Swing Thoughts, by By Dr. Tom Ferraro and John David Keefe
Al Goreís book and documentary ďAn Inconvenient TruthĒ tells us that the evidence for global warming ďis overwhelming and undeniable.Ē Consider these points: * The number of category 4 and category 5 hurricanes has doubled in the last 30 years * At least 279 species of plants and animals have responded to global warming by moving closer to the poles * If left unchecked, deaths from global warming will double in just 25 years to 300,000 people * Droughts and wildfires will occur more often * Over a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by 2050
You donít have to be Al Gore to understand that things are hotter then ever. Iím anticipating walking out of my office in Williston Park one day and seeing a palm tree on the sidewalk! Letís figure out what impact this heat will have on golf.
With hotter spells and higher humidity, gentle sprinkles of the past will give way to torrential downpours and flooding. This presents challenges to golf courses everywhere. Designs and practices that once were sufficient in the past look increasingly impractical for the future. And just like businesses who refused to adapt to computers and the internet, those who resist change will end up being run over by it. Critics who say that golf uses up too much water, fertilizer, and pesticides have a new issue to talk about, and itís called global warming.
The problem with global warming is not just with heat. Hotter air holds more water, so humidity rises and allows plant and bug pests to take root. If your greens happen to be of the Poa-annua variety. then youíre in for some problems. Many of Long Islandís finest clubs lost their greens last year thanks to the deadly combination of heat, humidity, and Poa-annua.
Downpours and flooding are problems as well. Older courses whose drainage systems were constructed based upon past weather patterns will be overwhelmed. Any low areas without proper drainage are likely to become lakes, damaging the underlying greenery and requiring costly repair.
Paradoxically, as global warming predicts more unstable and severe weather, these downpours will also bring with them intermittent drought periods that are just as stressful. Trying to keep fairways and greens a plush verdant color with the loss of natural rain will require better watering techniques, newer, more heat-tolerant grasses, and even the development of genetically modified grasses that can flourish through dry spells and periodic drenching.
One of the unpleasant solutions to the problem of drought is to just let a lot of the grass turn brown. This yearís British Open at Hoylake showed Tiger Woods putting across greens splotched with brown grass. This is a sign of the times. Last year we lost the greens at Shinnecock during the U.S. Open thanks to a combination of dry conditions, wind, and greens cut too low. It all adds up.
Dr. Rich Hurley of Rutgers University is the professor in charge of grasses at the amazing Bayonne Golf Club on New York Harbor. Like many superintendents we spoke to, Dr. Hurley was not overly concerned about global warming. He felt that the real danger to golf courses was the pressure from owners to limit water use and cut greens too low. He did admit however that Poa-annua greens were vulnerable to heat, humidity, and anthracnose disease. He suggested that courses in the colder climes could benefit from increases in temperature as it will increase the growing season. He added that Bermuda grasses are well suited for the heat and could find increased use.
Global warming really deserves more thought than it currently receives. It looks like golf has the ability to utilize so much expertise and so much technology that golfers wouldnít really have much to worry about.
As for me, Iím still waiting for the first sign of palm trees sprouting up on Bethpage Black. The 17th would actually look pretty interesting with a tropical look to it, donít you think?