The Green illusion

 

Norbert - the turf fox - Lischka, green illusion,

Norbert – the turf fox – Lischka. Click to enlarge

FineGolf is pleased to publish a third article in conjunction with greenkeeper and golf course consultant Norbert Lischka MG on the key subject of the colour of golf courses.

It was only a few years ago when the President of the USGA wrote about how we all love ‘brown’, reflecting the traditional colour of cool climate running-golf courses in the summer, emphasised by the need to conserve water.

While world temps in April dropped 0.5 degrees, Antarctica has a cooling trend and the extent of Arctic ice is back to its previous levels while being thicker,  and though 2017 has started quite dry, there has actually been no drought in GB&I for some time, releasing societal pressure to conserve water.

Nevertheless as Norbert says golf clubs need to plan their long term direction and the sustainable option for both inland and seaside courses is best.

 

The `Green Illusion´

 

Are you familiar with Augusta home of the US Masters, which for many players is the classic example of a perfectly manicured golf course?

Before the season starts at Easter, many northern European golfers dream after seeing ‘The Masters’ on television, of perfect, manicured greens, which is, unfortunately, far from reality. Augusta is closed for months immediately after The Masters to let the course recover from the stresses of its set-up.

Parkland stripes at Wentworth on what used to be in the 1960s a Harry Colt designed fast running heathland course.

To think that their own golf course may provide the same opportunities for so called `perfect playing conditions´, causes members to question how their course is being maintained. This situation can bring the greenkeeper into conflict with the membership. Because the golfers demand something from them that is unsustainable, and yes, unrealistic. If not resolved such differences can lead to serious conflict.

On most newly built courses, Agrostis / Festuca grasses (browntop bent/red fescues – called fine grasses that give firm and dappled coloured surfaces) are chosen for ecological, performance and economic reasons. Because the greenkeeper then tries to please the members by providing green, holding surfaces, annual meadow grass (Poa Annua) becomes the dominant grass species after a period of time. This grass is to be found on the greens of most of the golf courses worldwide and dictates that greenkeepers use an unsustainable, high input, high cost, chemicals based, maintenance programme, because this type of turf is not naturally resistant to disease nor drought.

The solution to this problem is clear: Any greenkeeper who wants green grass usually uses water, fertilizer and  chemicals in abundance. Now the responsible, straight-thinking greenkeeper faces a dilemma:

They pleased the members in the short term, but in the long term they let the wrong grasses strengthen. If they follow their conscience about sustainability and its ecological requirements, they will have to make a difficult decision regarding their approach to course management.

There is need for more information.  (FineGolf’s ‘Running-Golf Day’ in partnership with Notts GC at Hollinwell on Sept 4th is on attempt to provide it) If the greenkeeper does not change the way they manage their turf, the golfers will soon meet different conditions. Soft, green and slow putting surfaces make the game less attractive than firm and not so green surfaces. Such green surfaces will not be playable throughout the whole year.

The golfers wish for true, firm putting surfaces through the year is well known.

If the greenkeeper tries to fulfill the idea that a lush green putting surface is good, the quality of the green usually falls by the wayside. Certainly ‘green’ greens will never provide the faster putting speeds demanded these days, unless the greens are shaved ever lower, thereby stressing the grass further and creating the vicious cycle of the need for more water, fertilizer and chemicals to stop the grass from dying.

Disease ridden ‘weed’ Poa annua among clean ‘fine’ Browntop bent

The very shallow-rooted, spring-seeding annual meadow grass (Poa Annua) is susceptible to disease. It needs multiple chemical applications each year, just to protect this undesirable ‘weed’ grass from total failure.  In this situation many golf clubs have to deal with increased costs in addition to the necessary extra mechanical maintenance and the additional expense for fertilizer, water and chemicals.

All this is not in the interest of the members, committees and golf associations at home or abroad.

To break this vicious circle, it needs hard work, and targeted use of, for example hand watering. However, this is only possible by adequately staffed greenkeeping teams, but it is here that spending of money will be saved.

The question remains, what happens if the EU bans chemicals for golf courses, as the national authorities in Denmark already have done, with Holland moving that way? What lies ahead are probably restrictions on water consumption.

To be realistic, the majority of our greenkeeping of Poa annua lacks the arguments that might resist this inevitable momentum towards sustainability.

The only logical consequence for this problem is for the Greenkeeper to go back to more traditional, austere, natural, ecological, conservationist and economic golf course maintenance.

For the golfer this results in a new color palette, a mix of green, yellow and brown colour rather than greened-up grass. It usually performs better, as well as being a healthy alternative putting surface to what the `Green Illusion´ offers.

 

This article was written by Norbert Lischka – The Turf Fox – in conjunction with FineGolf.  www.der-rasenfuchs.de – lischka@der-rasenfuchs.de – 0049/177 3330356