Feature Interview with Samuel Ingerwersen, Part III, Page ii

Having read your book, monochromatic green grass seems almost abhorrent to your eye. Please articulate why. 

I have no abhorrent, as the term means, detestable thought or feeling toward monochromatic green grass in fairways and rough. But what I do have is delight in variegated colors of grasses that are mixtures of green, chartreuse, tan and yellow that turn to golds, browns, reds and pinks depending upon the light, moisture and seasons of the year. These matters of grasses set clubs apart and indicate degrees of competency of maintenance practices but most of all reflect upon a club’s leadership. If multi-color fairways cannot be sold to members today, at least, replacement of lush green roughs can, otherwise if not, it is a sorry state of management only to be looked upon with pity.

For starters related to the idea of optimal performance of maintenance and play, I quote Green is Not Great, Golf is Played on Grass Not Color, an article written by Alexander M. Radko, former National Director of the USGA Green Section; Golf Journal, Aug, 1977. Radko made a case for sensible use of water and management of grasses with improved performance. “Lush green color turfgrass means undesirable, soft succulent, out of condition, filled with juice or liquid … which often results from the needless race for color despite the fact that color has minimal effect on turfgrass quality for golf … off color grasses hold the ball nicely for fairway play.”

George Peper  and Malcolm Campbell, past editors of golf magazines, co-authors of the book Links 2010, foresee crisis in maintaining green courses that threaten the future of the game. They wrote: “The days of consuming millions of gallons of water and vast amounts of chemicals to keep modern-style courses alive and green are coming to an end. In fact, the game will teeter into crisis if it fails to adjust.”

I have had an unpleasant upbringing in experiences with lush green roughs. My former club renovated the course including roughs. Irrigation lines were installed in roughs on each side of the fairway. Although beautiful, it was hard to find a ball, hard to play out of and hardly any fun. The lush green roughs added more than 40 minutes to each round every Saturday and Sunday. I believe that my experiences are so stated that I give the impression that monochromatic green is closer to dislike. I am opposed to decadent, lush green grass for the following basic reasoning and principals: Wastefulness of resources, unnecessary excessive costs, frustrating, time consuming and unaesthetic.

What do you prefer instead?

What I prefer to see instead of lush green grass in fairways and margins are improvements in the way of mixed colors in grasses that promise future benefits for golf and American golf courses, particularly playability, costs and use of less water, chemicals, fertilizers and other resources while reducing obstacles to the game.

As for aesthetics, color is the most dominant feature of artistic expression, more dominant than line or form.  When J.M.W. Turner, the great English watercolorist was asked about art, he replied: “color is absolute.” As an artist, I have been fascinated with the idea, by appearances of courses from around the world, that the fairway and its margins possess the capability to provide all the adornment necessary to achieve pleasant scenery or a beautiful course while satisfying players and non-players innate desire for beauty.

Surely there are a few individuals in each golf club that see the minimal benefits with the obsession of pure green fairway and margin grass and would like their club to do something about it. Grass fairways and margins are the places to seamlessly initiate positive change.

I would like to see some of the highly visible TV featured courses develop fairway colors mixed with green. Change may arrive sooner than expected as the engine that drives taste is powered by economics. The conventional color green will then be considered for what it is: Only a color.

Examples of improvements that are proposed for Columbus CC (CCC) hole nos.5, 6, and 7 fairways and margins are shown below. Other areas are also planned. The proposed changes include elimination of lush green margin (rough) grass with replacement of a mixture of native species of sedges, fescues and little blue stem or similar. Acres of foliage and hundreds of trees have been removed to encourage more natural grasses. But these areas will still need weed control and occasional mowing in the fall to keep them thin. Thoughtful redesign will improve the challenge/skill balance opportunities for 95% of players as well as improve time to play the course and more fun for all skill levels.

Alexander Radko’s research, environmental scientists’ and the golf industry’s crisis warnings all speak to the subject of more thoughtful use of grasses, irrespective of conventional color taste, that promise benefits for the future of the game. The group scene of holes nos. 5, 6, & 7 Columbus CC, Cols, OH depicted after renovations, show tan, rust, reddish brown, green and yellow areas in fairways and margins. A photograph of the same group of holes but of a smaller scale, with lush green grasses is shown below together with other courses of different color grasses. These examples of fairways and margins are from various states in the US and Scotland.

Ohio. Fairway/margin colors, holes Nos. 5,6 &7: Tan, yellow, reddish brown, beige, rust and green.

