Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Organic Green Shapes, Lost in Time

Many of the great old golf courses, when built, had remarkable greens and while the contours may still be with us yet today, the green shapes are not. Green shapes, over the decades, have devolved into unimaginative ovals and egg shapes. Just how these wonderful organic shapes were lost will become evident with a bit of understanding about the nature of golf course maintenance. But what may be more important and relevant is just how much these changes have affected modern golf course design when it comes to green shapes.

Look at these Donald Ross plans from Aronimink Golf Club. These are some wonderful shapes that are anything but the routine shapes that plague most courses today. I know these greens at Aronimink a little bit, having worked there back in the 70s and the while the contours were still there, the shapes from Ross's plans were simply gone. The recent renovation there went a long way to restoring these great greens. 

Aronimink Golf Club #13

Aronimink Golf Club #3

So what happened? Well, that's pretty simple, during the 1960s when courses almost all used triplex mowers, either completely or during the "shoulder" seasons and the triplexes couldn't follow the cleanup pass (outside ring cut) of the greens because of their turning radius. Along with that, anyone that has ever mowed a green knows that it's a cardinal sin to scalp the collar while mowing the cleanup pass. Those two factors when combined with superintendents that weren't constantly monitoring the greens' edges resulted in today's mundane green shapes on most of our great old courses.

In many cases more than 10% of the putting surface was "lost" and along with that, some great pin positions. And what makes matters even worse, is that today's golf course designers grew up on dumbed downed green shapes and their point of reference when designing or renovating greens is just as dumbed down . . . modified circle, oval and egg shapes on most greens.

Designers should be careful in creating and rediscovering organic shapes for greens lest green shapes become caricatures. Organic shapes for greens should not be forced, they need to be tied to landforms and be consistent with the design.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Turf Legend has Passed

Educator, Researcher, Mentor

Dr. Joseph M. Duich passed away this month. Dr. Duich was the most influential educator in golf course maintenance. It is easy to say and accurate as well to say that golf course maintenance, as it has evolved today, would be very different had he not been leading the way.

Golfers don't realize that one man was more responsible for the improvement of golf course conditioning than any other single factor in the game. Dr. Duich, a plant breeder by training, was responsible for all of the significant improved bentgrasses introduced from the late 1950s through the mid 1980s. At the same time he was training students to become golf course superintendents and overseeing Ph.D. candidates. He was a consultant to Augusta for more than two decades along with many other courses and he was always available by phone to any of us.

Joe, as I was able to call Dr. Duich many years after finishing school, led the Penn State turf program when it was the finest program in the country. I was accepted into the program in 1978. That year the average applicant was 22.4 years old and had already had two years of college and over 4 years experience working on golf courses. The year that I got in, 1978, there were 108 applicants for 35 spots in the two year program. In those days, Joe's former students were Superintendents at 15-20 of Golf Digest's Top 100 courses.

As an educator, Joe was really different. He rarely answered a question outright; typically, he would fire back with a few questions that would steer you and allow you to figure it out yourself. And if you were going to ask a question in class, you better have had your thoughts clearly formulated. Many of us can remember Joe dressing down a student that asked a "weak" question or statement. Joe took this as a teaching moment, he didn't want any of us to ever ask or state anything that wasn't well thought out. He taught us better thought processes along with turf.

What many of Joe's former students don't know, is that he gave the royalties from his grass breeding efforts back to the University to further the turf program.

Dr. Duich was instrumental in the careers of over 1,000 students and he changed golf course maintenance standards forever. He will be missed by his students. His influence on golf will continue.