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USGA, Turfgrass, and U.S. Opens

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The USGA touts that one of their main missions is turfgrass research, and they advertise this constantly in their fundraising messages, saying that they fund extensive programs to develop and improve strains of grass which will support environmentally sound golf course practices. The U.S. open is the crown jewel in their portfolio - it is our national championship, and acknowledged as one of the most important golf tournaments in the world, with enormous prestige and attention given to the event and all involved. Given the USGA's standing as one of the most significant organizations in all of golf, and in fact in all of sport, it is befitting that their finest event should showcase everything they stand for. So why is it that such an organization, supposedly so influential in turfgrass development, consistently delivers to the world an annual golf tournament there the grass looks terrible, is nonexistent in many places on the course, and plays so poorly that even the most restrained players in the world cannot hold back their criticisms? They have the luxury of closing courses long before the tournament to manage turf conditions, yet they consistently fail. Nearly any local course superindendent would be ashamed to have their course look and play like the U.S. Open, and many would be fired if they let their course reach such conditions And this isn't just an issue from Chambers Bay; every Open for years has shown similar characteristics. This isn't a case where it needs to look green to be good, and that's not what I'm pushing for. Brownish and dormant is fine. But it seems the message from the USGA is that they have no clue how to grow and keep grass. They don't know how to manage fescue. They have no idea what to do with pop annua. They don't know how to manage speeds without destroying much of the surface. They don't know how to prevent invading grass species take over. They don't seem to know how to distribute water to gain consistency. I've already been very disappointed in the organization for their bumbling on equipment rules and geologic speed to address issues like pace, but I've always felt at least they are still doing some good for the game through their research money. But if the Opens are their showcase, one wonders just what are they spending all this supposed research money on?

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So why is it that such an organization, supposedly so influential in turfgrass development, consistently delivers to the world an annual golf tournament there the grass looks terrible, is nonexistent in many places on the course, and plays so poorly that even the most restrained players in the world cannot hold back their criticisms?

Because there isn't a grass that stays green when it gets dried out.  US Open has to play firm and fast to keep scores down and make it tough. Firm fast courses is an easy way to decrease the effective width of the fairway and size of the greens.

It doesn't play poorly. If you know the course is firm, then don't hit it where you would get a highly likely chance of running it through the fairway or bounce it off the green.

Like Phil on day one. Do not miss it between the hole and the edge of the green. They knew from the practice round a shot over there goes 50-60 yards down the hill. US Open basically redefines what a good shot is. A good shot isn't just having the ball hit the green or hit the fairway. It has to take into account an expected bounce.

Honestly country club golf is over-rated. The USGA has done a great job in weeding out the complainers.

This isn't a case where it needs to look green to be good, and that's not what I'm pushing for. Brownish and dormant is fine. But it seems the message from the USGA is that they have no clue how to grow and keep grass. They don't know how to manage fescue. They have no idea what to do with pop annua. They don't know how to manage speeds without destroying much of the surface. They don't know how to prevent invading grass species take over. They don't seem to know how to distribute water to gain consistency.

I do think the USGA should have just rebuilt all the greens out there to make sure they were the same. The newest greens were the ones in the best shape.

Poa Annau is tough to deal with. The US Open has historically had Poa Annau issues. This isn't uncommon.

Actually the greens ran slower this year then previous years. Some of the players remarked they were slower than the practice greens. Seems like the USGA was really hesitant to make them super fast because of the slope and how dry the weather is out there. They did a really good job keeping the course playable.

I've already been very disappointed in the organization for their bumbling on equipment rules and geologic speed to address issues like pace, but I've always felt at least they are still doing some good for the game through their research money. But if the Opens are their showcase, one wonders just what are they spending all this supposed research money on?

I thought this US Open was a huge success. The course look amazing. It played amazing. It was a challenge to all the golfers. When you push a course to play firm and fast you are going to end up with some bad breaks and some good breaks. That happens all the time anyways. The best golfers showcased their abilities. In the end you had 5-6 guys in contention with a dramatic finish.

Honestly, give me more courses like this over country club golf. Its fun to see the golfers actually take shots at par 4's instead of being forced to hit 3-woods or irons to stay out of ankle deep rough.

Boring golf = 4-iron off the tee, 4-iron into the green, oops I missed by 2 yards and ended up with a terrible lie and have to hack out and try to drain a 40 FT par putt. Goes to next hole, another long par 4, and another iron off the tee. #BORING

Exciting golf = unique golf course that allows the use of backstops, and the ability to either fly the ball or run it up. Pretty wide fairways that ran fast that required some accuracy but not enough to force them to hit irons over and over again. Risk/Reward was at a premium.

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I agree with your comments about country club golf and I'm tired of the incessant belief that a course has to look lushly green to be attractive. I adore the look of links courses, and love playing places like Bandon, Pebble when it is dry, and local courses that also run firm and fast. And I play on poa annua all the time. It offers some playing challenges, but it can be properly managed (look at the 2008 U.S. Open). I concur it was a fun Open that delivered some exiting results, and the course was interesting with its many playing options. But my point had nothing to do with that. Itwas that the grass was an issue at Chambers, and not just because it was firm and fast. They clearly had issues with the turf, and the comments from the players and press who were on site along with many spectators at the course confirms this. So why is it that the organization supposedly at the forefront of grass development struggles so much? They aren't making a very good case for their research.

