When discussing the “Future of golf”, and the environmental, playability, and sustainability questions, is it possible the biggest, most important questions have been ignored?
Most people, and most greenkeepers, try their best. When talking daily golf maintenance, superintendents are under enormous time pressure. Virtually most of their tasks are expected to be done before the first golfers arrive.
This “beat the clock” mentality creates serious conflicts for greenkeepers as they are often forced to work under less than optimal weather conditions; often wet conditions caused by dew, rain or excessive irrigation. Many don't realise it, but working with wet soil is ideal for causing damage to the course and producing less than ideal results. Soil compaction, rutting, tears in the grass, clumps of grass clippings, poor mowing quality, increased fuel consumption and machine wear and tear is the end result – it is neither productive, efficient, nor the model for sustainability.“
This “beat the clock” mentality creates serious conflicts for greenkeepers.
All work done under wet conditions produces the greenkeeper’s devil… compaction… and tens of thousands of Euros of extra cost annually in order to repair the damage to soil structure. The additional work required increases disturbance to those playing the golf course. If clubs clearly understood the problem, it is difficult to imagine that they would want this situation. The alternative? Allow greenkeepers the opportunity to deliver first-class work under dry conditions. The club and their members must decide.
Every member would like their annual dues to be spent effectively. If clubs alter their perspective slightly, showing more understanding and flexibility to allow greenkeepers to begin work such as mowing a few hours later - say after 10 in the morning, through the afternoon, or in the evening - they would see better results and help eliminate or reduce the compaction that causes such serious problems.
The golfer’s desire for green colour is another serious problem to the greenkeeper in achieving good playing conditions. Deep green, soft, dense turf is not ideal at all!
Greens and their surrounds suffer most from soft and lush conditions. The consequence of the heavy and concentrated traffic produced by both golfers and machines over such turf results in greens becoming uneven, inconsistent roll of the ball, soil compaction and disease.
“Green and soft” causes problems, problems and more problems, by inviting disease and the wrong types of grasses and plants to thrive. A green and soft golf course is begging to become a series of disease ridden problems. It is neither good ecologically nor the model of sustainability.
A healthy plant leaf, is often light green, yellow, purple or brown! These lean plants have root systems that are deep and healthy. Lush green grass by comparison usually has a weak, shallow root system, the result of too much nitrogen and water. The plant is lazy, having no need for its root system to seek moisture and nutrients.
If one studies the truly great golf courses, you’ll find the turf is lean, the soils firm but not compacted, and surfaces are dry and fast, not slow, soft and wet. Firm and fast is cost effective, and more fun to play golf upon. You save on fertlisers, chemicals, fuel, machine and irrigation system repairs, water costs, and electricity.
As regulations get tougher, as chemicals are taken off the market, coping with the consequences of soft, green and wet ground has become the nightmare scenario for many golf club's. Nearly all symptoms (especially soil compaction and the resulting grass diseases) are the direct result of applying too much fertiliser and water, and treating the resulting diseased turf with chemicals. New legislation makes it more difficult for golf clubs to continue down this road and may be one of the drivers towards more sustainable management.
A New Maintenance Direction could be a milestone for your golf club, and golf in general.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not, necessarily, those of The R&A.