Because we can doesn’t mean we should

By |  December 12, 2016 0 Comments

Golf architecture and technology are areas that demand something of each other. In our drive to play better and hit the ball farther we see golfers with the latest and greatest equipment and swing theories to make that happen. While the ball is going ever farther and courses are getting longer and harder to protect par, we’re also seeing technology on our side of the ball having an impact on the game that isn’t being fully recognized.

The tools we have available today can have an impact on the game, and in some cases they can neutralize attempts to lengthen a course and/or protect par. In the last five to 10 years we have seen maintenance practices shift back to favoring playing conditions over the actual appearance of the golf course, which most often is described as how green and lush a course looks. We have been told that the golf ball and equipment advances have leveled off, but we still see the ball going farther. Are we part of the problem?

Mower height of cut (HOC) has gone lower, not only on the greens but on the fairways, as well. In combination with reduced water use, tighter management of fertilizer and plant growth regulation, the conditioning found on most courses has continued to improve. Fairways have been narrowed to challenge golfers but at the same time have been firmed up and in some cases cut lower, which together works to nullify any additional length added to the course to counter the ball going farther.

How tight to mow fairways is dependent on any number of issues, including grass types, management practices and potential stress. We should consider how HOC impacts the game, our inputs, the stress the turf can handle and how much more potential stress it puts on us as managers. Just because we can mow fairways at lower heights doesn’t mean we should.

As fairway widths have been reduced the total area of rough has increased. In conjunction with the lower fairway height of cut has occurred an increase in the number of step cuts to allow for the lower fairway height of cut and the transition to the longer rough. A recent U.S. Senior Open featured seven different heights of cut to allow for rough to act as a deterrent to shots offline, but it still required some fairness in not having the height of cut go from fairway to rough directly.

I would argue that the driving force in golf right now is tournament golf, but in all honesty, how many golfers play to that level? Tournament golf is not something that should be played every day, although there are some who want to see that become the norm.

At the highest level of the game the pros play tournament golf week in and week out, but what happens to that course after the PGA Tour leaves? The rough gets mowed down, greens slow back down and all the volunteers go back to their own courses. Tournament golf is where events are specially prepared for a given week and then scaled back for regular play after the event is gone. When did the idea of country club for a day morph into tournament conditions every day?

With all the advancements in technology in golf and golf course management, and with the idea of defending par by making the course play longer and harder while providing perfect conditions, we have lost sight of what made golf so special — simply having fun. How can we grow the game when all we are doing is making golf harder and more expensive for the golfer to play the game, and while our costs to maintain a course only continue to increase?

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