Lush Target Golf*

Pro golfers became TV personalities: A revolution in British golf happened around the 1970s, led by Arnold Palmer.  Money came pouring into the professional game through television increasingly being influential in the promotion of the sport. This helped grow the sport but it had downsides.

Money determines location of new courses for TV promotion: Whereas previously in the British Isles, pro tournaments were predominantly played on the fine ‘running-golf ‘ courses, whether on Links or inland Heathlands, by the 1980s a new breed of ‘lush target-golf ‘ had come over from America and was developed along with the building of new ‘big’ par 72 courses on ground chosen primarily for commercial reasons, (for example The Belfry and Celtic Manor) near large conurbations, rather than for its grasses. (unfortunately also, some ‘fine’ courses followed this ‘softening of greens’ trend, for example Wentworth)

Predictability is king:

It is understandable that many professionals want to play on courses that are predictable.  It is easier for them to earn money if the surfaces of the fairways are flat and soft.  They don’t want an unlucky bounce from a quirky, firm bump often found on traditional, ‘fine’ running-golf courses.

Target golf is easier:

‘Lush target’ fairways and greens are fertilised and heavily watered.  The ball stops dead without having to bounce onto the green through a firm apron.  The GPS distance measuring device tells them a shot is, say, 115 yards and they know which lob wedge to use.  The unpredictability involved in having to fashion a different type of running-shot taking account of hazards and the lie of the land, than the high one that flies over the hazards to the exact yardage and stops on target, is removed.

These conditions are also superficially liked by some recreational golfers who want easier golf, using less skill, with the ball sitting up on the fairway and stopping quickly without having to learn how to impart backspin.

TV promotes Power and putting touch: These types of ‘bull-dozered’ courses are designed, as a priority, to test the power from the tee and the putting touch of the professional. The more interesting iron play takes a secondary role.

Both are aspects of golf most easily portrayed by television from static cameras with the advantage that advertising hoardings can be placed in the background and photographing costs are lower.

‘Signature’ holes:

The marketing gurus of television love the spectacle of lush, green, immaculate, criss-crossed cut, fairways, the drama of big lakes (as Jim Arthur said “golf was was not supposed to be a water sport”) and a golf architecture that might be called the ‘new penal’ school of design with ‘signature’ holes.

The high priest of this golf is The US Masters at Augusta National. It sells brilliant television and everybody knows the last nine holes at Augusta. Nevertheless Augusta is an artificial course that nobody plays on for four months after the tournament and they have the money to renew the course every year.

This has created an Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD) that infects golfers who want their own local course to be set-up like Augusta and pressure is put on their greenkeepers to shave their greens for ultra-fast speed.

The week-long bonanza around a professional tournament moves on, sometimes leaving behind problem greens that have been scalped to produce the speed of putt to test the pros but creating longer term greenkeeping problems.

I first played ‘The Burma Road’, Wentworth in 1966. It was tough and a fine-grassed running heathland.  Through pressure to cut greenkeeping corners, in order to gain putting speed, it’s greens became stressed and changed into 100% weed grass, annual meadow grass (Poa annua) with the need for overwatering,  extra fertilising to keep the grass alive and abundant use of pesticides to counter-act the disease attracted by Poa annua. This degeneration no longer gave the quality of surface required for the Pro Tour. The greens had to be dug-up and relaid. A costly exercise and not one the ordinary club can afford.

Is this the inevitable result of deep pockets funded by television and the celebrity culture?

It also creates a television commentary culture of denial that there is any other way than having soft and receptive greens.

This in turn stops discussion around the traditional values of the running-game and golf is taken down a purely commercial route which undermines the enjoyment within the recreational market, which is not good for the long-term benefit of golf and will create problems for golf as it comes up against the call for conservationism in wider society and the banning of chemicals that are used to control the diseases that attack stressed-out weed grass.

Lush target golf is costly:

It is not as environmentally friendly as ‘Fine’ running-golf.  Nor is TV target-golf a commercially viable option for most courses.  Nevertheless, it creates pressure, from less discriminating golfers who, influenced by watching television, want greenkeepers to present their home courses in a similar way.  This in turn creates a spiral of problems for courses that have heavy traffic and need to be played all year round. They become quagmires outside of the summer months.

The key issue:

There are many aspects that differentiate ‘running-golf ‘ from ‘lush target-golf ‘ but the fundamental and most important is that ‘running-golf ‘ is played on predominantly bents and fine fescue grasses which are slow-growing, deep-rooting, drought and disease resistant, maintained by sustainable, conservationist, low input, greenkeeping regimes, whereas ‘lush target-golf ‘ cultivates annual meadow grass (Poa annua) which are fast-growing, seeding, shallow-rooting, that is susceptical to drought and disease and requires  an unsustainable chemical based greenkeeping regime of over-watering, extra fertilising and use of abundant pesticides.

‘Fine running-golf ‘ gives a sustainable future within a society at large that is increasingly looking for environmental conservation.

Reader Comments

On April 10th, 2012 Miles Moffat said:

Having just viewed The Masters, I agree Augusta is a joke. But it is mercifully a one-off and saved by some very clever course design. It makes for exciting television but not a patch on the Open.
We, in UK, are so lucky to have so many fast running links courses and many like my club, Walton Heath, where in summer it is an inland links(‘B.Darwin’).
I believe most club members are sypathetic to the modern green keeping policy described. It is up to the golf clubs to help by publishing monthly reports from the Head Greenkeeper as to the work programme and the reasons for it. Most criticisms are usually founded on ignorance.
Best wishes, Miles

Leave us a Comment

Leave a Reply