Takes on Industry Happenings

For a fortnight, much of the golf world in the U.S. will be focused on the Pinehurst Resort and course No. 2 as it hosts the U.S. Open June 12-16 and the U.S. Women’s Open June 19-22. This will be the first time a venue has entertained back-to-back major championships in the same year.

During that time, the words written and said that emanate from the resort will be about such topics as sustainability, i.e., reduced inputs such as water, pesticides and fertilizers.

The newly created/restored sandy waste areas – and as a result a smaller area of maintained turf – of No. 2 will be touted as the perfect way to be environmentally and budget friendly.

Sustainability is a wonderful concept. The concern for me, though, is how the general public – golfers, members, green chairmen and club presidents – will receive the message. Will they look at Pinehurst No. 2 and say, “That’s what we should do!” even if their layout isn’t built on sand and is carved out of dense forest?

Sustainability does not always mean inexpensive, and a move toward sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean cost cutting for a facility.

Pinehurst has the manpower to maintain all that sand, to rake and edge and pull runners and spray invaders.

It’s doubtful that the various power structures at courses looking to emulate Pinehurst know what is entailed to maintain a course like No. 2.

Tim Moraghan, the former director of championship agronomy for the United States Golf Association, oversaw the preparation of the sites hosting the organization’s majors for more than a decade. In 1979 and 1980, Moraghan was superintendent at Pinehurst No. 3 and No. 5. He now owns Aspire Golf, a consulting company. According to Moraghan, No. 2 had sandy waste areas and a single-row irrigation system while he worked at the resort.

“It took a lot of time and effort to maintain it,” Moraghan said. “You still have to clean it up, and you still have to spray for weeds.”

Creating natural and waste areas may save Pinehurst and others money, but Moraghan said clubs need to be cognizant of how the cost cutting occurs.

One reason Moraghan likes what Pinehurst did is that it returns the course to its original intent. When it opened, the Donald Ross design featured much less irrigated and maintained turf and much more sand than the layout did in the last few decades.

For courses that aren’t built on the same soil type as Pinehurst, though, a move to emulate the style is a mistake.

“Every course is different,” Moraghan told me. “There is no fixed point in golf. It’s not a one-shoe-fits-all philosophy.”

That means parkland courses should work within the confines of their location if they wish to practice sustainability. For courses that might be able to follow the lead of No. 2, the bottom line becomes: Is money being saved?

Moraghan said clubs need to ask, “Is this costing us less or costing us more?” Because even though watering and other inputs were cut back, expenses could rise in other areas, such as labor. “If it does reduce [costs], that’s great.”

If the goal, then, is to create a more sustainable golf course with reduced inputs, then Pinehurst may not be a blueprint for most clubs, but it can act as a guide.

I’m concerned that overzealous powers at golf courses will try and fit a rectangular peg into an oval hole. Since the start of the naturalization craze, thanks to courses such as Bandon Dunes and Sand Hills, you don’t have to look far to find a parkland golf course with bunkers accentuated with fescue (in reality a number of nonfescue grass varieties that go unmowed) “eyebrows,” as the look has been termed. The object of the club might have been to attain a natural feel, but what was produced had an uncomfortable and ill-fitting appearance.

The No.1 lesson learned from No. 2 might be to take the concept of sustainable golf and fit it to each individual golf course, not make the golf course fit the ideal of sustainable golf.

Moraghan said, “We can take ideas like Pinehurst and learn from them.”