Friday, 30 March 2012

Sustainability in Our Maintenance

This section is also from the talk I did for the USGA and this section is about what a change in maintenance could do for golf.

this is actually all you need - Lossiemouth

I would like to see a future with a more British or Australian style approach to turf maintenance. I personally think that the playing conditions are superior to ours since golf is best played firm and fast. I do think architects need to recognize this future and make sure the running approach is almost always an option in the courses we work with.

The transition will be toughest on superintendents at older courses where the turf conversion to bentgass and more fescues will take a long process. That’s why I see value in starting now with tree removal programs designed to help conversion programs.

I’m not so sure about whether we will see lots of green re-grassing, but I certainly do see a movement towards re-grassing of fairways and tees in preparation for a reduction on inputs. The one question I have is whether we will continue to seed with the new turf types that have high maintenance requirements or whether we will see a shift back to some older alternatives that require less maintenance.

photo by Brian Ewan

What I do think you need from architects is recognition of how this will impact play. We’ve had decades of architects making courses only accessible to aerial play.  If we are going to go firm and fast we need to open up the ground game as an option for the average player.

 Perhaps we need a complete change of focus. When talking with the Superintendents in Melbourne they talked about maintaining where you are supposed to be playing from and largely ignoring where you are not supposed to be. The idea was largely based upon limited water, but when you think about how much money we spend on green lush rough it does make you question our choices.

I think there is far too much emphasis placed on maintaining, irrigating and grooming our rough. When a player finds the left or right side of the hole, they are almost always in a poor position to approach the green. That in itself is a penalty for poor play. Imagine the savings on water, irrigation, fertilizer and manpower if we simply did not actively manage our rough and let it the rough play as the weather dictates.

Bandon has the idea right about sustainability

On that end I wish we did what the Australians do and simply let our courses have seasonality in their presentation. Australian courses go from brown to green and back to brown again depending on rain. We may need to convert over our roughs to become more drought tolerant, but the savings in water use and irrigation heads easily justifies this.

There is no question in my mind that Superintendents would embrace an even more sustainable approach to golf maintenance now if they knew their jobs were not linked to the current level of expectations. We as architects need to drive this concept, educate the memberships and help them understand that their course may occasionally look a little less than perfect but it will play even better than before.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Water and It's Impact on Golf

This is another excerpt from my presentation given at the USGA Conference.

Changes at Pinehurst vastly reduced the water requirements

 Everyone involved in Golf acknowledges the biggest potential crisis is a shortage of water. In most areas there is already intense pressure for golf courses to reduce their consumption. In some communities there is heavy restriction on how and when water can be used and in some locals there is no water available for new projects.

The most common practice today is for golf courses to make use of the excess water collected during high water flow in our creeks and streams. And because of that most golf courses have built storage ponds to hold water for future use when restrictions are in place. I see a future where golf courses might have to be self-sustaining. Courses could collect all run-off, rainfall and melt using a massive network of drainage and store it in a series of holding ponds large enough to supply water all year.

The one option that is becoming more common is the use of treated water. Some of the sources are reasonable, others are terrible. Municipalities use the golf courses to filter their treated water before it returns back into the aquifer. The big issue will be the level of salinity. Some have suggested grey water, but that is also dependent upon the quality. The one answer may be a split system where fresh water is used for greens and treated water for the remainder.

My experience with treated water is that during periods of drought, the turf suffers as the salinity builds up in the soil, and only after a good rain does the health of the turf return. This is quite similar to many of the urban courses where the creek or river is used as part of a city’s storm water management system and the water quality fluctuates.

It’s essential to understand the impact of the water source before any grassing is selected or before the maintenance approach is decised.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Growing Enviornments

The following is an excerpt from my presentation of An Enviornmental Approach To Golf Architecture. This section was from the section on the importance of growing enviornments in the quest to lower inputs. (Inputs would be defined as water, fertilizer, herbiciide and pesticide)

The only way to lower inputs is by concentrating on growing environments. Architects need to spend far more effort making sure ever green site is an excellent place to grow turf and a lot less time worrying about aesthetics.

The simply answer is that any tree interrupting 5 hours of morning sun and nine hours of daily sun is an impediment to an environmentally sensitive approach to maintenance. Ask the clubs that I work with, I am a ruthless tree hater, but that’s the only way to achieve the goal of healthy turf.

One of the reasons the British courses can get away with minimal inputs is the growing environments. They receive full sun, are wide open to the wind and in most cases are built on well drained soils. We can’t duplicate those conditions but we can cut enough trees for adequate light and airflow.

Soils are a little tougher issue here. Most of our soils are tight and yet in most instances very little has been done to improve the drainage. Greens should be a given, but so should chipping areas, approaches, fairway hollows and even under some key tees if we want to reduce the inputs. We need to address compaction and moisture as much as sunlight and airflow if our intention is minimal inputs.

The biggest change everyone needs to make is their view of trees. Environmentalists want us to reduce our inputs and use less water, but they also want us to keep as many trees on the site as we can. What they fail to see is the contradiction they create. The trees will always out-compete the turf and the superintendent will be forced to supplement the turf to help it survive. The trees have to go in order to promote sustainability. Tree by-laws are now the greatest detriment to a better environmental solution and we need to lobby to make that clear.

The reality is the more trees we remove around the golf course, the less likely we are to require input and the more likely we are to promote the turf we want to develop. It’s imperative that we eliminating shade, root competition and create airflow if we want to produce optimal conditions.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The Influence of Social Media – Part 2

I believe in the last dozen years social media has played a role in shaping the direction of golf architecture. The emergence of social media has seen the rise of new writers, dedicated architecture web sites and new breed of architect who has been media savvy enough to understand the change. I personally believe social media played a role in ending the era of Modern Architecture and popularizing Minimalism.

