Sand Valley Golf


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While Rob's description of his approach might seem like a greenskeeper's dream gig—we're going to do absolutely nothing today, guys—it's another paradox of great golf courses. It's often harder work to do less. "Human nature is to go out there and want to be doing something all the time, but the greenskeepers I train, I try to first get them to learn how to not do something," Rob says. "It's really hard for good, smart people who are used to thinking—I need to do more, I need to fix this instead of let it play out. It's a harder way to manage things, because we manage every area differently. Even on something as small as a corner of a green, we might fertilize where there's more foot traffic, and not where there's less. You are constantly out there observing and watching, and reacting only where a problem exists. It's really more art than science." Rob continues, "It's knowing when to act, and when to watch and wait. And that way, you're only giving the turf what it needs, making it stronger to hold up when it's stressed, and giving you better playing conditions. And the right playing conditions—that should really be what it's all about." I can't help but smile as Ken and Rob articulate what I hope for golf courses everywhere. Golf's reliance on over- watering and chemical inputs is not a long-term sustainable approach—not economically, nor environmentally—and I dream of a day when I no longer find a man in a white haz- mat suit spraying a course I'm about to play in shorts. Yet it won't be the Kens and Robs of the golf world who will help undo golf's addiction to water and chemicals—it will be us, the golfers and members ourselves, who will have to learn that green does not equal great, that playability trumps all, and that Old Tom Morris never wore a hazmat suit. It's something of a radical approach, but the proof is in the playing. And what's radical probably seems a little less so to those who imagined links courses along a lost edge of Oregon, and in the yonder heart of Wisconsin. We seemed to skip our way around Mammoth Dunes that morning, a veritable links amusement park. I had never en- joyed a course that felt so vast, yet so intimate; so daunting from the tee, but so surreptitiously tilted toward the cups. It was genuine links golf far from any ocean, and it had me contemplating the millennia of miracles that shaped the ground on which I walked. The rare landscapes at Bandon, Sand Valley, and Cabot Links had not just been made suitable for golf, but they had now been preserved. These fragile dunes that held the rarest fauna and wildlife—carefully placing golf here has ensured that the habitat will thrive, and committing to maintain it sans chemicals and overwatering has ensured that it can last. It's hope, and a blueprint for sustainable golf borrowed from some very old ideas. And it's all a reminder that when it comes to a truly great golf course, less isn't just more. Some- times, it's everything. Tom Coyne is the author of several books, including A Course Called Ireland and A Course Called Scotland. Our focus is always on playability, not what the course looks like or the color of the grass. —Rob Duhm SV mammoth dunes

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