The legendary Pinehurst No. 2 that hosted last year’s U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Open was considerably different than the one that had hosted several high profile events in recent history.
What we had come to expect from the Donald Ross design was the same, only different in that many of the features of the original course were suddenly reclaimed after disappearing in changes that took place over the years.
The design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, who led the restoration, obtained photos of Pinehurst No. 2 from 1943, before modern irrigation and grassing systems, and the results were eye-catching in their departure from what you would call typical Open courses.
You can read more about it in this paper by Bob Farren, director of grounds and golf courses at Pinehurst for the USGA, but it’s pretty well accepted that what we saw from Pinehurst No. 2 last year is a sign of things to come from a sustainability standpoint.
The question is now how quickly the return to a more natural environment in golf will take place with news that a water crisis is coming within 15 years unless the world begins to take immediate action on usage.
You can read about that in this story by Katy Daigle of the Associated Press that appeared in the Globe and Mail.
Personally, when I hear such stories I go through more waffles than a corner greasy spoon in Florida. On one hand, stories of catastrophe seem over the top, but on the other hand, we can’t ignore the type of world we’re leaving for our descendants.
Whether climate change is cyclical or man-made really isn’t the issue. As the world’s population continues to grow, there will be a need for more water for farming, industry and consumption and it’s tough to deny that weather events are becoming more extreme.
In respect to water, California has recently announced extreme measures as it faces its fourth year of a devastating drought, which you can read about here.
With that in mind, how quickly will golf operations get on board with the idea that they must become more like one of the leading golf courses in the U.S. and become more sustainable through the use of more natural features over groomed areas.
Can brown actually be the new green in golf?
One factor that will determine how quickly the industry moves is the reaction of golfers to such measures.
Last summer, we asked readers in a GNN Poll how the majority of golfers at the operations where they work would react if more natural features replaced groomed areas. The majority, or 76 per cent, said they would react negatively.
Yet, in a poll conducted just before that, 58 per cent of respondents said they saw the day that extreme weather hastened the need for golfers to lower their expectations of course conditioning.
So, people in the industry see the need for becoming more sustainable, but certainly must pay attention to the expectations of their members/public golfers.
We’ve seen the challenge of water shortages coming for years and while efforts have been made to deal with it such as the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2, more could be done on a grander scale.
The day may come that it isn’t a golf operation’s decision anymore and governments make that call for them.
I chatted with Ken Cousineau, executive director of the Canadian Golf Superintendents Association, in this audio clip about this topic.