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Just Enough...


Paul MacCormack

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On my way to BTME in England this past January, I was lucky to have a layover day in Dublin, Ireland. I was even more fortunate to have a good friend, TurfNet’s own, Jon Kiger, as a tour guide and facilitator of good times. We experienced a wee bit of history and culture (and yes a pint or two of Guinness) but the tour that has stayed with me most from that day was our stop at Portmarnock Golf Club.

Founded in 1894 and located on a peninsula just outside Dublin, it was everything a proper links course should be; open, windswept and completely in its element. Links Manager Gary Johnstone was kind enough to take some time during his morning to show me around this historic property. The course was stunning in a great many ways, but what struck me the most was its sense of place and character. Even though the ground was frost covered, one couldn’t help but feel that things were as they should be. When speaking with Gary about their maintenance practices, the feeling I had was reinforced by the simplicity of their approach. They focused only on what was necessary-- nothing more than that. Fairways mown once per week, no fungicide usage on any surfaces, and fescue as far as the eye could see. What a breath of fresh air!

They focused only on what was necessary... nothing more than that.

Our tour left me with a renewed sense of why links golf speaks to me… because the approach to greenkeeping is so beautifully simple. 

The words “beautifully simple” are often times anathema in our modern society. If something is not a flashy spectacle and “post worthy” then it is not thought of as being of value. Yet, even when something does catch our eye, we are scanning the horizon for the next great thing, rarely resting in the moment and asking ourselves, “Is this good enough for now?” 

portmarnock1.jpg

As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic our industry is experiencing resurgence in play. Business is good and that is fueling growth across the board. In our rush to take advantage of this momentary spike in the games popularity there is new construction/renovation work, brand new alt golf facilities (think topgolf),  and an overall sense of optimism  in many corners of the industry. 

Everyone appears to be in a great big hurry to bury what we have just collectively gone through with the pandemic, a natural response to such a traumatic event. And it also seems that our answer to the massive weather events and shifts that are taking place with the climate crisis is simply more growth and development. 

What if we paused to reflect on our pandemic experience as golf course superintendents and used it to collectively begin framing deeper questions about the game itself. When the pandemic forced us to strip things down to their core elements, was that really a bad thing? Has our mad rush back to “normality” caused us to turn our backs on the possibility of less actually being more?  Could we pause long enough to see that simpler just might be better and far more sustainable on all fronts?

When the pandemic forced us to strip things down to their core elements, was that really a bad thing?

For years we have been pushing the envelope with course conditioning and maintenance. I sometimes wonder if our push for improved conditions and the technology that allows this to occur, has raised the bar to a level that is simply unsustainable moving forward.  And this is not just within the golf industry but across the board in all facets of our lives. The degree of complexity and specialization we find ourselves living with everyday is simply too much for people to have to navigate and it is pushing us outside our internal limits and those of the world around us. 

During Covid there were times we had no choice but to scale things down and focus on the basics. This happened against the backdrop of humanity dealing with a global pandemic, so it might be difficult to see how it benefited us on a larger scale. What if we could separate the two and see how a more simplistic approach to turf maintenance could actually be the way forward? 

Think of the benefits in a holistic way. Less is not more, less is good. Less consumption (think more about supply chain reimagining instead of a brief interruption), less energy expended (especially from a superintendent and crew perspective) and a return to more realistic expectations. 

How might it look if we asked similar questions with regards to our own operations and processes?  Is this renovation work truly improving the course or are we just trying to keep up with the other courses on social media? Do we really need this latest piece of technology or are we just using it because we think we should because someone told us it would make our lives so much easier? Do we really need to work endless hours to uphold maintenance expectations that, if in some cases they simply disappeared, no one would even notice?  Why are we constantly adding to the system, when maybe subtraction is the better answer?

Do we really need this latest piece of technology or are we just using it because we think we should because someone told us it would make our lives so much easier?

Endless growth is not a natural concept. Nature finds a balance and seeks to maintain equilibrium. The slow burn of links land and their maintenance practices evolved over eons. In its purest form, greenkeeping flows with nature, rather than imposing itself upon the land. It seeks to use technology that is beneficial and supportive of this mindset, instead of using it just because it’s there for the taking. 

As I drove the links at Portmarnock, I was overcome with a sense of peace and the true essence of the game. It didn’t feel contrived, but that it belonged. The course didn’t jump out, rather blended with the landscape and its surroundings. As I listened to Gary speak of its history and their place in it, it felt sustainable and left me with a renewed inspiration for our own facility back on PEI. One that focuses on a sense of place, a sense of community, and above all a sense that everything we do should have a purpose and honour the land which holds us all in its embrace.

Thanks so much for reading.

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