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But my point was that the grass was an issue at Chambers, and not just because it was firm and fast. They clearly had issues with the turf, and the comments from the players and press who were on site along with many spectators at the course confirms this. So why is it that the organization supposedly at the forefront of grass development struggles so much?

Forgive my ignorance, but how much does the USGA control the turf at these golf courses? I would have thought that they chose the sites and had to work with whatever was there. Chambers Bay has greens that are mixed fescue and poa annua by design. It's not like they can pause the tournament halfway through each day to mow it down or whatever. Two different strains of grass are going to have two different characteristics.

Did they try to do too much to the greens to make them stimp at US Open speed? Maybe. Then again, players would have also complained if the greens stimped 9, not to mention all bumps and erratic rolling that comes from slower greens.

All I know is the greens didn't keep some pretty long putts from being made. Sometimes I think players just miss their putts and want to find something to blame for it.

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They have the luxury of closing courses long before the tournament to manage turf conditions, yet they consistently fail. Nearly any local course superindendent would be ashamed to have their course look and play like the U.S. Open, and many would be fired if they let their course reach such conditions And this isn't just an issue from Chambers Bay; every Open for years has shown similar characteristics.

From what I understand, the only way to get greens to play fast and hard, like the USGA wants, is to basically starve them for water.  Healthy rich vibrant turf isn't naturally fast, no matter how low you cut it.  In order to get the green speeds they want, they have to mow the greens unhealthy short, roll them, and withhold water.  They push the tournament greens to the edge of death to get the tournament conditions they want.  Its up to the local superintendent to get the greens back to health after the USGA moves on.

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Poa Anua is not in the design/mixture of the greens or fairways at chambers bay.  The greens were a mixture of 94% fine fescue and 6% colonial Bentgrass.  It should be noted that it was recommended that the mixture be 10% bentgrass.

One of the problems though, is that Poa Anua grows like crazy here in the northwest.  Probably the one place where people go to get the "links" experience is Bandon Dunes.  Consistantly rated as one of the top golf destinations in the US.  Same problem there.  Poa in the fescue, greens run slow and they are bumpy.  And they have better fescue growing conditions...

The other trick is that the greens are not designed to run at 13+, too much slope.

I have done a little research and reading on this stuff.  Really neat stuff actually.  The jist of it from my standpoint is that this is a pretty new deal obviously.  The Pac NW has the best climate for fescue, but there is going to be a learning curve.

My thoughts....some tweaking of the greens would be nice.  A little less bump maybe.  But honestly the scoring tells me that it wasn't that bad.  This was one of the easiest to score us opens in the last quarter century....

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From what I understand, the only way to get greens to play fast and hard, like the USGA wants, is to basically starve them for water.  Healthy rich vibrant turf isn't naturally fast, no matter how low you cut it.  In order to get the green speeds they want, they have to mow the greens unhealthy short, roll them, and withhold water.  They push the tournament greens to the edge of death to get the tournament conditions they want.  Its up to the local superintendent to get the greens back to health after the USGA moves on.

USGA Doesn't water them as much because they want them firm, but also it slows the growing of the grass. This means the green speeds will be more consistent as the day goes on.

You can have have fast and softer greens. The speed of the greens is all about how low they cut them and how much they roll them.

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I think I just read that Harding Park in SF spent $1.2m and 4 months replacing their greens. Not sure if that includes lost revenue for greens fees etc too. I'd expect with the larger size and complexity of the Chambers Bay greens it would be much more expensive. Considering cheaper greens fees for Harding at around $50 for residents and less than $100 for non residents the $200-$300 lost for each golfer would make the Chambers Bay green replacement very expensive. I think they said they average 30,000 golfers a year. At $200 a round that's about $1.5m plus maybe $2.5m for the greens. That's a wild unresearched guess on costs. Maybe someone who knows more can elaborate. If the course cost $21m to build then maybe the tax payers or whomever balked at spending that much. Now that they have seen the money a US Open can bring I'm sure they'll do whatever is needed to improve the greens. I also heard that a new pesticide will be approved for use by the fall that will stop the poa and leave the fescue. If it works I'd guess a lot of west coast courses will take advantage of that option.

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Forgive my ignorance, but how much does the USGA control the turf at these golf courses? I would have thought that they chose the sites and had to work with whatever was there. Chambers Bay has greens that are mixed fescue and poa annua by design.

I doubt they wanted to mix Poa Annua in with the fescue by design. Poa is a weed and unless it takes over the whole green (Pebble, Torrey) it grows at a different rate than fescue and doesn't lay down like fescue does. Usually when the Poa starts to take over the greenskeeper will keep the grass really long to hide it. Can't really do that at a US Open.

