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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Brown Is Better Than Green When It Comes To Golf

Trent Bouts golf column: A little brown can do a whole lot of good


The British Open returns next month, a championship Tiger Woods last won in 2006.
Back then England was in the grip of a sustained dry spell and, sun-baked and thirsty, Royal Liverpool Golf Club looked like a baked potato. Yet it played like velvet.
Tiger outplayed the field that year partly because he adapted best in what The Associated Press called "the brown Open." Gone were the booming drives and aerial darts lobbed at flags from high in the heavens. Instead, he used his driver just once, in the first round, and bumped and ran his approach shots like skipping stones on a pond.

Sheer length off the tee lost the stranglehold it commands on most American golf courses and instead locating the tee shot became everything.The Brits loved it and so did Tiger.
But if any golf course superintendent rolled out a course looking like that in Myrtle Beach this summer he'd be out of a job overnight.
Americans love green in their golfing diet. In truth, most are addicted to it and regard anything less than sage as a sorry state of affairs. In reality, it's that attitude that is sorriest.

Generally speaking, the color of grass has nothing to do with how it performs as a playing platform. Sure, sometimes a brown spot might indicate sick turf or create an uneven surface. But particularly with bermudagrass, the predominant grass cover in Grand Strand golf, degrees of green or shades of brown are irrelevant in anything but a cosmetic sense. That is why, a few years back, Golf Digest magazine was comfortable and confident adjusting the criteria by which its panelists rate course quality. Courses are now rewarded for "fast, firm and rolling" fairways ahead of "overindulgent cosmetics" like striped mowing patterns and so on.

As the landmark report, Troubled Waters: Golf's Future in a Thirsty World, produced by the National Golf Course Owners Association, declared: "Those who understand golf and turf maintenance know that color alone has little or nothing to do with playing conditions.

"Instead, it is the cover of the turf that matters."

What is sad about the obsession with green is its impact on the cost of the game and the nature of how it's played. Keeping bermudagrass uniformly green here in summer requires a lot of water. Few, if any, courses in Myrtle Beach use potable supplies for irrigation but they all pay for the electricity it takes to pump that juice around the place. They also pay for the wear, tear and repairs on their irrigation system, which is expensive to install in the first place. Irrigated bermudagrass also grows like crazy in heat, requiring more mowing; another expensive exercise.

We should not kid ourselves that golf course owners are going to go broke shielding us from those costs. One study found that it cost about $28,000 a year to maintain the average golf hole in 1990 and nearly $115,000 in 2008. At least part of the reason for that hike stems from golfer expectations fueled by the elite game's increased television presence and frantic one-upmanship between courses during the boom of the '90s. Along the way golfers paid the bill with higher green fees or membership dues.

Golfers also experience a "cost" when a course is so lush that the only way to get a ball to the green is in the air. Their game becomes one-dimensional because that bump and run option, which requires imagination and provides opportunity for exciting shot-making, is removed.

This is not good news for older golfers who can't hit the ball as far or those with limited ability who struggle to get the ball aloft consistently. And that should be a worry for the industry because an enormous segment of the U.S. golfing population fits those categories.
As such, now might be a good time for U.S. course owners and golfers alike to consider: "What can [a little] brown do for you?"

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