Brown Courses


In magazines and on the web, members of the major golf media recently have decreed the death of the high-end, high maintence, pristine course. The problem, it seems, is that the golf course industry overbuilt in the 90s and oughts, anticipating a Tiger and Baby Boomer demand for golf that never materialized. Now, facing a semi-permanent recession, course owners are desperate for ways to cut costs.

A solution, according to the golf futurists, is the rise of a “new” kind of course: low in maintence costs and impact on the envIronment—sustainable, in the buzzword of the new envirospeak. Rough should be allowed to return to prairie; bunkers grown shaggy; weedkiller and fertilizer eschewed; constant watering of fairways and greens pared. Regretfully, they say, “sustainable” means our courses no longer will be emerald jewels. But brown is the new green.

That this development is treated as revolutionary probably says more about the golf writing fraternity than they would care to admit. For writers who regularly play the Top 100 list as guests of the resort, I’m sure that the concept of a fairway that’s more brown than green is groundbreaking—or at the very least, romantic. It’s funny to read them wax poetic about the brown paths of the classic Scottish clubs and fantasize about similar shades in the United States.

But for those of us who spend our lives on the public links, shaggy brown courses have long been part of our everyday experience. The municipal and public courses I play are far from pristine. They’re green and soft in the spring; browner, and hard in the summer; worn and leafy in the fall. All of the public tracks I play water the greens regularly, but not all do the same for the fairways. Tee boxes also are hit-and-miss. The best fairways are completely filled in, but not always with grass. On some, various species of “weeds” have won the Darwinian struggle. But at least there aren’t any bare spots. The rough has always been … rough.

The courses I frequent most often have been practicing “sustainable” golf for as long as I can remember. I don’t romanticize the summer’s sunburned shades, but acknowledge that they’re part of the passage of the year. The course changes with the seasons. It’s part of the game for a good many of us.

It seems to me that the people who play on the perfected fairways and greens of the high end courses miss a great deal. The unvarying sameness of the manicured fairways, maintained “rough” and measured stimps is fine for the occasional special round, but I think it would—in a way—get old. Perhaps that’s why the golf writers have plunged into the seas of brown grass like a migration of lemmings. They’re looking for something out of the experience of their “ordinary” rounds.



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