Perusal of a couple of old articles about golf course architecture (“Natural Golf” by Jeff Mingay, in the August 2004 edition of Golf Canada, and “The Course of Time” by Jason Logan, in ScoreGolf’s July 2005 issue) got me thinking about the environmental impact of golf courses, and especially how things have changed in the past two or three decades (or more). Golf course designs have always really fallen into two categories, depending on the level of sculpture or manufacture required to create them: some are simply more “natural” than others, meaning that they utilize the existing contours of the land, encompassing the trees and vegetation therein. In other words, they require fewer passes with the bulldozers. According to Mingay, the ultimate goal of the architect should be to design courses that seamlessly blend the natural, native environment with the artificial constructs of the course itself, and there is more than just the aesthetic principles of this balance to consider. Contrary to the way things were done many years ago, modern golf course architects cannot simply take a tract of land and build a course on it: park lands and wooded areas are steadily falling under the banner of “protected areas,” particularly overseas, where there simply isn’t a lot of land to gobble up for something as expansive – and some would argue, useless – as a golf course. (I’m a golfer and I don’t share the opinion that chasing after a little white ball with a bag full of sticks is a “useless” pursuit, no matter how silly it sounds. BUT perhaps there are a few too many courses out there…especially as many golfers only play their home course during a season). Using up land that may have agricultural benefit or that is habitat to wildlife and fish shouldn’t be permitted, and Those Who Issue The Permits are certainly wiser about the situation than their predecessors of twenty or thirty years ago. Advocating more “naturalized” golf course designs, when a new course is permitted, seems the most likely progression, correct?
Not so fast. It seems that many golf courses are being built to a sort of uniform sameness, sort of like all those strip malls that keep cropping up in every major city – and you can’t blame it on a single architect. Part of it has to do with the fact that the PGA needs certain golf courses to be accomodating to the crowds, vendors and film crews that converge when an event takes place: these are the so-called “stadium” courses. Furthermore, these courses need to be set to a very specific standard, dictated by the fact that the best golfers in the world possess the best equipment in the world and this combination leads them to perform in a muscular way that can completely decimate lesser courses. I mean, you can’t just set Tiger and Phil down on a muni and expect them not to pulverize it. Length and difficulty factors become important, making it essential that these courses be more “sculpted.”
Okay, so I’m Jill Everywoman, not Tiger or Phil…but apparently, according to Mingay, the fact that I’m “unenlightened” makes me want to play the same type of course all over the world. I want my golf courses to be like my fast food, with every franchise offering the same item made the same way no matter where I go. It’s a comfort level, I guess, and I suppose with the way I play, it may help my scores a little. It would be interesting to poll golfers and see if the assertion holds any water. Truth is, my very favourite course is built on a field and the owners don’t enjoy mowing the rough. Irrigation simply doesn’t occur in the heat of the summer and the greens and tees get really raggy at times. They restrict the use of fertilizers as a Ducks Unlimited certified wetland is adjacent to several holes (avoiding Mama and Papa Goose and their offspring occasionally becomes an issue when teeing off). The trees that were originally on the course (some stands of aspen and willow) are still there, and anything extra that was planted consist of common native shelterbelt trees such as caragana. There are very few sand bunkers, barely anything hauled in from elsewhere. The place is about as natural as you can get. (The clubhouse uses both solar and wind energy and there are compost toilets in the washrooms as well). Certainly, this is extraordinary and it’s asking alot of golfers who would prefer their courses to be pristine and cookie-cutter, but there are some of us who would prefer something a little more interesting and less perfect than a Big Mac or a Whopper.