Golfstinks: Would You Play a Brown Golf Course?

I could talk about sustainable practices in the golf industry until I'm green in the face, however golfer and industry understanding and acceptance is the deciding factor on whether these see the light of day. The hackers over at are an honest bunch, Turfhugger will be posting a number of environment related articles produced by the guys at Golfstinks who seem to understand that golf is in a transition.

Would You Play a Brown Golf Course?
Greg D'Andrea

Imagine this: You and your golf buddies have saved all year to take a winter golf trip down to the Sunshine State. Naturally, you've picked the courses based on how lush and green they look on their respective websites. You've packed the clubs, boarded your flight, touched-down to 80-degree weather and arrived on the first tee...only to find a lot more brown than you expected.


Well, you may be looking at a new reality in golf...but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"The problem with golf is one of expectations. The 'Augusta effect', by which golfers at courses around the world come to identify a certain look with perfection, and to believe that they should get that look wherever and whenever they play..."
The quote above was taken from the April 2008 edition of Golf Course Architecture. The article highlights the environmental issues with overseeding - a common practice at golf courses to keep grass (bermuda grass in most cases) looking lush during the winter months.

To overseed, courses use many resources, not-the-least of which is water. Not only is the practice wasteful, but it's expensive. But now with the economy struggling, many golf courses simply can't afford the extra water, seed and irrigation. What's more, labor and fertilizer costs become pricey because overseeding leads to more weeds and increased risks associated with preparing the course for spring. As a result, some courses have stopped the overseeding process altogether, which saves the course money but diminishes lushness and that bright green grass we as golfers have come to expect.

But brown grass doesn't equal bad grass. In the December 2009 issue of Golf Magazine, Dr. Stacey Bonos suggests that being brown "doesn't mean the grass is unplayable." In fact, the author of the Golf Course Architecture article exclaims this type of grass "is a fantastic playing surface, tight, firm and bouncy, with great rollout." So really, we just need to get over that brown color. Dr. Bonos adds: "...agronomists and course superintendents have been working to alter the mind-set of golfers and clubs, who have come to expect grass to be pure green."

In addition, the USGA's Green Section Record recently published an article entitled "Breaking the Winter Green Addiction" that blames course marketing materials for sending the wrong impression:

"Flip through the pages of any golf or travel magazine and there will be numerous advertisements with photos of lush, green, highly manicured Florida golf courses. The majority of these pictures are taken during the summer, when grass is actively growing and indeed lush and green."
The article points out that tourists want to play golf in Florida during the fall, winter and spring - when the courses' natural state would not be so lush or green - which is why courses started overseeding in the first place. But reversing the overseeding trend is not limited to Florida. Many courses in the US - including the south and southwest - and also many courses internationally are slowly reducing their overseeding process.

That being said, I've spoken with Spanish golf environmental consultant Alejandro Nagy, who supports letting courses go brown for about three months of the year. In a recent article on, Mr. Nagy reports that due to the "complicated climate" on the Iberian Peninsula, courses use just one grass type for both summer and winter play - adding that despite an "ugly face" during the winter, the courses have the same playability.

So does this mean our winter golf getaways will be tarnished by beige blades of grass? Not necessarily.
Alternative water sources, such as effluent water and seawater, can be used on courses for far less money than typical water sources - helping to reduce water waste. But this solution has drawbacks too - like the adverse reaction many types of grass have to saltwater. Nevertheless, studies are currently underway to ascertain which types of grass work best with alternative water supplies.

In the meantime, it appears we may have to endure aesthetics that are not exactly up to our "Augusta" expectations. But everything I've read for this post claims that's a good thing - the challenge is to get average golfers to embrace this notion too. And being an average guy myself, who am I to disagree? I say bring on the brown!

See the original post here.