Ohio. Fairway/margin colors: holes Nos. 5,6 &7: Green Oregon. Fairway colors: Tan, gold, brown, yellow, green

New York. Rough/margin colors: Tan, beige, rust, yellow Scotland. Fairway/margin colors: Tan, gold, yellow, green

The three small sketches, compared to the monochromatic green photograph of Ohio, holes #5,6 &7 are a much more delightful mix of colors tan, rust, reddish brown, green and yellow areas in fairways and margins. They are not offensive; in fact, they are attractive. Pinks and deeper scarlet colors are especially attractive of fescue grass when it turns to seed and the scene is backlit.

Since the development of the art of golf course architecture in America, aesthetic refinements of grass have involved its color green. Grass has many colors but the predominant choice today is the classicized color green of which now has become conventionalized. If tan or yellow colors appears in a fairway, it would be called a blemish. Choice of unblemished green as the only color for grass is a matter of convention influenced by taste.

The matter of taste is well put by Sir Herbert Read, English poet and art historian. It is an indication of a society’s cultural status and its artists’ ambitions. A club’s obsession for lush grass of the conventionalized color green should play upon the conscience of every thinking golf club board member. Read was knighted for his literary service to the arts in society. His quotation below is relevant to institutions as well as cultures, clubs and individuals and the things that people make; for instance, the institution of golf and the art of making golf courses. Courses consist of artistic and aesthetic landscape components, forms and features. Read said: “The degree of conventionality of all art forms is directly related to the degree of decadence of that culture. Whether an individual, or country, or culture, the great cultures of the western world have undergone periods of greatest artistic expression at the height of their cultural period, then the art forms pass a stage of refinement into a stage of classicism, then conventionality. Shortly thereafter the culture has passed into a period of inactivity and decay.”

There will always be some applied arts in different stages of decline or reform. Most arts in America appear to have diversity and creativity in their art forms, however, conventionalization of pure color green for golf course fairways and margins is more indicative of regressive artistic practices. This regressive trend is aided and abetted by interests and motivations of non-players associated with the game. An example of course beauty aggrandizement by non-golfers is the behavior of TV producers who have not been enamored of mixed color grass. They have been known to ask course owners to dye their grass greener for TV events. Ted Steinberg (b1961), author of American Green, wrote: “To make the scenes more beautiful to the viewing audience the media’s request was: fertilize this … paint that!” (37)

To dye and paint grass to achieve a landscape effect is just the tip of the iceberg of over-indulged pursuit of beauty through contrived landscape effect. In the Northern U.S., bluegrass provides a better playing surface and needs less maintenance than bent grass, but the course owners prefer tightly mowed bent grass because of its color contrast to bluegrass that is used for rough. Here is another case of the pandering of visual tastes that have trumped intelligent maintenance practices. This is fine for the interests of non-players but another obstacle for players.

You write, “The book’s purpose is to entertain readers with watercolor paintings of interesting golf landscapes while beginning a dialogue in the golf world that will seek to understand the underlying cause of golf’s decline. Without understanding there can be no solution to decline of the game.” Everyone acknowledges a decline in golf over the past decade and yet it is an uncomfortable subject for golf-centric media to cover – equipment manufacturers hardly want to spend advertising dollars with entities that warn of golf’s decline. Does the growth that occurred in of the 20th century and the decline in the first decades of the 21st century portend a cycle? If so, how is further decline prevented so that the game may attract more players and attain stable growth?

The book offers no solutions to the decline, only a process for understanding the cause, an experimental project based upon the premises of the books thesis, then options as outlined in the Golf Logic Model below for measurement and evaluation of a solution.

The authors have a story that needs to be told that provides a starting place for the process. The story needs to reach players where initiatives of a turnaround are most likely to occur, rather than non-players associated with the game. In order to reach the world’s 57 million golfers, we determined that the most effective way to interest readers is with delightful golf watercolor landscape paintings that would be an allurement to more substantive texts.

Yes, I am also concerned about the stance of the golf-centric media because of the dearth of articles with any thought provoking insights into the decline of the game. Typical of my concern is the message that I got in my follow up with the author of the magazine story: American Golf In Crisis-Where Do We Go from Here. The author told me that the magazine’s readers were not concerned and were comfortable with the present state of the game.

These are but distractions to your main question as to how might golf attain a continuous, stable growth in numbers and interests of players? The answer lies in an evidence proven process such as the proposed, Golf Logic Model, shown below.

The process begins with understanding the problem. In classic planning models such as the Logic Model, once a problem is understood, a solution becomes readily apparent.

