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.
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.
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.
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.