‘BROWN IS THE NEW GREEN’
t has been a windy and dry summer so far in Cape Town, and my home course is looking parched as we go into the best months of the golfing calendar on the coast. The south-easterlies begin to abate at the end of January, and golf will then become fun again. However, my concerns are minor. Our greenkeeper, who is passionate about the course, is tearing out what’s left of his hair, and having sleepless nights.
The reason for his distress is that the course was without water for five days, and he had to watch helplessly as the turf grass began to dry up and die before his eyes. When I returned to the club after a visit to the Eastern Cape there were parts of fairways which resembled the cricket pitch at Newlands. Cracks were appearing in the earth, and I could have practised my googly on the 18th.
Funnily enough, the yellow-brown fairways don’t bother me as much as they do our greenkeeper. South African golfers put too much store in having lush green courses for 12 months of the year. I have no complaints when the course is playing hard and fast, because I’m now hitting my drives into areas with which I am not familiar. I had great fun at Huddle Park in October, when my drives on rock-hard fairways were running close to 300 metres.
In other parts of the world, where golf courses have been affected by extended droughts, particularly Australia and California, they are looking at a future where golf will routinely be played on minimally irrigated fairways. “Brown is the New Green” is their slogan. Looking at my course’s fairways, there are healthy patches, and it’s obvious that certain grasses can handle less water in summer. Also, does over-watering with nasty effluent each day contribute to a weaker root structure in the grass?
The Pinehurst resort which hosted the US Open in 2014 changed their course watering policy, reducing their annual consumption from 305 million litres in 2009 to 68 million this past year. It does make for yellow fairways, but handicaps will go down, and the pace of play will be improved by not having to look for balls in the rough. One drawback, though, in not having lush fairways is that courses will not be able to handle the heavy traffic of golf carts.
The Zebula resort in Limpopo learned a lesson in water conservation when they suffered a two-year drought recently ( September issue). The course is back to pristine conditioning, yet Zebula now makes do with less water than it previously used. I’d like to hear from other golf clubs which have enacted stricter water policies, and embraced drier fairways. Are there any?