Brown and dry — what’s wrong with that?

We’ve experienced near-record dryness this fall, and our golf courses show it. Unless a course has a large enough budget to water from one edge of the course to the other, the rough is brown and wispy, and the fairways and greens — like our lawns — will be only as green as the amount of water that has been artificially dumped on it. The deep green of early and mid-summer has been replaced by faded green and brown, and the courses are playing firm and fast.
The USGA would like you to get used to that.
The USGA Green Section staff writes, “Economically, the cost of maintenance and shrinking free time for golfers presents challenges. A common obstacle is unrealistic expectations about course conditioning.” For years the ideal model for U.S. golf courses was Augusta National, with lush green grass everywhere. But water is costly, and turf that is over-watered to maintain green conditions all season long leads not only to spongy conditions but shallow root structures that makes grass less durable.
More and more, you will hear the mantra “brown is beautiful” from leadership positions in the golf world. Golf Digest has already adjusted its course ranking criteria to favor firm and fast playing conditions. That’s one of the reasons why dry, linksy courses like Sand Hills and Pacific Dunes have shot to the top of the Top 100 courses list.
It’s too much to expect Midwest parkland style golf courses to completely mimic the playing conditions found on those sand-based turf courses. In some years, excessive rainfall will keep our grass green for months no matter what conditions we might favor. But during dry times our Minnesota courses can be just as enjoyable when a run-up shot is a smarter choice than a high approach. In fact, as budgets get tighter and superintendents learn to water more sparingly, that might just become our normal game.

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