The internet has changed golf architecture itself. It gave us a new and more efficient resource to search for information on any living or dead architect, a source of photos of their work and a list of articles written about them. It even provided a way of directly contacting them for more information. Golf architects and golf architecture has never been more easily accessible to the average person.
But it goes beyond what is available. The internet has given the average person a voice. Anyone with interest in golf architecture can share their own opinions and associate with others who share their same passion. Since the internet allows people with similar interests to associate easily, we have seen the emergence of architecture discussion groups. Originally populated by people from the golf industry but it wasn’t long before passionate enthusiasts found the sites providing a much more dynamic presence.

The good was the amount of new information that became easily available as people who loved architecture as people shared research, experiences and images of what they had seen and what was being built. Since golf was in a transition period from Modernism to Minimalism it was a very exciting time to be able to watch change and new ideas coming forth in almost real time. Everyone was hooked by the fact they learnt about what was new at the same time as the insiders did.

But like everything good on the internet it had its down side too. Everything about golf architecture was slowly broken down into black and white and heroes and villains. Their heroes never make mistakes and have been deified, the villains never do anything right and should be driven out of business. And the vast majority of work being done is being missed because people perfer to concentrate only on the names they know well.
Initially golf architecture writing was enriched by the addition of some wonderful new thoughtful and resourceful voices. But they too are being drowned out by the volume of web sites and web based writers. The quality of writing has dropped as there are fewer and fewer professional writers who able to make a living since a lot of content is generated for free by enthusiasts. Even worse is the blatant plagerism seen on many golf web sites.

Even design has been influenced. One of the stranger things I have watched emerge is “populist design.” For perspective we have seen this in the past when architects in the 1960’s copied Trent Jones or in the 1980’s copied the work of Pete Dye. But in the last ten years I’ve watched architects routinely “lift” the aesthetic of another architect and use it on their latest work. They go online, see what they think is cool and copy the technique. Some go as far as hiring the same shapers. Nothing hurts a style or movement faster than being overwhelmed by insincere versions of the original. 
The worst aspect of this is that architects are trying to capture the attention of golf discussion groups and golf writers by being "current". I cringe particularly at the firms who directly lift one style after another, year in and year out, trying to keep up with “fashion”. The internet has made this easy and I think golf design is paying the price. I knew Modernism was dead the day when all but one significant Modern Architect opened their latest course with “Minimalist looking” bunkering.

The influence of Social media is here to stay. Some architects have already adapted and made themselves far more accessible by participating in social media. They post in public forums write for internet publications and some even write their own blogs. This has become part of a modern media strategy because they recognize the mainstream media follows social media sites looking for new and refreshing ideas to write about.
The power of social media is the illusion that fame is just one click away…

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Power of Social Media - Part 1

This particular blog is now a year old and has received just over 100,000 visitors. Last month it had just over 10,000 visitors and the site is averaging 350 visitors a day. I had no idea of the power of social media when I started in 2006. I do now…
I reluctantly got into the blog in 2006 through the urging of Robert Thompson a golf writer and good friend. He saw it as a way to get “all those strong views” out to other people in the golf industry. I know I frustrated some, entertained others, but slowly found a group of similar minded people who enjoyed the journey. I stuck to writing regularly and shared my deepest thoughts on design by the end of the first run (June 2008) I had 6,000 visitors a month. I stopped because I was spent.

In that period I was invited to write for magazines and begun to get quoted in the press and re-posted on other web sites. I found the blogging helped get my name out to people who had vener heard of me before. I returned to blogging in April 2009 and wrote on the Weir Design Web Site. But that was a failure with the site being ignored by Google so I eventually changed back to blogger one year ago.  Unfortunately they would not let me return to my dormant original site so I moved everything I had onto the new blog and began writing again. The first few months were real quiet, but after a few months the site took off and now I have 350 visitors a day.

A few months back I begrudgingly joined Facebook. I happen to dislike Facebook and see it as one of the great time wasters of our generation. But like blogging I understand the reach that it has in modern society. I joined and found this to be another major source of traffic. The next stage would be twitter.

I can’t stand twitter, but recently I saw a presentation on social media by Chris Tritabaugh and it opened my eyes to the potential. He began with a tweat and then showed us the reach of that tweat at the end of the presentation. That impressed me, but I was far more impressed by how the golf superintendent’s community turned Twitter into a useful tool. He talked about how supers send images, seek opinions or ask questions seeking a better solution for something they think can be more effectively. They then collect the feedback, consider potential solutions and occasionally try something new.  They use Twitter to widen their perspective for finding equipment using its international scope to find unusual products or equipment. I don’t see a similar application for architects, but I’ve learnt not to be so quick to dismiss the tool till I try.

One of the more complicated aspects of being a golf designer is finding work. It’s easier to find work close to home where you know the potential clients and the distances are all manageable in a day by car. To widen your possibilities you would venture to other cities and meet with potential clients and talk at conferences or regional meetings trying to let people know you were out there and interested in the work.

Social media is a game changer for our profession.

We are in an era where people seek their information from the internet. Where they once depended on television, books and magazines for insight, they now go to web sites and chat rooms to glean the latest information. We are in a society that once anyone has a curiosity they want that information instantly and will go to the quickest and easiest source … the internet.

Being a creative communicator in this era is critical since something interesting or clever can become the catalyst to drawing attention to the designer. The joy of social media is there are so many options to choose from and each link very well together. Once you have shared your opinion piece or interesting project onto a social media site it has the potential to reach a very large audience. The designer now has the ability to make personal contact all over the world in an instant opening up the potential for work in almost any community.