Square Greens At Washtenaw
One of the things that Ray Hearn discovered while studying old aerial photographs for Washtenaw Golf Club’s master plan was that many of the greens originally were more nearly square. Over the years, however, mowing softened the edges until they were much more circular.
Recently, I’ve noticed that work is being done on the greens at Washtenaw with an eye toward restoring the original contours.
Square greens are unusual these days, but not unknown. Chicago Golf Club has square greens, for example. I think it might have been a feature of more courses of that era than we realize. Chicago Golf Club dates to 1894. Washtenaw dates to 1899.
Noted golf architect Ron Forse, who has done restoration work on dozens of classic clubs, told GolfBlogger that many putting surfaces were square even before sand greens turned to turf. Bluff Point in New York, an 1890 Tillinghast design, also has square greens, Forse said. The only round green was the ladies’ putting clock.
The South Course at Arcadia Bluffs has square greens in homage to Chicago Golf Club.
I have a completely unresearched theory about the square sand greens: The greens were square because people were used to cutting squares and rectangles of turf/sod/peat for fuel and building materials. Houses constructed of turf blocks were built in Scotland from 4,000 BC to the 19th century. Peat was cut into blocks for fuel. If people were used to cutting squares and rectangles of turf, it follows that they would cut an area for a sand green in the same fashion — perhaps even using the removed material for construction.
Following up on that with square grass greens: it might just have been easier to maintain in the days of hand mowers. Anyone who has ever pushed a reel mower knows that it is much easier to mow in straight lines than curves. You push the mower to the end of the line, tilt it back, adjust the line and then mow straight again. If you try to force the mower into a curve, it fights you because the wheels are lined on a single axis.
A four wheeled power mower on the other hand is much easier to steer on a curve. When using one of those in my yard, it is much easier to mow in a more circular fashion. Those small and zero turn mowers are practically begging for a circular — and therefore much quicker — mowing job.
It will be interesting to see how the squaring of the greens goes at Washtenaw. There is quite a bit planned for the restoration, but aside from the removal of a couple of trees, square green lines are the first I’ve seen underway.