Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

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: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

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