Sunday, June 15, 2014

Thoughts on US Open


Over the past few weeks, leading up to the U.S. Open, I've been increasingly asked about the new look of Pinehurst #2.  In general, reactions to the changes that have taken place are mixed at best.  It seems that you either love it or hate it.  I for one love it.  For a long time, I've lamented the perfect, verdent conditions our member,s and guests, see on TV each weekend.  While I'm sure none of them expect the same conditions at our facility, given our resources, it's impact on our industry is not lost on me.  For decades, golf course conditions on TV have influenced general opinion in this country about what a good golf course should look like.  This is typically referred to as the Augusta Syndrome.  The USGA, to their credit, has had sustainability and water conservation at the forefront of their efforts for several years now and it seems coordinating back to back mens and womens U.S Opens this year at Pinehurst, and next years Men's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, is no accident.  It seems they indend to put firm, fast, and brown courses in front of the masses in hopes of curbbing public opinion.  Will it work?  I hope so.  My biggest hope is that by watching these tournaments, the average golfer will realize that courses don't have to be lush and green to be considered good.  Using a little less water and fertilizer is not only cheaper, it's better for the environment, and playability is often improved.  Drives roll farther, and greens roll faster. 

Now, I realize that not all facilities are going to be able to do what Pinehurst has done, but I believe they must take steps, however small, to reduce their footprint and cut costs.  I think that the ability of any golf course to reduce its inputs depends on it's geography, design, and whether or not they have grasses that are adapted to the area.  Courses in the transition zone with cool-season tees, fairways, and rough, are going to have a very tough time reducing water usage, and other inputs, without losing grass.  Courses like Pinehurst and Chambers Bay, contain grasses that are acclimated for their locations and can withstand a fair amount of environmental stress without dying.  

#14 fairway
Here at Bailey Ranch, we've always been strigent with our inputs.  We rely exclusively on stormwater runoff which forces us to use water sparingly, and limited coverage with our irrigation system causes the turf in the fairways and rough to turn dormant.  The membership has been very accepting of this due to the increase in ball roll in fairways and thinner lies in the rough.  Also, the drier conditions fit nicely into the links design aesthetic of the course.  Over the past few years, our department has converted 10 acres of maintained rough without irrigation coverage to native areas to help further reduce inputs and increase native habitat. 

Many colleagues at courses similar to us will be able to say they're doing, or not doing, the same things that we are, mostly due to budget constraints, but my point is that its nice to finally see a course on TV that isn't perfectly manicured from edge to edge.  Even if their budget is still 2-3 times ours.  It's important for the future of the game that water conservation, and sustainability, not just be talked about, but put on display for the public to see and get comfortable with.

#8 native addition