I have chosen to build on the major golf tournament theme for this month’s newsletter and what better topic to discuss is there than the British Open just held at Muirfield Golf Club in Scotland-the oldest tournament in golf.
Muirfield Golf Club, Scotland
I really admire how the British take care of their golf courses. In effect, these golf courses are the Augusta National antithesis. While Augusta spends millions to maintain every square foot of the property to deep green perfection, Muirfield (as well as other British Open venues) allow the golf course the blend in with the natural state of the site. Resources are not wasted trying to impress television cameras. If there happens to be a drought or heat wave-so be it. Golfers adjust their game to the conditions and at Muirfield it was definitely not a dart game. I was impressed with Phil Mickelson at the end and how he was able to make the shots that were needed to win-many of which are not really required on many typical American golf courses. All one has to do is look at the photo below to realize just how dry Muirfield was for the tournament and in the end it made for a great test of golf. A course does not need to be green to be great.
I think what we are seeing in the British Open will be the future of many golf courses in the United States. Not next year and maybe not in ten years but in the more distant future who knows? Economic restrictions will make this a surety as will scarcity of water and more stringent environmental protection.
As an industry, we have done a great job of providing our players with constantly improving conditions over the past 40 years. If you look at young Jack Nicklaus putting in the 1970s, it looks like he is putting on one of our tees. This has been due to technological advances in mechanical and chemical engineering as well as a much increased level of education and professionalism in the golf course maintenance business. We take great pride in what we do and are constantly looking for ways to improve.
The problem is that I wonder if this kind of conditioning is sustainable for the future. Do we need to adjust our maintenance programs to continue into the future? The answer is yes and it is happening already. We have decreased our use of fertilizer at the Wilderness by over 35% over the past ten years and the trend will likely continue. We tolerate the presence of potentially harmful disease and insects on the golf course more than we did 15-20 years ago. The trick is that presently we do this in areas that players will not notice as much such as rough, fairways, and tees. As economic and legislative pressure increases, I just do not know if this can continue without players beginning to notice-which leads to the point of this month’s newsletter.
To survive in the future, professionals in the golf industry as well as players need to accept that not every golf course has the resources to look like Augusta National in April. In fact, we may all need to accept the fact that maybe conditions such as those at Muirfield this past weekend will become more common and that we need to embrace this change as one that is both sustainable and healthy for the industry-and adjust our expectations accordingly.
Thank you all for your patronage and we hope to see you here soon.
Vincent Dodge CGCS