However the solution must be tested in real time and outcomes of user satisfaction, financial cost benefit analysis and present value of savings measured. The evaluations and financials should be done on a wide basis, useful to individual courses and their decision makers. Otherwise it will not be accomplished on an individual, club to club basis because of its involved time and expense. The conceptual GLM is a planning technique that is used by many institutions and industries world-wide in attaining specific goals and objectives, evaluating processes and outcomes and overcoming obstacles to goals. This Golf Logic Model is discussed throughout the book and is proposed for the immediate purpose of assisting the golf industry in turning the decline of the game around and establishing a sound basis for sustainable growth.

Ironically, the interests and life blood of golf product manufacturers, product advertisers and the golf centric media are dependent upon the health of the game. Leadership in support of and interest in implementation of the Golf Logic Model would logically come from the golf product manufacturers and advertisers for they have the capabilities to influence participation with diverse interests from the media to planning partners in successfully pursuing goals and objectives of the Golf Logic Model.

In a lot of ways, you are a lone voice in the wilderness. A few people like golf historian Melvyn Morrow have sounded the alarm but otherwise, I see the same wastefulness from pre-2008 creeping back into the game. 

One thing that appears certain is that if we want to reverse the decline and bring back more fun into the game that we take a better look at course design and maintenance, the motivations and interests that influence it and encourage cost effective reforms that will provide more fun and pleasurable excitement of the game, similar to the objectives of the above GLM.

What I believe that Morrow is talking about that is similar to my thesis is that the visual pleasures of contrived landscape effects of the course have come about at the expense of fun and pleasurable experiences of the game. Where does it end – and at what expense? If we get the message, reversing golf’s decline will come from basically two initiatives, a slow process of incremental improvements of individual courses and a process similar to implementation of the Golf Logic Model that would be more expeditious and cost effective.

The eminent historian, Thomas MacWood (1958-2012), in his GCA “In My Opinion Essay, ‘The Early Architects: Beyond Old Tom,” June 2008 adds validity to Morrow’s essay. MacWood’s interesting research supports Morrow’s point that history has ignored some of the 19th century contributions to the game. “All the commentators analyzing this period were in agreement … a good deal of mediocre architecture was produced. Had there been only one or two critical voices perhaps it would be open for debate but the commentators were unanimous in their disapproval.” (38)

There are many inland courses of that period that were exceptions, having stood the test of time. Many today, with original routing little changed, are considered more enjoyable to play, one reason being that there are few obstacles of landscape effect such as present on many modern day courses. Those early unadorned courses, absent of contrived landscape effect were given short shrift as the movement to improve scenery of inland courses moved inexorably onward in pursuit of good taste. To quote MacWood: “This period can claim its share of historic designs, courses like Prestwick, Hoylake, Machrihanish, Sandwich, Portmarnock, Dornoch, Cruden Bay, Lahinch, Rye, Ganton, Myopia Hunt, New Zealand and Worlington, and for that reason cannot be considered a Dark Age.”

The avowed objective of course design from a century ago remains unchanged; which is: “To design courses which shall give the greatest possible pleasure to the greatest possible number.”  Invariably, every designer’s statement of course design embodies this idea. However, with respect to the idea of courses giving pleasure, there has been a great deal of variation in the application of this objective. The difference lies in understanding and accommodation of pleasurable and beautiful experiences for all skill levels. Scientific research of the phenomena of pleasure and the qualities that make games fun in our culture today are discussed in detail in the book. Pleasure is a sense of beauty that is derived from sensations by all of the senses, influencing emotion and intellect. Aestheticians and philosophers since the age of enlightenment have successfully advanced the idea that sensations and/or objects that provide pleasure are beautiful.

A great deal of variation in the phrase ‘greatest possible pleasure’ is evidenced in the following quotations from notable golf writers and designers over the last century. At the time courses were beginning to be designed and built by men rather than predominately by nature, Bernard Darwin and C. B.  Macdonald related experiences of beautiful emotional and intellectual sensations on the golf course, none of which were of a visual character. Now, one hundred years later, contemporary designers Tom Fazio (1945) and Tom Doak (1961) talk about beauty more in terms of viewing a fine golf landscape and making beautiful golf holes.

Quotations of prominent golf writers and designers from Darwin to Doak, 1909 to 2010, reveal a trend of emphasis and attitude that shifts from beauties and attractions of the game to visual beauty of the course.

