Fescue Be Not Jungle, Man!

Agronomy, you monkeys! Agronomy!

One of the things that the “New Economy” is going to bring on is a whole bunch of talk about how to reduce inputs, irrigation, mowing and therefore $’s. Pretty simple and I love it. And I’m hearing a ton of golf course architects that aren’t building anything new suggesting that there are ways to save inputs by doing some creative design work. Love that too.

This week I was fortunate enough to do my quarterly (or so) visit with one of my favorite places, Claremont CC in the fabu Rockridge area of Oakland, California. Yup, that’s Oakland as in Raiders, Hells Angels, Oaksterdam and Jerry Brown. But there’s also a non-gang-violent part of town where the locals drink at places called Barclay’s and get coffee at Peaberry’s. Claremont is this amazing cool old MacKenzie design that I have grown to love. Expertly maintained by Super Randy Gai, his number 1, Josh Clevenger and a staff of great greenkeepers, Claremont is a gem and if they’d let me, I’d play there every day. They never would, but I’m just saying….

One of the things that I love about Claremont right now is the work that they have been doing to restore it to original form, or as close as it can get. Like most restorations, some bunker work is involved. Unlike most restorations, the bunkers are old MacKenzie classics and no matter which drunken Irishman the history books (and Sean Tully) say actually built them, they are wonderful. Add the expertise of Jim Urbina (previously one of Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design Associates, now working mostly on his own) and there is work of a quality that must be seen to be believed.

When Jim finishes his magic, and sodding and seeding are completed, we get something that looks like this. Note the fine fescue around the bunker. What I love is that instead of just doing a few strips around the bunker, this entire area is now in fine fescue. An easy 1/2 acre.

Early on in the restoration project, the subject of how this fescue would integrate was of great debate and a lot of misunderstanding, but now, with water at a premium and everyone mostly educated on what traditional architecture should look like in modern times, the fine fescue works. That’s nothing new. I’m sure our friends in the UK and in Ireland are rolling their eyes, as if to say…Duh. Exactly. Duh!

I’ve seen a lot of fine fescue gone wrong. It’s not pretty. Becoming a jungle in which no ball could be found in and no shot could be hit from. But when we layer the concept of not watering (a concept I like very much) with the idea that we need grasses that can handle this, along with the whole “down with brown” movement and soak the fescue trifle with enough rum to make members stop worrying about being all manicured, we can get something amazing.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get enough of this. Randy and Josh are making this look easy. It’s not. Takes some dedication to the concept and for sure, there are always going to be members who have a hard time understanding this. But that’s no reason not to do the right thing.

It takes a growing season or two to get these grasses in line and it takes good section guys who hate to use hoses to help make it happen. For sure, watering this grass much at all means Jungle Golf and a bunch of hostile green committee meetings.

Because it is getting OK to do less and water less and input less, we need to be looking at moves like this as brave and progressive and I wanted to give a big nod to Claremont, Gai, Clevenger, Urbina and a bunch of excellent turfheads.

And when I see fescue disasters or winners, I’ll try to say something about them. Because it really is getting OK, but it’s not easy.

5 Responses to “Fescue Be Not Jungle, Man!”

  • Great stuff Dave! As we get squeezed from a water and chemical standpoint fescue is going to need to become more and more prominent. We better learn how to grow it, not just in the rough but playing surfaces as well. If we can do this as we lose inputs then we can keep the quality of our playing surfaces at a high level.

  • Dave Wilber:

    Thanks and I agree…of course!

  • Josh Clevenger:

    Thanks for the props Dave. Always good to see you in Oaktown! And bring your clubs whenever you’re ready to tee it up, we’d love to have you.

  • Chuck:

    We use fine fescue sod from Wisconsin and it’s beautiful. We don’t have the $$ though to retrofit our green irrigation design to water fescue correctly with the addition. We put in some parts that were once full to miss the fescue but it still gets thick with precipitation. I dump old bunker sand in the spring and fall as we clean them out on the fescue as much as I can after we’ve chopped it down for the year and I’m confident over time it’ll behave as I want it even with rainfall. The main problem is weeds and if Josh and his guys at CCC have figgered it oot I’d love to hear it.

  • josh clevenger:

    Chuck, I don’t feel we’ve really “figured” anything out with regard to weeds in the fescue. We have our section staff scouting and pulling weeds as part of their daily routine. We send a group of 6 to 10 staff around to hand pull grassy and other weeds 2 or 3 times per year. The only spray apps. we’re making are for the common bermuda that we have here. Fusilade/Turflon combo at light rates 3 to 4 times a year. Keeping fert and water off of the fescue is key.