‘BROWN IS THE NEW GREEN’

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Behind The Scenes - By Stu­art McLean, Ed­i­tor

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?

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