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.


  1. I can understand the issues that golf courses stir within environmentalists but really most have been intergrated into a natural wildlife area quite well and golf only happens when the suns up!

  2. Ian, I couldn't agree more. Having worked in the industry for almost 15 years in a variety of locations the relationship is clear to me. Shaded environments , especially green sites, require much higher fungicide inputs in order to produce even mediocre turf. Maximizing photosynthesis and reducing the period of leaf wettness are critical to producing healthy plants that can survive the stress of being managed as a playing surface for the game of golf. Plants only grow when the sun's up!

  3. Its often the simplest things that lead to healthy turf. I think from an architectural point of view the trees become an issue when they are meant to "frame" a green site. Owners and golfers love the aesthetics and the depth perception aid, but neither is aware of the problems this approach gives superintendents. I agree that it needs to start from a design standpoint...we need to sacrifice a little intimacy in order to become truly sustainable. thanks ian
    paul m

  4. Trees can be and should be (in many cases) a key element of a course design providing shot value opportunities and environmental, sight and acoustic advantages. We all know the turf management problems trees present. However, I have yet to find a golfer who finds clear-cutting an attractive solution and golfers still pay the bills. (I say this knowing the long term cost of tree maintenance and associated extra turf care costs.)


    1. Ian,
      How soon after significant clearing would you expect to see improvements?
      It seems most members are overly protective when it comes to tree maintenance. Do you find its best to clear in stages and let them warm to it. Or just go to town?


    2. Sorry CEC, but trees should never play a role in strategy. Healthy turf is just as good as trees. Thing is, you can't hug grass like you can a tree.

    3. Benny,

      If the green site is heavily shaded - between 10 and 15 years to convert the turf (either through natural selection or over-seeding or both) back to something more sustainable.

  5. CEC,

    Golfers never pay to play dead turf