‘Running’ fairways

Why fine ‘running’ fairways?  

By Jan Van Mondfrans


The following is a story of success in returning the fairways of a Harry Colt designed heathland course on the sand belt in the middle of the Netherlands from soft, lush ‘target-golf ’ to  fine, fast ‘running-golf ’.

The de Pan GC introduced a fairway irrigation system in the mid-seventies.

Head greenkeeper Mark Lampe was instructed that yellow or brown turf was supposed to be history.

The amount of irrigation water increased every year and by the beginning of this century it reached an amount of more than 30,000 m3 per annum. Also fertilizer was needed to keep the course green to please the members.

But what was really happening?

The grass on the fairways changed. The weed grass – annual meadow grass (Poa annua) became the dominant species.

So what was the result?

After a few days of no rainfall, the Poa annua started yellowing and greenkeeping was instructed to apply water and fertilizer. The result was a softer, lusher, greener surface, while the grass suffered also more disease pressure and chafer grub damage was visible on almost every fairway.

I, as Chairman of Green, asked Mark Lampe. “Can we produce a quality sward with lower inputs?”  His reply was “Yes, sure we can!”

We sat together and developed a new strategy for the course, built on sustainable topics:

  • Return to traditional fine turf course management. (Subsequently from 2010,  practical and philosophical advice and support was taken from  www.finegolf.co.uk)
  • Use as little fertilizer and irrigation water as possible.
  • Develop a new Fairway management program utilizing Aquatrols ‘Revolution’ (three treatments per annum).
de Pan golf club, jan van mondfrans, aquatrols revolution, fescue fairways,

De Pan fairways august

After a number of trials, started in the noughties, we discovered that as the Poa annua became stressed with lack of water and fertilizer, the dormant, drought and disease-resistant, deep-rooting, fescue grasses in the turf came back.

We explained the golfing advantages of returning to a fast running heathland environment to the Club membership and gained their permission to stop all fairway watering in 2010, just before the driest summer in a decade!

de Pan golf club, jan van mondfrans, aquatrols revolution, fescue fairways,

de Pan fairways in September

By August our hearts were in our mouths, as, while giving fast running-golf, the fairways were yellow and smelling like a hay-field but with rain in September the fescue grass was green again. (Much of the Poa annua was dead but the fescues survived and have multiplied).

What happened to the fairways?

  • Poa annua decreased and fine fescues became the dominant species
  • Colour was maintained without watering, saving money
  • Less mowing was needed and less clippings produced
  • The sward became tougher with less soft thatch and worms.
  • Less damage from Chafer grubs and diseases
  • Expensive pesticides and fertilizer reduced to zero
  • Golfers happy with the need to think about strategy again rather than just brute strength.

FineGolf’s Summary:

Good greenkeeping in cool climates is based on encouraging indigenous browntop bent and fescues grasses.

Thanks to the use of natural greenkeeping and the water management product ‘Revolution’ the fairways at de Pan GC are now maintained in a sustainable way. No expensive fertilizer and pesticides are needed and the water usage has reduced to 10k m3 per annum for the greens.

For courses that have fairways with good drainage this story is surely one to copy.

Reader Comments

On April 26th, 2015 tony said:

Thanks for your newsletter.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to play Pinehurst2 and The Dormy Club in N Carolina. It’s worth having a look at the flyovers if you haven’t seen them. Few bunkers at Pinehurst2 now, only waste areas via Crenshaw work. Run off areas from the upturned saucer greens are excellent.
The Dormy Club is a Crenshaw’s design and is a jem,
The sandy soil and pines help I know, but the course still has to be created and he’s done a great job.

On June 4th, 2015 E. R. Tipple, Jr. said:

This is a very, very interesting article. Fairway “irrigation” was installed here at Trollleymen’s Heath a few years ago, and another effect is that it is now possible to take what I call Ian Woosnam divots from the fairways. (Thought is being given to holding a Biggest Divot competition.) This does a lot of damage. Before irrigation the divots were more like “scrapes” which healed quickly.

If any of your readers are interested in seeing what de Pan looked like back in the 1960 see the Shell WWOG match that was played there between Dave Marr and Peter Thompson.

E. R. Tipple, Jr.

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