Speed Kills (Or Hurts, Anyway), Part II

Part 2: Achieving reasonable speed – contour balance

For starters, the correct redesign and construction methodology will complete the green remodeling process in 10 days or less, while the grow-in time needed for the sod to re-root and “take” may be as little as two weeks.  True, a temporary green must be used during this interval, but it’s much shorter than most people anticipate and well worth the trade-off.

What’s more, a discerning design and construction strategy will in due time ensure that the remodeled green receives incoming shots and putts like the other greens on the course — but now with contours in synch with the desired green speed.  One such successful strategy is to use the course’s existing topdressing and Greensmix in the new “tested” Greensmix that will perform to USGA Green Section Specifications.  The use of a USGA-approved soils testing laboratory, as we strongly encourage our clients to do, guarantees adherence to these specifications.

This approach contrasts with that advocated by many design and agronomic consultants today, who recommend either using a course’s existing topdressing and Greensmix or completely replacing the admixture with one prepared off-site.

In the industry today many design and agronomic consultants believe that either the exact existing topdressing and Greensmix should be used, or it should be replaced with a completely new Greensmix prepared off site.  Our view is somewhat different, as follows.

Reusing the former Greensmix may result in a hard, compacted green surface in the remodeled green if the old mix or topsoil contained a significant amount of fine particles, typically clay, silt, or very fine sand.  The resulting question I frequently hear is:  “My old ‘push-up’ greens worked before, why wouldn’t they work again?”

My response is that the older greens commonly developed small soil fractures and fissures over time, which in turn helped minimize compaction and allowed proper infiltration and percolation to occur.  This would be lost in the remodeled greens, as the replacement of the existing mix would compact to a higher degree.

Another proposed solution I regularly hear — to just replace the old Greensmix with new USGA approved Greensmix from off site – leads to remodeled greens that receive incoming shots and putt much differently than the layout’s unaltered greens.  This tack may also require dramatically different maintenance practices relative to original greens.

My company utilizes a hybrid of the two methodologies described above.  We believe in off-site mixing but also using a portion of the existing Greensmix in the new Greensmix.  The new Greensmix must meet USGA Green Section Specifications by an approved soils testing laboratory in terms of overall testing requirements.

Accordingly, the newly remodeled green(s) may not receive shots and putt exactly the same as other, unaltered greens.  But they will much more closely approximate the receptivity and putting characteristics than would be the case using the two other strategies.  And our experience confirms that the nominal expense and effort require to implement this hybridized methodology pays off in enhancing the golf experience.

We also suggest recycling sod from the existing green and collar, where possible, to promote continuity between the old green and the remodeled edition.  In cases where the remodeled green is larger then the former existing green, we advocate using sod from the collar for the green’s expansion, then gradually bringing down the height of this sod over time to the green’s mowing height.  We recommend using this collar height sod in the back of the green.  Sod for the collar can then come from the sod that forms the beginning of the fairway, then incrementally brought down in mowing height.

Naturally, special attention to maintenance issues is required initially to nurture newly planted or transplanted turf.  Nonetheless, a comprehensive approach to the remodeling process will produce remodeled greens that soon blend in – esthetically and in terms of the maintenance they demand – with the course’s other green complexes.

Always more debatable than purely agronomic issues is the question of adulterating or compromising the original architect’s design intent.  A perfectly legitimate concern, it inevitably leads to other questions:  How important is this really to the membership or the regular patrons at the course being considered?  Does the original designer enjoy a reputation that, in its own right, makes his work worth preserving?  Can his perceived design intent be reconciled with the game’s modern-day evolution and the course’s overall goals?

An object lesson from our portfolio involving an anonymous private club in the eastern U.S. helps elucidate the delicate balance for which to strive.  Designed by the legendary Willie Park, its heritage is beyond dispute.

Still, with 25,000 rounds per year, the superintendent was struggling to maintain healthy turf conditions, particularly on a par 3 green where 70 percent of the 5,000-square-foot putting surface had grades of four to eight percent, sometimes more, while the remaining 30 percent had more comfortable contours of one to four percent.  Similar proportions existed on four other greens and, as the superintendent was required to maintain putting speeds of 10 to 11, these were places where any three-putt was deemed a good effort.

The superintendent reasoned that a putting surface of at least 4,500 square feet in the one-to-four-percent-slope range would present a much more reasonable test of golf, not to mention maintenance.   The membership’s concern was that Park’s “false front” of five-plus percent – a trademark design element — would be lost in the redesign.

Next: Design solution melds history and practicality

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