As the story goes, Drs. Charles Vancouver Piper and Russell A. Oakley were approached by various individuals as far back as 1906 for advice on growing and maintaining golf course turfgrass.
Over the next few years their reputation grew as the advice they dispensed proved not only correct, but indispensable.
By 1913, with the formation of the United States Golf Association’s Green Section still years away, Piper and Oakley were asked to write a monthly column for the influential magazine GOLF, starting with the January issue.
Max Behr, a golf course architect, edited the magazine. In the editorial section, page 34 of that January issue, he trumpeted Piper and Olsen’s writing.
Described as “the United States Government agrostologists,” Behr wrote: “They stand in the unique position for the giving of advice on the proper conditions necessary for the culture of grasses in our country. They know from experience what conditions of turf are needed for the playing of golf, and it is with pleasure that we have secured our readers what these two authorities have to say on the subject.”
Piper and Olsen made their debut 27 pages prior with the lead story of the magazine, “Factors Involved in Growing Grass Turf.”
They introduced their readers to the subject this way: “A good grass turf is conditioned by two great factors – climate and soil. The latter can be modified, but the former must be accepted as it is. As all of our cultivated turf plants, with the single exception of Rhode Island bent, are of Old World origin, the matter of climate has a very direct bearing on the behavior of the same grasses in America.”
Thus began one of the most influential, if not the most influential, series on golf agronomy ever presented in the U.S. by a non-agronomic golf publication.
It took Piper and Oakley nearly 450 words to get around to golf; until that point the topic was lawns. When they discussed golf the location was neither the U.S. nor the British Isles.
“On the famous golf course at Nuwara Ehya, in the mountains of Ceylon, it never freezes, but the summers are cool and moist. The putting greens are covered with a beautiful turf of creeping bent, as fine, indeed, as one may see in England,” they wrote.
Along the way in that first piece they explained some of the most basic points for the readers who were golfers and not head greenkeepers as if they were teaching the first day of Turf 101.
“For putting greens in the Northern United States there are only six grasses which need be considered. These are Kentucky bluegrass, creeping bent, Rhode Island bent, red-top, fine-leaved fescue and red fescue. In the Southern states there are really but two permanent grasses known which will make turf at all comparable to the above grasses; namely, Bermuda grass and Manila grass.”
While most of their advice should be followed, one suggestion made them sound like mad professors.
“Where possible, every golf course should have its putting greens in duplicate. In this way new turf can be grown on one of the greens without serious interference with play…. Another reason why greens should be in duplicate wherever possible is the fact that continuous close clipping and rolling, especially during the unfavorable summer heat, are very hard on the turf. Alternating periods of rest with only moderate clipping will do much to insure the permanence of a green.”
Two greens on each hole?
Over the next three monthly issues, the two wrote on grass varieties for greens and by June were expounding on “Grasses for the Fair Green and the Rough.”
The series would run in all 12 issues of GOLF that year and in three 1914 issues. In 1917 Piper and Oakley would publish their seminal work, “Turf for Golf Courses.”
Over the years, their reputations in the golf world grew.
When the USGA Green Section was founded in 1920, Piper was named the chairman and Oakley the co-chairman.
Piper’s focus on golf, though, wasn’t always about turf.
Speaking before the 1922 USGA annual meeting at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Piper had a concern about the direction of the pastime and saw a way his organization could help.
“We must rescue golf from the stigma of being a rich man’s game,” he said. “We have some missionaries in our green section and when people get to be real missionaries you can’t stop them.”