The 7th green at Victoria Golf Club (British Columbia) features some wonderful, old-fashion slope and contour which adds tremendously to the interest and diversity of challenges at this historic, seaside course, where golf has been played for more than 100 years.
Golf course superintendents are too often forced to prepare courses to the satisfaction of club members these days, even when they know such preparation may be detrimental to the health of a golf course.
When greens are cut too short simply to promote ultra-fast putting surfaces, grass plants are nearly always stressed.
Stressed greens are extremely subject to potential damage from pests and disease, as well as encroachment of inferior grass types and weeds. Excess water and chemical applications are inevitably required simply to keep stressed turf alive; which is far less than ideal at a time when water and chemical use at golf courses throughout the world is under serious scrutiny.
Moreover, saturated greens act like “pin cushions”. Even poor shots played from bad angles are permitted to hold soft greens, which significantly detracts from the inherent interest and challenge of golf.
During the pre-World War II era, when some of the most bold and interesting greens in “golfdom” were created, grass plants were simply left to grow longer. Greens were generally healthier as a result.
Longer, larger leaf blades can more effectively capture required sunlight. Healthy greens develop deep root systems which more effectively capture required water and other nutrients. In turn, course superintendents can to irrigate less frequently and apply fewer pesticides and other chemical treatments.
While greens of yesteryear featured longer blades of grass, they were typically drier, firmer, and grainier, presenting a complex set of challenges. When greens are dry and firm, approach and recovery play requires precise shot-making. And, figuring out the grain was an integral part of golf’s challenge many years ago.
All of the world’s truly great courses possess remarkably diverse green surfaces, including at least a few which feature bold contour and relatively extreme tilt. While there’s always been a fine line between a wild green that functions and a radical one that’s gimmicky, at least a couple such greens per course are essential to world-class golf architecture.
Such greens add tremendously to the interest and diversity of play, as well as the inherent challenge of golf.
If golfers continue to demand faster greens, many radical old putting surfaces will continue to become borderline unplayable; and, of course, contemporary golf architects will become more hesitant to create bold, new green designs in fear of golfers labeling such greens “circus like” and “freakish” when green speed becomes relatively excessive.
This is a very unfortunate circumstance which threatens to “dumb down” the game and, sadly, eliminate some historically important design work through reconstruction (read: flattening) of classic green designs simply to accommodate slicker putting surfaces.
Golf is at a crossroads when it comes to green speed:
Do we want healthy tests of golfing skill featuring lots of character, which require fewer inputs?
Or do we want unhealthy, comparatively level putting surfaces, which may be fast but effectively make the game less interesting and require excessive care?
Golf needs to get back basics with regard to greens. Emphasis should be placed on development of lean, healthy turf rather than a simple pursuit of faster greens. Yet, in so many cases throughout the world, the uneducated whims of club members unfortunately continue to prevail.