My inbox has been blessed with some really good questions in the weeks since #GIS19. I like this one:
"Have you given up on the idea of sustainability?"
At first pass, I scoffed. Please. Me? Never. And then I considered the source of the question and the context of the conversation. Let's start with context. Because that word, in its wide range, can mean so many things. The author of the question was speaking to me about agronomy. Then to the point of source, we are talking about a Superintendent who has always been a deep thinking thought leader. So I decided that I'd look a little deeper at the whole subject.
In the early 90's my youthful excitement to apply ideas, along with my need to get noticed for those ideas, led me to seek out the emerging culture of eco-agricultural thinkers. This meant taking in writings of authors from Acres, USA Press. It led me to attend local and state anything that had to do with environment friendly agriculture. I got close with the growers and grazers who were using the same water sources as I was. I created a "community compost operation" and lastly, went almost entirely pesticide and salt fertilizer free. Inside of all of this were some pretty amazing people. Wide ranging. From generational Fruit, Wine Grape and Cannabis growers to Beef, Pork and Dairy producers to cool old ladies who just wanted to grow some strawberries to a wide range of specialty producers of just about anything that would grow. I'm a third generation agriculturist myself so in a way, there were as much my people as Turfheads. If not maybe more.
What I didn't grasp at the time is that I was the interloper, because I wasn't producing a "market crop". "It's Golf", they would say, "it doesn't produce anything other than recreation". And quite frankly most of that crowd didn't really get or participate in the sport. I had all the lines that we all say about Turfgrass being a major contributor, and they listened, nodded and held their same beliefs. But I was bound and determined that I was "producing" a "sustainable" product. And my ability to speak a bunch of different agriculture languages made this a fun sell for me. I was trying to be more "organic" more "sustainable" more "eco" so I could be looked at as a participant and not just a tourist.
What I learned was that my passion and my situation was unique and that really, if you want to, you can figure out a way to program a quality turfgrass management program with just about as much or as little input as you want. Really. And I learned that the best growers, producers, agriculturalists were the ones who relentlessly studied, observed, collected data and applied strong logic, while leaving behind the hype.
Nothing piled against the rocks is any longer sustainability material.
Lets get back to the original question, "Have you given up on the idea of Sustainability?". The answer is a distinct and strong, "No". I haven't given up on the idea of chemical free management. I lived it as a Super. I live it now as a consultant. I am always looking at ways to reduce inputs of any kind and increase the quality of the product. In some climates, working hard to fool. nature means doing this in some un-natural ways. And yes, that could lead to a use of a pesticide of some sort, or a chemical that overcomes a barrier to producing a playing surface. I'm not as naive as I once was. But in the same way, I am more dogmatic about how to look at the infinite number of choices we now have in our techno powerful world.
My old friend Tom Mead and I were talking about a project years ago. Mead, who was working for Tom Doak at the time and had been a Super himself and I hit it off straight away because we were of a "sustainable" mindset. Meaning we were always looking for ways not to apply chemistry first. This particular conversation has to do with grassing choices. We both knew there were two roads. One road was the higher road. It would fall more to what the "general handbook" would say. It would require some chemical enhancement and it would be understandable to 90% of Turfheads everywhere. The lower road was the road less traveled. It would require more creativity and observation. It may mean a lot of different as less frequently used inputs in the beginning, developing a bank account that would pay interest for a lifetime of less input. Both ways, under capable hands, would produce a playing surface. Both could be talked about at the bar at the end of the day by golfers who don't know any better and be declared a win.
So, what tips the ship? Which wind requires which sail? Or is it lots of fuel and big horsepower engines? That, in and of itself is the eternal and unanswerable question. And to me right there, is why Sustainability, while sailing into and out of storms, fog, doldrums and fair weather is never going by the wayside. Because, clearly, show me an agricultural professional, captaining any kind of ship, who stops looking for the best way to be the operator, master and commander of every tool at their disposal and I will show you a crash of Titanic proportions. Nothing piled against the rocks is any longer sustainability material. What constitutes a ship wreck in the golf world? To me it's the sad sign of golf courses going away. Hitting the rocks for various reasons, but gone none the less.
Both ways, under capable hands, would produce a playing surface. Both could be talked about at the bar at the end of the day by golfers who don't know any better and be declared a win.
But if the ship is in the water, making waves, seeking cool ports and using its crew and every board foot of its waterline, it is, indeed Sustainable. Give up on Sustainable? Never. Our precious turfgrass demands it and further requires we don't label it and box it in so that we can claim technique over results.