them. Requiring players to play from the swing speed recommended tee set isn’t necessary – peer pressure will suffice.

Q: What the heck is the 90 degree rule?

– Tara W., Manchester, N.H.

MA: The 90 degree rule goes into effect when the temperature reaches 90 degrees – that’s when all my playing partners must buy me a drink! Actually, we don’t see it much out in this area, but the 90 degree rule is basically a compromise between carts on paths only and letting carts go anywhere. Cart’s are restricted to paths until they get opposite their ball (90 degree angle) and then you can turn and go directly to your ball. Once you have played the shot, you must return again directly to the path.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:





Golf Course Architect – designer or entertainment professional?

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 07/29/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

Forgive me if it seems I’m being vain, but Golf Course Architecture, above most other design disciplines has enjoyed an historic recognition of individual designers unparalleled in other design fields. The profession is filled with historic and contemporary quirky characters and entertaining stories. The influx of professional golfers into the ranks has only enforced the perception that golf architects are special. When I arrive at a new project, I sometimes feel the client is disappointed if I’m not eccentric or at least on the crazy side of normal. In other words, some entertaining is expected. Fortunately, my song and dance has been pretty good.

This all results in golf architects celebrity being a couple points shy of a five pointed star. It’s easy to understand the hype as golf architects are not only allowed, but paid handsomely to play in a 200 acre sandbox, sometimes without interruption or intervention by the client. Media and lore seemingly ties our creations to our persona. In some circles our creations are admired and “collected” with even more vigor and fanaticism than art collectors pursue a Van Gogh or Rembrandt. Where does this notoriety come from in Golf Course Architecture? Was it the public’s adoration of Ross’ creations?

Muirhead’s unrelenting personal expressionism? Never ending stories of Tillinghast’s adventures? Bendelow’s twelve stakes on a Sunday afternoon? Or perhaps the globe-trotting persona of Robert Trent Jones? Whatever the derivation, we as a profession have never discouraged this type of publicity and many have gone out of their way to encourage it.

Sadly, today we hear all kinds of discussion about what’s wrong with golf. More than occasionally that involves, “golf is becoming too expensive”. There are lots of reasons that golf is becoming more expensive – most of which are out of the hands of golf architects. Below is a short list of things that we designers don’t control that often elevates the cost of golf and sometimes ends up in financial ruin for the facility.

– A clubhouse that is too large, expensive to maintain, or requires a mostly idle staff.

– A poor site – meaning location, soils or topography

– A real estate developer that wants to sell houses, not operate a golf course for profit.

I’ve hammered real estate developers in this column before. I understand that their intention is to produce a profit and golf course communities have historically produced stronger profits even while spending exorbitant fees for celebrity designers. In turn the celebrity designers go over budget because they don’t have the design experience of true design professionals.

Golf Course Architecture, perhaps more than any design discipline that I know, requires a strong knowledge in a diverse range of subjects such as civil engineering, landscape architecture, agronomy, and of course the game itself. And yet the public’s attachment to celebrity results in project after project being designed by a “name” – one that doesn’t have that knowledge or experience. The best case scenario is the “name” has able assistants that cover for the “name”. The worst case is that the “name” has such an ego that he or she does the “arm waiving thing” and blows the budget with a golf course that no one can play or maintain. Believe me, it happens.

Celebrity golf architect or not, we as the designers of the “game boards” must pay closer attention to the every day player’s declining purchasing power. Here are some things that I would like to see golf architects promote to hold the line on costs:

– Stay within budget – the construction budget should be relatively easy to meet, but the resulting maintenance budget is more elusive and all too often hardly considered.

– In the last 20 years, the trend has been to opening day conditions that are perfect. Indeed, most courses built today will never be better than the day they open. The industry needs to retract from this trend and encourage owners to reduce costs by delaying excessive work until the project has proven itself and cash flow can support improving conditions or adding niceties. In the old days a course had to mature – we should go back to that standard.

– The enormous earth moving capability and large construction budgets have reduced the skill required by golf architects in course routing. It has also made horrible golf courses out of undesirable property.

– Hold the ego in check. There was a time when “signature hole” was usually one of a few holes that were especially dramatic, aesthetic or strategic. Today many courses have 18 signature holes.

Above all, keep golf courses fun – if the Architect is trying to prove something – most often he or she will bring your game to its knees.

Something different

I’m going to do a column soon that answers questions you might have for me. If you’ve already submitted a question, thanks very much. If not, you may by emailing

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:

Links golf – it’s a different experience

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 07/21/2011 03:46:59 PM MDT

Those of you that watched at least some of the recently concluded British Open got to see a very good example of links golf.