Poa Anua is not in the design/mixture of the greens or fairways at chambers bay.  The greens were a mixture of 94% fine fescue and 6% colonial Bentgrass.  It should be noted that it was recommended that the mixture be 10% bentgrass.

This makes sense. Bent and fescue would be a good mixture.

I think if you stress fescue by drying it out and cutting it short it will struggle and allow weeds like Poa to gain a foothold.

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Could be.  I am not expert.  I just did a little research and reading up on it.  It seems that it was really pushed to have a full fescue course.  But its not something done much at all in the U.S.  and the Poa is very prevalent here.  From the reading I did it probably would have made a lot more practical sense to just go poa annua or go with a bentgrass....but they were going for the links golf gusto.  The area is also way behind normal as far as precipitation for the year to date.  Not sure exactly how that comes into play but it might.

I believe that I read somewhere that the greens at bandon dunes are 80% fescue and 20% bentgrass and they have better fescue growing weather.  And I would also note that it is often considered one of the top golf destinations there is but it is also known to have bumpy greens at times also....

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Poa Anua is not in the design/mixture of the greens or fairways at chambers bay.  The greens were a mixture of 94% fine fescue and 6% colonial Bentgrass.  It should be noted that it was recommended that the mixture be 10% bentgrass.

I doubt they wanted to mix Poa Annua in with the fescue by design.

Yea, you guys are right, my bad. I mixed up some information from different articles in my head and got the idea that the poa annua and the fescue was supposed to be mixed together. I was thinking poa annua and bentgrass or something.

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I've attended a number of Turfgrass conferences and all of the USGA agronomists I've encountered have been fantastic.  Most are former superintendents or came from turfgrass programs at top schools.  There is a section on the USGA website dedicated to their research and updates, which are great to read and give a glimpse into the world of turfgrass.

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Here in the St. Louis area, many of the courses have bent grass greens - including my home course.

On hot sunny days the greens crew team goes around the course and measures the surface temperature of the greens. If it gets into the mid-90s F, it's crisis conditions.

One telltale sign is graying - if you step on the green turf and it leaves a grayish footprint, the grass is stressed. The greens crew will give the green a quick watering if it finds high temps and graying. The quick spray with hoses is known as syringing - to cool off the turf grass rather than heavily watering it. (Heavy watering in hot sun can lead trigger fungus and algae).

If you're interested, here's the details:

http://www.ksuturf.org/blog/2011/07/survival-is-the-keyword-and-syringing-greens/

Syringing got a little contentious at the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills CC in Tulsa. Among tournament volunteers, the country clubbers were the hole marshalls, and local public course players got put on the syringing crew. The crew members had water tanks on their backs, and misting hoses, and were supposed to mist the green areas to cool off the grass. At some greens, the crew had a hard time explaining to the country clubbers that they were cooling the greens, not watering them.

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From what I understand, the only way to get greens to play fast and hard, like the USGA wants, is to basically starve them for water.  Healthy rich vibrant turf isn't naturally fast, no matter how low you cut it.  In order to get the green speeds they want, they have to mow the greens unhealthy short, roll them, and withhold water.  They push the tournament greens to the edge of death to get the tournament conditions they want.  Its up to the local superintendent to get the greens back to health after the USGA moves on.

The question I have is why do this? Just to make the scores higher? To make the course play longer? Does it really matter if the scores are low?

If we had a normal June it could have rained. Our average rainfall for June is 1.6", and it's usually just finishing the week the Open was played. Normal temps around 69 F. Or it could have rained that weekend instead of starting to get hot. Now the course is just baking.

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I for one like what the USGA does for the US-O. The course should play hard since the best of the best golfers should be able to adapt to what ever conditions they find. The fact that those pros who piss and moan about conditions is just showing that they probably don't have the talent to adjust to tough conditions.

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The question I have is why do this? Just to make the scores higher? To make the course play longer? Does it really matter if the scores are low?

Because throwing high darts at the greens does not take as much skill. Occasionally the best player wins (see Rory at Congressional) but most of the time it becomes a matter of too much luck. You can throw it at the green from anywhere, with any club, from any lie.

The USGA likes faster greens, but truth be told, so do most PGA Tour stops. They stop a little short of what the USGA does because they can't bring in the money the USGA does, so they can't justify closing the course for as long before or after either.

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I've got some friends going out to Chambers Bay in a few weeks and I was wondering how long until conditions are back to "normal" - whatever normal would be for a course like that?

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Chambers Bay is not the first US Open to "come up dry."

In 2004 at Shinnecock Hills (NY), the grass died in places such as green of the No. 7 par 3. In the Sunday final round, the USGA began watering No. 7 green periodically between groups. In early rounds the green wouldn't hold shots, and some players even had trouble keeping chips and putts on the green.

Post-Shinnecock, players had comments similar to those made by the survivors of Chambers Bay.

http://www.golfdigest.com/blogs/the-loop/2011/06/with-return-to-shinnecock-usga-turns-page-on-2004-mess.html

The US Open will return to Shinnecock - for the fifth time - in 2017. Turf watchers stay tuned!

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