Bernard Darwin, famous English golf writer, expressed beauty in terms of his pleasurable thoughts and feelings with play at St. Andrews: “…beauty in contemplations of playing the banks and braes that guard the holes without need for bunkers.”  This was characteristic of what was considered as beautiful about golf in 1909

C.B. Macdonald, most famous of early American designer, elaborated upon pleasurable excitement in terms of emotional and intellectual experiences as: “Beauty in contemplation of wind and hanging lies.”

Walter Travis (1862-1927), commented upon soulful delight, an intellectual and emotional sense of beauty of experiences playing his greens as: “The putting greens are real beauties and will delight the soul.” And of the simulation of being in a “state of flow” in striking a series of uninterrupted good shots, exclaiming; “I was in that golfer’s seventh heaven.”

Dr. Alister MacKenzie stated that:  “The beauty of golf courses in the past has suffered from the creations of ugly and unimaginative design.” MacKenzie sought beautiful surroundings, as he wrote: “The chief objective of every golf architect or green keeper worth his salt is to imitate the beauties of nature so closely as to make his work indistinguishable from nature.”

Harry Colt wrote: “The landscape might have been made more pleasing to the eye… by planting judiciously… pleasure …would be gained… from playing the game amidst pleasing surroundings.”

George Thomas, Jr.(1873-1932), whose 30 years of rose hybridizing ingrained in him an appreciation of the sensitive relation of function and aesthetics, consistently incorporated:  “Functionality and beauty” in his work.

A.W. Tillinghast stated that his objective was: “… to make the hole a challenging test and as beautiful as possible.”

Dr. Michael Hurdzan (1943), wrote: “The wow factor for beauty that had ranked 10 is now 2 in importance of design.”

Thomas Fazio’s idea of enjoyment on a golf course included experience of beauty; he stated that: “Blending art with science to produce beautiful places people can enjoy…” and “…that experience of beauty is in viewing a fine landscape; are part of the enjoyment of golf.”

Tom Doak, quoting from Dream Golf 2010, that in order for a course to take its place at the top of the World’s 100 best course lists, it would require that the designer: “Make… holes as beautiful and as interesting as possible.”

Thank you for sharing your very interesting perspective over these past several months.

The pleasure was all mine. Landscape effect is a very important subject and I hope we have given people plenty to ponder. As we reflect upon this great game, let us ponder about that which has been good for the game and that which has not been in the best interests of the players of the game.

 

THE END

Footnotes:
20. Brolin, Brent C., Flight of Fancy The Banishment and Return of Ornament, St. Martin’s Press, NY, NY,
1985. The source of much of the material in this and the next paragraph is from Chapters 4 through 6.
21. Calusa Pines, FL, GolfClubAtlas.com, January Feature Interview, 2009.
22. Gerard, Alexander, Esssay on Taste, ibid 20, pg.73
23. MacWood, Thomas. GolfClubAtlas, Arts and Crafts Golf, Part III
24. Wethered, H. N. & Simpson, T., The Architectural Side of Golf, Longmans, Green, Ltd. 1929, reprint Ailsa, Inc.,
2001, page v. Author’s Preface
25. Macdonald, Charles Blair. Scotland’s Gift – Golf, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928, reprint Ailsa Inc.,
1985, page. 29.
26. Ibid 20,  page. 93
27. Ibid 20, page 107
28. Hutchinson, Horace G., Golf: The Badminton Library, Longmans, Green, Ltd., London, England, 1890, page. 321
29. Ibid 23, Part III
30. Hawtree, Fred. W., The Golf Course: Planning, Design, Construction and Maintenance, E. & F. N. Spon, London,
England, 1983, page. 23
31. Wethered, H. N. & Simpson, T. The Architectural Side of Golf, Longmans, Green, Ltd.
1929, reprint Ailsa, Inc., 2001, page. 9
32. Ibid 20, page 1 Foreword
33. Ibid 30, Preface page 12.
34. Fazio, Thomas.  Golf Course Design,  Harry N. Abrams, New York, London, 2000, pg. 53
35. Cornish, Geoffrey and Whitten, Ronald. The Architects of Golf, Harper Collins, NY, NY,
1993, page. 177
36.  MacKenzie, Alister. The Spirit of St. Andrews (Manuscript originally written in 1934),
Broadway Books, NY, Sleeping Bear Press, 1995, page.50.
37. Steinberg, Ted. American Green, WW Norton Co, 2006, page 94
38. MacWood, Thomas, GolfClubAtlas essay; In My Opinion The Early Architects: Beyond Old Tom,
June 2008, The closing 6 paragraphs of his essay relate to the material quoted here.