Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A Discussion of “How Green is Golf?” by John Barton – Part 3 of 5


“The Golf Course Architect” Michael Hurdzan

“Opponents of golf believe it’s an unnatural environment, and that we use too much water, fertilizer, pesticides and fossil fuels to maintain plant material in an unnatural state.”

Mike goes on to defend golf as being under attack because it is a symbol of development but I’m not sure that’s true anymore. I don’t think we’re seen as gobbling up land as much as people fear golf being a detriment to the environment. Mike later on agrees with the criticism of golf using too much water. When faced with the solution to the problem of water use he points to the development of new types of turfgrass that can survive less water or thrive in grey water. I can see his point when he goes on to mention Seashore Palspalum - but we really don’t have a new grass that accomplishes this in cool season grasses and many of the latest grasses require higher maintenance.

“We’re going to keep developing better grasses that require less water, pesticide, fertilizer – that’s the trend”

He talk a lot about the complications of approvals and points out that often people use misinformation about what golf courses do - and get away with it - because most people at hearings don’t have the scientific background to realize that many claims of golf courses being a risk to the environment is simply scare tactics used by the environmentalists to stop development. When pressed about the pesticide use Mike makes the analogy about there being a fine line between medicine and poison and that careful application is the key to safety.

Mike one interesting angle is when he talks about the golf course as a positive form, citing recreational space and the role it has taken in reclaiming sites. Mike’s Widow’s Walk project is mentioned in the article and certainly represents everything that golf can do to transform a lost site. He does a good job trying to on one hand defend golf and on the other still acknowledge the problems we all face. The only time he loses me when he suggests GPS mowers without operators are in our future too.

“The Grass Expert” James Snow

When asked if we could go British Style (my question to superintendents all winter as I researched) he simply answered that its not possible because the British Isles have the climate that is conducive to growing turfgrass and we don’t. He continues on with a detailed list of nasty pests and weeds that the US course will almost certainly face and that the typical UK course never needs to fear.

“In the UK the problems are minor. They have the right climate, they don’t have the problems we have with weed, with insects, with disease, and they don’t even have to irrigate their fairways.”

The other assertion he makes is that the American golfer is not yet ready for that change. He mentions if they don’t get what they want they are not going to buy it. That the culture remains that once the conditions improve, the reaction is to ask for even more improvement. The problem - of course - has lead to us to a point where turf is being pushed to the edge and any desired reduction in inputs will certainly take its toll on the turf and also the stability of a superintendent’s position. James is a remarkable reality check to people like me clamoring for change – now – telling us to understand that the golfers will resist this harshly and won’t lower their expectations.

When confronted with the pesticide issue James is blunt.

“Well you’d rather not have any if you had a choice, but your not going to have a golf course if you don’t use some.”

He goes on to talk about limited use and many other aspects of studies similar to Dr. Grant’s work. I would suggest you go to my “Future of Golf in Canada” series if you need further information on the realities of trying to go without pesticides on a typical parkland course. Here is the one on pesticides: http://thecaddyshack.blogspot.com/2008/03/future-of-golf-course-architecture-in_11.html

One of the more interesting aspects of Jim’s interview is his stance on water. He agrees with smarter use, more effluent water, better grasses etc – but at the same time points out golf is a 65 billion dollar industry and should be treated like all other industries that require water to survive. You can’t ask golf to cut drastically like they did in Georgia recently (10% of normal use!) and not ask Coca Cola to do the same. He says that the visibility of what they do makes them standout when other industries use a great deal of water too - and need to also share the reductions. He points out that water will clearly be the key issue going forward and uses the declining aquifer in Las Vegas as a great example. He says the loss of golf is inconsequential compared to the eventual need to relocate people as the aquifer dries up.

Milton, outside Toronto froze growth until they finally arranged a water connection to Lake Ontario so that they would not put undue pressure on their aquifer. I’m surprised that Palm Springs, Vegas, and Phoenix haven’t had development frozen if the statistics are true about the declining resource in each community.

17 comments:

Matt said...

I found Hurdzan's comments interesting, especially regarding the different type of grasses that can be used that require less water.

I just got back from Palm Coast and the Tom Watson-designed Conservatory Course at Hammock Beach uses Palspalum throughout the course. I find it interesting that a course that obviously had a design budget that was through the roof (I can only imagine the amount of earth that was moved for that venture) is being sensible about the type of turf it uses to keep their maintenance fees down.

I also understand that Palspalum can't really grow into long strands, limiting the amount of growth in the rough. Watson commented on this in an interview I read and said he had to build the Conservatory at 7700+ yards to combat the lack of rough on the course.

henrye said...

Ian. I'm not sure I just accept the notion that the UK is conducive to turfgrass growth and North America isn't. Is the climate really that different everywhere in North America? The west coast of canada seems pretty wet and temperate. So does the east coast. Are the UK soils unique? - they have courses on the coast & inland & on different soils.

Seems to me, Mr. Snow dismisses the issue too easily. His assertion that "the American golfer is not yet ready for that change" may be true, but that can also change.

Ian, You've cited the research and opinions of others on this, but I'd be interested in your thoughts. Sorry if you've expressed them already and I've missed it.

Matt said...

Bah! I didn't finish off my point!

My question is this: will the problems with water shortages end up meaning that growing suitable length rough will be problematic to the point that new golf courses are all going to have to be built longer to combat the issue?

If so, is that really progress?

www.algarvegolftravel.com said...

here in the algarve the greenkeepers are starting to use recycled water , i hope they keep this up as we lack water quite alot.faro airport transfers and algarve golf bookings

Tom F said...

HenryE

I can't speak about the west coast as I have never lived there, but if you think courses on the east coast can do without winter fungicides in particular you are in a dream world. Most of the east coast is snow covered from December to March and the greens would not be much to putt on in the spring without preventative fungicides being used.

Ian Andrew said...

HenryE,

Dr. Grant's conclusions were that no cultural practice was capable of dealing with the threat and even if they managed to avoid the snow mold or dollar spot another disease like Pythium was always there to finish them off. The greens need some applications to survive.

I think Mr. Snow's point - “Well you’d rather not have any if you had a choice, but your not going to have a golf course if you don’t use some.”- is based upon research and experience. We may wish to remove all pesticides – but this appears to unrealistic up here in this environment

What became interesting with Dr. Grant’s research was they quickly found out that “light” chemical use was almost as successful as an unlimited use of chemicals.

Henrye said...

Tom and Ian. I get it. What I'm having trouble with is the notion that the UK has some unique climactic conditions which allow it to successfully manage minimal pesticide & water usage. I've got to believe that from a climate perspective, there has to be somewhere within North America that is similar (perhaps I am misinformed about the east coast, but there has to be somewhere). If that is the case, then it strikes me that the soil characteristics must be unique or something. I guess what I'm getting at is that I just don't accept that they cannot duplicate the UK practice over here - at least somewhere over here (perhaps Long Island or Matha's Vinyard?). Is it more a matter of climate or soil characteristics or grasses?

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