I'm speaking next week at a CMAA meeting in Denver. I did a CMAA meeting once a few years ago and they did wine tasting, so I figured it might pay to go to this one. I prefer Single Malt. We will see what happens.
In truth, the program is pretty cool. The Mile High CMAA Chapter is looking to get perspective on the evolution of Golf and has invited some notables from the Club Pro, Turfgrass and Colorado Golf in general. So cool. Had to say yes. If you have been reading my Blog or listening to my Podcast for any amount of time, you probably know that I'm neurotic for preparation. In this case, I cant just stand up, pull a club out of the bag and hit a one-iron. I have to work for this one a bit and do some research and the like.
The Evolution of Golf. Certainly, Golf hasn't been immune to evolution. One must only look at the Golf Ball or the Golf Club to see that. And certainly, there has been plenty of change as it comes to the world of architecture. Even if that change is simply to erase the poorly evolved. Then we come to the 2007-2008 crash. Or "adjustment" as the optimists call it. And from that point on, it's been a crazy world of trying to figure out what golf is and who we all are.
To me, we can't escape a list of facts that is here to stay:
50% of everyone now picking up a club is 55 years of age or older.
77.5% of all golfers are male.
74% of players play less than 10 times per year.
68% of all golfers are married.
$2,800 is the average amount that the average player spends per year.
Great Dave. So you are gonna get up in front of a bunch of club management types and tell them what they either already know, can read in NGF stats or are experiencing while they try to figure out how to get this all to change. And guess what? It's not gonna change. It's not. No matter how much Foot Golf or Jump Houses or 13th Hole Concerts or Bluetooth Speakers or GPS Disney Carts come along... The Golf is The Golf.
But the Agronomy? Just like the equipment and the courses themselves, is dynamic. Here's what I see as the coming trends and the things that we are talking about. Will these things change the numbers above? Again, not likely in my mind. But there is an evolution.
Bunkers. Despite the PGA Tour now calling them Penalty Areas, bunkers now represent at least 50% of the conversations that I have as an agronomic advisor. Be it construction, reconstruction, restoration, daily maintenance or tourney prep, they are a grand topic. And a damn expensive one. The expectations are high and the understanding of what "natural" really takes to maintain is low. At least half the golfers at most clubs don't like the sand or the way the sand is prepped. They are money pits. In a recent agronomy report for a client, I talked about the "gift" a traditionalist architect had given the club in the form of "natural bunkers", proving to double the labor dollars required to deal with them. Here's the quote: "the only way not to spend so much money on these bunkers, is not to have these bunkers". One less architect X-mas card will come to me this year.
Robotic Mowing. Like it or not, robots are coming. In form of Turfgrass Roombas or some such. I don't see them as play-toys and I keep saying this. Those that are using the first generation of the things are seeing what the win will be. Sure, they will require a different kind of maintenance, schedule and some human supervision, but there is no question they will be part of the internal landscape.
Precision Applications. Along the same lines, we will certainly see more and more GPS oriented technology for anything that gets applied. And for sure, this will mean the evolution of sensor technology to make sure that only the overpowering invader gets the treatment and the zones doing great do not. I can foresee an IR scanning drone overflying an area, downloading info to a sprayer and that sprayer applying 10% or less of what used to be applied. Same will go for irrigation. Real time data will be commonplace at tremendous savings.
Large Area Mowers. Gone are the days of multiple heights of cut and a bevy of labor to produce them. 3 heights of cut. And the one that is the largest area will be once again mowed with larger mowers. Will item number 2 play a part. In some way, yes. And if the happens, the equipment may be smaller as an accommodation. The corollary to this simply mowing less grass to begin with.
Short Courses, Par 3's and Whisky Loops. Time is something we can't print more of. So without a doubt, the conversation about shorter, easier, more fun and quicker places to play is going to continue. You wanna go hang out at the 7600 yard battlezone? Be my guest. I like the 5300 yard opportunity not to hate myself.
Great Grasses. In my opinion we are entering into another golden age of plant breeding and turf types will be more unique, site specific and use specific than ever before. With reams of data now at our fingertips about climate and the ability to model the potential growth based on the smallest details, breeders can meet needs. In really cool ways. One only has to look at the amazing Bents and Ultras that we are using on greens now to see there is real movement in this area.
Lowering of Expectations. How hard is it really, for golfers, members and management to get that when they want lower prices they are going to get less. I actually think that superintendents are doing a much better job of talking about this from a less defensive posture. Is this because the "Country Club for a Day" sales pitch is going away? I'd like to think so. And to be fair, Supers are starting to realize they have been their own worst enemies as it comes to inventing stuff to do to make things reach that "next level". The extra 10% can cost another 30%. That's not ROI. Thats just stupid. I'm quick to point this out when anyone says "Next Level" or some version of it to me. Here's the truth. We all want to drive McLarens. And few can afford it. Enjoy your Toyota. Love it.
Chemicals. I talk about this all the time. One day, there won't be any or there will be very little. And so we will have to rely on point number 6 above. What's driving it. Sadly it's not the environmental factor as much as it is the litigation and liability factor. And quite frankly as a recent student of risk management, I don't blame the insurance folks for backing away from the agri-chem coverage. It's a controllable risk.
9. Virtual Golf. I met a gentleman on a plane recently who was wearing a high end resort logo. He told me his story of logo achievement because I was dumb enough to ask. But his answer was facinating. He plays all his golf at Top Golf and at his friend's basement simulator. And once a year, he and his buddies head for the coast, play as many holes a day as the daylight and their sore feel will allow. Eat and Drink to excess. Tell lies. And head home to the Simulators. Now maybe this does say that golf is changing, but then again, no. It just says that once a year, the dudes have dude times with their el dudarino buddies and that's all they get. Actually, sounds pretty good to me.
10. Brilliance. Buh? It's simple. Turfheads are some of the most resourceful people on the planet. And if you ask most of them to sort out something, make something happen, deal with adversity, they will. Over and over again. So the evolution of golf and golf turf is well rooted in the brilliance and testicular thought fortitude of those growing the grass. I know damn good and well that sitting here today, I can not predict the things that will go on in 33 years, just as I couldn't have predicted this blog 33 years ago when I hit the biz.
So, I have parts of my talk for next week. And I can spend the next six nights torturing myself over getting the visuals right and the roadmap right for a decent presentation and wondering why I say yes to these things. I can focus on not sounding like just another Brad Kline or Pat Jones talk. I can actually be me and say it as I see it. In this moment. It's all one can really do, right?
(PostScript....If you would like to weigh in on the evolutionary path of golf as related to Agronomy, I and many others would love to hear it. Comment below. And remember, no idea is too off the wall)