The expectation of many golfers is that the course they play be lush and green. Lush is defined as luxuriant, succulent, tender and juicy. Certainly lush is defined by the observer, but from a turf standpoint, it’s not “tender and juicy.” That sounds more like a good steak.
Green is defined as the color of growing foliage, between yellow and blue in the spectrum. Green is probably less subjective than lush, but most players can tell the difference between green turf and nongreen turf. Lush and green are certainly promoted by televised golf, but these courses have larger budgets and more maintenance staff than your average public golf course or private country club.
It seems that the counter to lush and green is firm and fast, but is it possible to have both? Certainly, that’s what many golf course superintendents strive for; however, although they’re not necessarily opposites, the results are obtained differently.
Lush and green requires water, whereas firm and fast requires the careful use and placement of water. Firm and fast implies a harder playing surface containing less moisture. Certainly one reason to be less than lush and green is water availability, quantity and quality, which are issues for many golf courses. Lush and green is also not perceived to be sustainable.
Depending on a golf course’s irrigation system, firm and fast conditions can be difficult to achieve. To go to the extreme, a single-row fairway irrigation system applies more water to the center of the fairway and much less to the fairway edges and the rough. It’s impossible to manage the water application to provide both firm and lush conditions with a single-row system; you can achieve neither.
A double-row fairway irrigation system will provide either a consistent lush and green or a firm and fast fairway. If you try for firm and fast, the rough will be neither lush nor green. A lush and green rough with firm and fast fairways can be accomplished with an irrigation system that treats the rough and the fairway separately.
Depending on your water availability, you may have no choice but to treat the rough and fairway differently. Separating fairway and rough watering provides substantial water savings; this is why many courses are installing such systems today. However, just concentrating on the fairway and letting the rough go brown will also provide substantial water savings. Golf course greens are no different, so most golf courses have some way of irrigating the putting surface differently than the greens surround.
Today, a golf public relations message is “brown is the new green,” not lush and green. But how do you get members and golfers to buy into brown? One approach is to promote reduced water use coupled with fast, firm fairways and some browning of rough and fairway edges. It’s easy to claim that less water will be used to achieve these firmer conditions. Firm and fast may also reduce the use of other inputs, such as chemicals.
These courses may, however, require more labor, because as you become more precise with the water it needs to be better targeted. This is hard to accomplish with sprinklers throwing large distances, and more hand-watering of fairways may have to be employed.
Those in the golf course maintenance industry know that water is an issue today and will be even more of an issue in the near future, but how many golfers know that water is a concern?
Superintendents need to educate course owners, players and members on the resource savings that come with brown or less lush. Getting the message out to these key stakeholders can be done in a number of ways, including newsletters, bulletins, posters, membership meetings and personal contact. Hopefully the powers that be at the United States Golf Association (USGA) and Professional Golfers Association (PGA) will continue to send the message, as most golfers think that a lush, green turf is a better turf to play on.