During recent Opens, I don’t believe we’ve seen the depth of the links golf experience that we saw this year. There was wind, rain, drizzle and bright sunshine – sometimes all within a few minutes. If there’s any place on earth that can say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes,” it’s the British coasts (excuse me Mr. Twain).

But links golf, as you saw was about even more than that. Crazy bounces, bunkers your father would need a hand to get out of, rough everywhere and those munchkin flagsticks. Then there are the bunkers that act like magnets as the contours direct balls into them, plus fairways and greens so firm you can bounce a quarter off them – excuse me, a 20 pence piece. And what the heck are those dark-edged circles on the greens? To my mind, links golf is far more complicated, interesting and challenging than our American point-to-point aerial game.

Watching Darren Clarke overmatch the weather and course with imagination and skilled shot making was thrilling. I remember seeing Clarke play in a number of other events, but I don’t recall ever seBandeing him appear so comfortable, even as Phil Michelson bore down on his lead in the early going of the final round. To my mind, Clarke made quite nice ham and cheese on rye out of Royal St. Georges (at Sandwich, England – sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Speaking of links golf, about a month ago I was attempting to qualify for the Women’s Amateur Public Links. The excitement of playing in a national championship was an enticement, but I was also very excited to have the opportunity to play links golf at Bandon Dunes Golf Links in Oregon. I didn’t qualify, but I still want to go to Bandon someday. Other links courses I’d like to play are and the Nebraska Dunelands courses, the Kansas Dunelands – Prairie Dunes specifically – and, of course, Kiawah Island. It is my understanding though that Bandon is closest to replicating the great links courses of Britain.

There was an interesting article in the USGA Green Section Record this week about Bandon Dunes and how its extraordinary setting and unusual features required special rules and rulings for the Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship. For starters, turf on the courses at Bandon Dunes is nearly 100 percent fine fescues. This varies slightly from the British links courses, I believe, because they rely on native grasses – fescues and some bentgrasses. The fine fescues at Bandon Dunes (specifically the Old MacDonald and Bandon Trails Courses) are cultivated varieties, and the greens are predominantly red and chewings fescue. The climate of the Oregon coast suits these species and varieties, and sensitive management practices allow the greens to be mowed at .200 or just under a quarter of an inch. Mowing the greens at this height at any of the courses around Las Cruces would most likely result in golfers going elsewhere, but because the fine fescues are so finely textured, they offer less resistance to the ball and green speeds of 10.5 to 11.25 on the stimpmeter were maintained. Most creeping bentgrass greens are mowed at about .125 (1/8″) plus or minus a few hundredths.

The downside is fine fescues are notoriously sensitive to wear. Carts are not permitted on the courses at Bandon Dunes. In fact, even maintenance practices are affected by the turf’s fragility. Divots are filled by walking wide-tire pull carts mounted with five-gallon buckets of divot mix down the fairways. These sacrifices to maintenance expediency and efficiency are made in order to reproduce the most authentic links golf in America. Perhaps the most conspicuous feature visible to the every-day player is the lack of a defined green edge. The sensitivity of the fescues to wear resulted in the Old MacDonald Course Superintendent eliminating the “clean-up pass” around the greens. This means that the back and forth mowing pattern that we all recognize for its distinctive alternating light and dark green bands blends into the surrounding turf. This has caused some problems for rules interpretations and so the USGA decided to provide players with a painted dotted line defining the edge of the greens.

Wear around greens isn’t a problem peculiar to fine fescue turf. Green complex design (the green, associated bunkers, cart paths and landforms) tend to funnel foot and cart traffic. The most common problem occurs when cart paths are installed after the course is built and bunker edges become worn because players cannot walk directly through the bunker when moving from cart to flagstick and vice versa. You can imagine that this type of wear on fine fescue would be disastrous and since riding carts aren’t allowed, pull carts are heavily used. What to do? Well, instead of having the green edges heavily worn as players “drag” or push the hand carts around the edges, players are allowed to roll wide-tire hand carts across the greens. This is ordinarily a serious no-no at any other course, but strongly encouraged at Bandon Dunes.

By the way, those dark green circles on the greens at Royal St. Georges – they’re called fairy rings. Way back, folks thought that mushrooms growing in a circle followed the path of fairies dancing in a round. In actuality, the rings are a fungus. The mycelium of the fungus is underground and it grows out in an every expanding circle. The short version is that the dark area is benefiting from the fungus’ growth and it shows that as a darker color.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: