January 2001

Joining Amenity Technology's Stuart Ashworth and Contour Golf's Ingrid Eichler this month is golf course architect, David McLay Kidd of DMK Golf Design. Kidd was responsible for Bandon Dunes GC in Oregon and Queenwood GC in Surrey which is currently under construction. In addition he was voted the "Hottest property in Golf" by Golf Digest.

Q. 1) At our recent AGM the decision was taken to introduce an 'environmental awareness' programme on our golf course. The problem is that we do not really know where to start, we want to amend our maintenance schemes to be more ecologically sensitive and also to try to educate our members and guests as to the importance of our golfing environment.

Ingrid Eichler: Not an easy task by any means, a golf course architect or agronomist who is 'green' would be a good start but they are few are and far between. It is more a matter of 'interest and belief' rather than professional background so referral is bound to be a better method of finding the right person. Initially you should steer clear of the ecological pressure groups because there is a danger of your hands being tied before you really know what it is you are trying to achieve.
If your greenkeeper is a member of the British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association he will have information on their environmental award scheme - help will be available from this organisation. Similarly the Committed to Green scheme based in Dorking, Surrey are an organisation whose name is elf explanatory.
On a practical level there is so much that can be done , for example I recently came across a remarkable yet very simple green solution in the shape of composting. We are currently embarked on a small bunker renovation programme at Dunstable Downs GC in Bedfordshire and all the topsoil that we require has been produced by the greenstaff from the waste that is produced around the course, grass clippings etc. It is fantastic quality and 100% recycled - simple and totally effective.

Stuart Ashworth: Firstly you need to announce officially your intentions to members via the notice board or a more formal 'letter of intention'. In the same vein you must also document all decisions and intentions of the committee meeting.
The next step is for your course manager and his staff to carry out an audit of the current wildlife - flora/fauna. This should include records of absolutely everything that is in evidence on the course and be formed into a report. This is the ecological 'baseline' from which all efforts and successes can be measured. This stage is both vital and labour intensive, if the task is too time consuming for your staff then an environmental consultant can be contracted to help although this option can prove to be expensive.
Once the audit has been completed, a policy document - 'mission statement' if you like, should be produced with details of how it is to be implemented and how it can be continued with regard to future staff/committee changes. Outline documents and plans can be obtained from environmental consultants or the Committed to Green organisation.

David Kidd: This is not really my area of expertise at all - I design golf courses and let experts deal with the other jobs! However, I know that at Gleneagles they set up a committee to deal specifically with the environmental issues on the golf course. Such a committee should consist of just four members - the course manager, a representative from the local community who has nothing to do with golf and two advisers from specific areas of expertise, e.g. a geologist and an ecologist. The initial undertaking of this committee is to identify the most fragile habitats on the course and carry out a thorough monitoring of these areas with the use of grid squares etc. The results will provide a snapshot from which all ongoing schemes and initiatives can be measured. Really though I must refer you back to an expert, an environmental specialist for example, he would be the best person to approach in the first instance.

Q. 2) Over the last few years our golf club has become 'easier', for want of a better word, due mostly to players hitting the ball further. We do not have much room to lengthen our course so what can we do to reintroduce a greater challenge to our elderly golf course?

Ingrid Eichler: The possibilities are immense and well documented. In short the options should include: greater definition of fairways through contour mowing which will increase the required accuracy, improved fairway bunkering strategy, reshaping of greens and the re-introduction of strategy over brute force which will encourage the elements of risk/reward.
Given the recent wet weather, this might be a good time to answer the question with a multi-functional approach. The upgrading of drainage with improved drainage swales etc. can be dual purpose with fairway shaping being designed to carry a ball into a helpful/unhelpful position. Therefore more thought will be required on the part of the golfer who will soon learn that 'length is not everything'. The scope of works available is wide and the decision must be made as to how far you would like to go and how much money would you like to spend?

Stuart Ashworth: Instant answer has got to be the fairway cutting regimes. If you introduce more complex fairway shapes that narrow the further you get from the tee then you will be introducing an element of risk to a bigger hitter without penalising the shorter hitter at the same time.
Less definite but equal in its 'toughening' is the raising of rough and semi rough - this is not likely to prove too popular with your members though. Again this is fairly easy and very cheap to achieve.
More expensive but perhaps more wide ranging in its effect will be the hiring of a golf course architect to suggest further strategic bunkering and course amendments. Most golf courses would benefit from some kind of architectural revision but be aware of budget and desired results - things can become very expensive very quickly...

David Kidd: First question: do they really hit it that much further? I don't think so. But if you want to make your course harder the immediate response is to ensure that the higher handicap golfer is not crippled by the attempt to 'squeeze' the single figure player. Easy way to achieve this is to contour mow the fairways and introduce more widespread semi rough that is not too long but long enough to restrict the good golfers ability to 'work' the ball. Pinch the fairways in at the greater length to increase the need for accuracy from the bigger hitter - if a higher handicap player gets into semi rough they will be quite pleased; the ball is easy to find and often sits up nicely to allow them to make a good contact. The low handicapper hates it though because he will be unable to impart and backspin on the ball and thus he loses control. Similarly if the best approach to a green is from the left side of the fairway for example then introduce semi rough on that side, wherever advantage is to be had introduce an element of risk. The only real problem here is the potential backlash from the real high handicappers who are playing against their game as much as the course.
If you cannot move tees around to increase length/improve strategy then the remodeling of greens could well be the answer - carrying with it the added bonus of improving greens quality and upgrading construction specification with all the benefits that such a move allows. Expense is obviously a concern but if it is affordable then I would suggest making the greens bigger but with trickier individual pin positions. The mid/high handicapper will be happy to hit a green anywhere but the better golfer will want to get close to the pin - a good greens remodel will even up the scales for all the golfers.
Finally, fairway bunkering; this seems to be the normal response to such a problem but beware. If not done well, you are in danger of making the weak feel weaker while the strong just blow right past the hazards, thus widening the gulf between skill levels and not bridging it.