Friday, March 21, 2008

The Future of Golf Architecture in Canada – Part 6 -

Prairie Dunes

If we begin thinking from the outset that nature will need to be part of our designs and strategies, we open ourselves to touch less of the site, leaving more of the natural features and leave less maintained area. We will start to the blur the line between the natural surroundings and the golf course - like Prairie Dunes does. This will give our courses a greater sense of place - separating it from the typical modern looking course - making the course unique. In turn these courses will become cheaper to build by minimizing earthmoving, reducing the stripping of topsoil, and getting back to more seeding and less sod. We will be building courses that are a more realistic economic model that will allow them to open with lower greens fees and let then the market dictate price. If the course finds it can charge more than the business model, the profits become much greater and the businesses becomes even more of a success.

Old Sandwich

Since our playing fields will get less input – the courses will play firm and fast – so we will need to design courses to accommodate that style of play. The fairways will need more width to accommodate the run in the ball. This will place more emphasis on the rumples and rolls in the land since the ball will bound more. This allows designers to make greater use of the undulation to dictate strategy and reduce the modern reliance on bunkering to dictate strategy. The small rumples and undulations around the greens will become far more important particularly if kept short. This will open up far more options to putt, bump and run or flop around the greens. This helps the average player play to their strengths, but hurts the good player who has to choose between all the options opening the possibility of a poor decision. These courses will need to feature far more greens on grade and be more open in front to allow running approaches. Since the ground is now part of play, the player has the option to either use the land or play a conventional approach to the green which knowing it is more firm and harder to stop a ball on. Either way they need to have both options available in a firm and fast environment.

Barndougle Dunes

Our designs are going to have to have extensive water collection systems and large storage facilities from the outset. Our goal – even if not a requirement – should be close to self-reliance. The approach of collecting everything and distributing it back to the irrigation system will become common practice. That will also allow us to control what leaves the site and prevent any residue from escaping the property. The use of natural filtering for any water collected or more importantly any water leaving the site will help ensure that treatments don’t exit the property. I also see a lot more tree removal to provide far more open green sites – and even those sites can’t have ridges or hills that block the sun – otherwise the low input idea will not work. I think the real future of low input golf is with the turfgrass research industry. They are the ones that will make the greatest stride. Velvet Bent has had very mixed results - but there is no question about the environmental benefits of Velvet. It’s finding the right grasses to do the job.

Thinking outside the box – nothing could be more beneficial than a return to walking courses. Imagine not requiring cart paths, carts and cart storage facilities – that would save a million dollars or more. Think of the benefits to the environment when you think on the big picture. Of course designers will need to return to building walking courses – which would be a great idea since Cart courses generally suck.

Bandon Trails

We all need to change our ideas about what we think is Canadian golf is and realize there are better ways to be more environmentally responsible without compromising the quality of the game. We need to realize that our current state of golf is not sustainable and that a new approach to golf course design and maintenance will be good for all of us in the long term.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Future of Golf Architecture in Canada – Part 5 - British Style Maintenance

St. Andrew's

Eventually Canadian golf will be forced to accept "brown" through changes in legislation, why not do something about it now.

At the Calgary Golf Course Superintendents Conference I was able to ask a number of superintendents about the possibility of going to a British style approach to maintenance - which meant fewer inputs, lower fertility and less water – with a new course. Most loved the idea until I asked about existing courses. The certain saw the benefits and would like to do it but many feared the membership’s reaction the first time the turf went a little brown.

Crystal Down 5th

In reading a recent article by Mike Miller – superintendent of Crystal Downs – He outlined the process and timelines it would take to have a more British approach to turf at Crystal Downs. His feelings were that without re-seeding it would take 10 years to change the turf to accept lower water demand and reduce the need for inputs. The article can be found here:

Brora's 6th - no fairway irrigation

It will be hard for existing courses to convert, but it is a lot easier to plan for it with new designs since there is no existing turf to convert and we start with a blank slate. Why wouldn’t we create a new course ready for a different approach to maintenance and get ahead of the curve.

The only way to make this goal realistic is to provide ideal growing conditions. The reason that British courses require so little input is that they are generally out in the open and on sandy soils. When greens receive full sun they are able to use photosynthesis to make lots of food which makes them less likely to be susceptible to disease and pests. This tells us that if architects want to help make this change in maintenance styles we will need to spend time finding green sites that are excellent places to grow turf. We need to make sure the site is well drained and take down enough trees. This is where we need the authorities to recognize the goal. Since trees are the greatest threat to healthy turf, clearings around greens need to be wide. The authorities will have to support more tree removal on new projects – understanding this is for the greater good.

Alwoody - how we will eventually look

Canadians will need to change their current expectations of wall to wall green because is not sustainable. They will have to understand that turf can be green or brown and still be healthy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Future of Golf Course Architecture in Canada – Part 4 - The Issue of Water

Twenty years ago, the number one question was do you have enough money to build a golf course. Ten years later it became is there enough land left after the environmentally sensitive areas are delineated. The most common question now is do you have a reliable source of water.

To give you some perspective, Calgary is awash with money but the Bow River in Calgary has no water licenses available. It’s not hard to understand why there has only been limited building of new courses throughout the Bow Valley despite the need for golf. Here in Ontario it gets harder each year to get water taking permits. In a candid conversation with a member of one of the Conservation Authorities I was told, “We have water issues – golf courses and farmers are seen as big users. Right now it’s more politically popular to get golf courses to cut their usage first – once that’s done we’ll go after the farmers.” The Ministry on the Environment has often hinted that they may stop issuing permits for wells for golf courses. Water is the number one issue in golf.

The 10th at Copper Creek with main irrigaton pond

Most new courses have been built to minimize the impact of their water taking. They can only use the excess water from the river they’re on during peak flow periods – the rest of the flow is unavailable for use. What that means is taking water from rivers and streams only takes place during spring run and the occasional storm large enough to exceed certain volumes. The golf courses have had to build massive storage ponds that they fill when water becomes available and then supplement that with whatever run-off they can collect. Existing courses are now being asked to work off the same system and those that don’t probably will down the road.

But what about Grey Water you ask. While the available resource is enticing for everyone involved you also have to consider that Grey Water is essentially the water left over from washing dishes, clothes and taking showers. It’s an interesting source unless the levels of soap or salt are high and then it weakens turfgrass with repeated use. Imagine that the more you use the thirstier the plant will become until you get natural rain – add in the fact that salts take up nutrients and you can see why turf can easily decline in this environment. There are more than a few famous Canadian courses with “bad” water where the turf is always under stress – and so is the superintendent.

The 1st at Copper Creek and the massive storage pond

So getting to the future - I think it’s reasonable to look forward and see a future where a new course must supply all its own irrigation through the collection of rainwater and snow melt. We have an example with Copper Creek which can store around 20 million gallons. The drainage network collects 75% of the water that falls onto the site and channels it into the storage ponds. The water is moved around using a combination of pipes and pumps mainly to avoid large fluctuations in the ponds. Supplementing is limited to high peak flows on the Humber but I’m quite convinced they could survive without it although the ponds would likely look a bit empty at times.