Golf Course Superintendents Weigh In On Issues

The constant battle to keep golf rounds near the four-hour mark is nothing new. However, the professionals responsible for the playability of the nation's golf courses are offering their opinions on how to speed up play through the 2004 Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) Leadership Survey.

Conducted at GCSAA's 2004 International Golf Course Conference and Show in San Diego, Calif., and on the GCSAA Web site, the computer-based survey questioned more than 900 golf course superintendents on trends in golf and golf course management. Given what viewers have seen on television from professional golf events, the measures superintendents offer to increase pace of play should not be too surprising. The respondents overwhelmingly cited shortening of rough (38 percent), slowing of greens (26 percent) and widening of fairways (14 percent) as the most effective ways to speed up play. When asked the same question in 1999, only 14 percent said slowing green speed would help speed up play. In spite of golfers long-held fascination with fast greens, it appears superintendents are putting an even larger bull’s-eye on them as the culprit for clogging up the course.

Significant resources have been devoted by golf course management professionals to advance environmental stewardship on the golf course. In this year’s survey, superintendents were asked what golf course management practice has had the most positive impact on the environment. An overwhelming 55 percent said that an increase of overall environmental awareness and knowledge was the biggest contributor while improved irrigation techniques and technologies was second at 18 percent. Advancements in irrigation have been increasingly noticed by superintendents. When asked the same question four years ago, only 1 percent said irrigation techniques had the biggest impact. The results show that as technology progresses and education becomes more prevalent, so do ways to foster environmental stewardship on the golf course.

Water – both its quantity and quality – figured prominently on the minds of the superintendents. The survey found that superintendents are generally doing more with less when it comes to irrigation as they try to protect one of the environment’s most precious resources. The results reveal that 54 percent of superintendents are using less water on their golf courses today than they were 10 years ago while only 27 percent are using more. Of those using less water, nearly half (39 percent) of superintendents are using 1 percent to 25 percent less water than they were 10 years ago and 14 percent said they are using between 26 percent and 50 percent less water than a decade ago.

The golf course management industry is constantly evolving. Every year, superintendents have better equipment, expanded education and newer technology at their disposal. Most recently they have been able to produce improved playing surfaces as researchers develop turfgrass varieties that better withstand weather, traffic and disease and require less water and labor and few plant protectants. These include seeded bermudagrass, new bentgrass and seashore paspalum, among others. Sixty-three percent of superintendents responding to the survey said they have used some variety of these new turfgrasses on their courses. Thirty-three percent said they have used them in limited areas while a quarter of those polled said they have used them in several locations, including greens. Five percent said they have used them everywhere on their course.

The latest technological advances in golf equipment also have affected the golf course management profession. While half of those surveyed believe the advances in technology are either somewhat bad or very bad for the game, 28 percent said that the maintenance of their course has changed to compensate for the increased distance. When asked the same question in 1999, only 18 percent said they changed their course to compensate, indicating the dramatic effect equipment has had on golf course management in the last five years.

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