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July 06, 2023

Is brown the new green? Or is green the old brown?

The start of the game of golf
When the game of golf was starting to be played in Scotland a few centuries ago, it was on areas of land that ‘linked’ the coastline to the farmland a few hundred meters from the shore, bringing about the term ‘links golf’.

Perfect soil conditions for golf
These areas were deemed unworthy for agricultural purposes due to the low fertile and free draining conditions of the soil. As the game of golf evolved, these conditions would prove to be perfect for firm and fast running playing surfaces. Supporting fine turf species that require less input in the way of fertilisation and irrigation. The links areas where often rough, rugged public lands that everybody had access to. It was the perfect start of a sport that was enjoyed in nature by a variety of people no matter what class they fitted into.

Bernardus

A way to show status
If we skip forward a few hundred years to the mid-1800s where golf was now being enjoyed by many across the globe, the rules and the general play of the game were essentially the same. The big difference is that whilst the game in Scotland was still being played on a natural landscape, in America it was being played in more garden like pieces of land where the wealthy were using it to compete with one another to show off who could produce the most perfect golf course. It was a way to show status, to show who had the most money. This has become the standard expectations of how a golf course should be setup still until this day.

Augusta National as benchmark
Augusta National (picture below) in the state of Georgia in the U.S. has become the benchmark with its lush green surfaces without a blade of grass out of place. This is what most golfers think a golf course should look like. To meet these expectations and to avoid any imperfections, head greenkeepers are forced to use excessive amounts of fertiliser and water, which doesn’t only waste resources, it can also have a negative impact on the health of the plants and soil. This then requires the use of pesticides, in the form of chemicals, to help maintain the optimal health of the grass and soil.

Moving into a more sustainable way
This ‘unsustainable’ way of golf course management has become the norm. But since we are now in a time when we should all think of how our actions are having an impact on our planet, we as an industry are being forced to maintain our course in a more sustainable way. Something that all golf courses should embrace and get on board with.

Augusta

Brown is the new green
‘Brown is the new green’ has been the phrase of the last decade, but when green hasn’t been brown (in most peoples eyes) for quite a while, it is normal for golfers to comment on brown fairways as ‘dead’ and ‘unhealthy’, but this is simply not the case. A lush green fairway that has been overwatered and pumped full of synthetic fertilisers is generally more at risk to turf grass diseases and pests than a slightly brown surface that is cared for in a more natural way.

Brown is the new beautiful
Browner drier fairways require less resources which is what every club should strive for, and it creates firm and fast surfaces that support how the game was originally played on the Links of Scotland a few hundred years ago. It will take time for the mindset of golfers to change to realise why golf courses are turning browner, but they will soon realise that ‘brown is the new beautiful’. They need to understand that they play a sport which takes place fully in nature where nothing is perfect.

Greenkeepers at work

A special grass species
Our goal here at Bernardus is to create world-class playing surfaces in the most sustainable way possible, and the health of our site is more important to us then anything. Therefore, we are proud to possess the GEO certificate. We selected the grass species named fescue, because it requires less water and nutrients to survive, and also, they grow at a slower rate in comparison to other species which results in less frequent mowing which reduces engine emissions and noise pollution.

Using smart technology
We follow a strict nutritional plan that helps us to supply the grass plants with only what it needs to survive to reduce the risk of wasting products. We have an irrigation system which we only use when it’s necessary, and try to hand water only the areas that need it to avoid overwatering, which can result in disease and unwanted turf grass species invading. Underneath is an image to show how we collect data by using a moisture metre on a green which shows us exactly the areas that need water. This data dictates exactly where and how much irrigation water is applied. Not only are the readings measured as a percentage, but they also colour code areas for simplicity. For example, only the areas that are red will receive water. Using smart technology to make smart decisions.

Water management 1000 450px

Education is key
It is our own responsibility to not only educate ourselves on this topic, but also to pass this information onto the enthusiastic golfers who turn up to play on our ‘little gem’ of a golf course. One of the main goals of the European Tour is to make sure that the golf course is playing firm, fast, and true. This is more important than how the golf course looks aesthetically, which is also important, but the gameplay comes first. Lush green golf courses are less likely to support the traditional way the game should be played as the surfaces tend to be slower and encourage a ‘target’ golf idea instead of the old school ‘bump and run’ style.

A balanced eco-system
Bernardus is in the middle of a Natura 2000 location, so we must make sure that we focus on encouraging and maintaining a balanced eco-system that allows wildlife to flourish. Our nature areas are just as important to us as the playing surfaces. Our main goal is to maintain the whole site in the most sustainable way possible, which means limiting the use of precious resources. By doing this we don’t just play our part in protecting our wonderful planet, but we also can maintain our world-class golf course in a way that allows the game to be played how it once was, and to show people that a little bit of brown isn’t the worst thing in the world. Together we can make brown beautiful again!

Sincerely,

Niall Richardson, Golf Course Superintendent, Bernardus.

Niall klein vierkant