There is a poster in the window at Argue-ment Golf Course this weekend showing a dad and his son. In itself, that is not notable. What is notable is that dad is seated in a wheelchair, clearly having been horribly wounded in war, based on the two artificial limbs. The son stands alongside, wrapped in his father’s arms and the flag of our country. Folds of honor indeed! We are humbled to participate, as a course, in sustaining military family members through the Patriot Golf program. Providing scholarships for the next generation not only honors the service of the parents, but also sustains the future of our nation through their children.
The cover picture for this blog shows some of the horse drawn equipment that was previously used on this land. Co-owner Art Jennrich had a team of mules for a number of years that he used to plant the corn and soybeans. Life at a walking pace is different. A lot of us measure our lives in terms of computer power, how much RAM, how much memory, how fast is the processor? Impatience is the default program for our life browser. The notion of sustainability includes a walking pace. Early in the planning process for Argue-ment I floated the idea of not allowing power carts except for those golfers for whom it was a medical necessity. (That notion comes back to me from time to time, as it did today, while I was sledge hammering a steering piece that had been bent right into the wheel by the latest mental giant who mistook the golf cart for a bumper car.)
I try to walk when I play. I find that I play better and feel better both about my game and my swing when I do. There is something about the absence of exhaust and gear noise that is soothing. The heft of the clubs in the Sunday bag on my shoulder magnifies the contact with the sod. I have the time to study the terrain for the next shot. I can notice things. I noted in an earlier post that sustainability means finding the balance a place desires and living in it. Much tougher to do that if you are not grounded.
For the last several years Argue-ment golf Course has participated in the “Folds of Honor” program over the Labor Day Weekend. We do so again this year, humbled by the commitment of our armed forces to our safety and freedom. Argue-ment has always offered free greens fees to active duty service people. Folds of Honor was started by a Golf Pro, Dan Rooney, who was also an F16 Pilot in the Iraq conflicts. Being aware of the injuries and losses of his fellow service people, Dan initiated a program to enable golfers to focus their generosity toward service members who had been injured and their families. Participate with us in this important effort to sustain our peace and freedom.
Reinhold Niebuhr The Irony of American History:
There are no simple congruities in life or history. The cult of happiness erroneously assumes them. It is possible to soften the incongruities of life endlessly by the scientific conquest of nature’s caprices, and the social and political triumph over historic injustice. But all such strategies cannot finally overcome the fragmentary character of human existence. The final wisdom of life requires, not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it…
Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.
The very terrain that makes Argue-ment Golf Course challenging to play makes managing runoff from heavy rains a challenge. Right now I am sitting at home watching a significant rainfall. I know that when things clear up, I will head out to the course to assess the damage to paths and parking lot. As part of our commitment to sustainability, we use permeable surfaces like gravel or wood chips for our paths. The parking lot is also gravel. There will be areas to clean up and repairs to be made on the ruts. The ponds will be full. There will be water standing on the lowest portions of the fairways on 7 and 9. It is what it is. The blessing of the storm is that the consistent lightning has the benefit of fixing some of the atmospheric nitrogen. FREE FERTILIZER just before Labor day weekend. We will have a nicely green course instead of the browns and tans of late July.
I have golfed for over 55 years without a handicap. I have been a member of USGA for many of those years. The Argue-ment is sloped and rated for handicap generation. Why no handicap for me? I simply cannot be bothered. I golf mostly alone. At Argue-ment we notice a large portion of our golfers play by themselves. We do not force people into groups. The men who mostly golf by themselves will bring their wife or child on occasion. We don’t force them into foursomes either. Sociologist Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community in 1995, describing the movement away from league type activities and toward individual play. Many golf courses note the decline in league participation as well. I played in a league one year a long time ago and hated it. It was yet another obligation to show up on time and perform in a very busy life. I kept finding reasons and excuses not to, finally dropping out completely.
I think a place like Argue-ment Golf Course that honors the need to be solitary is becoming increasingly rare.
A posting on Facebook this AM from a neighboring Golf Course occasioned this. The neighbor course had, like many of us, established “twilight” rates to encourage play late in the day by persons who might be coming off work or who would be looking for the discount because of the economy. This has been standard industry procedure for a long time. It may be coming to an end. Courses all over the country have noted a coarsening on the part of some “golfers” that will affect all. It does not have anything to do with socioeconomic class. It reflects a inability to “self manage” when no one is looking. It does have a lot to do with a general “disrespect” for the rights and property of others. The cavalier attitude of some toward the course itself, equipment like carts, rental clubs, flags, and holes is astonishing. Simple, common sense rules like keeping power carts off tees and greens, out of conservation areas, and out of areas between greens and hazards are routinely ignored. It is rare indeed to find someone who actually looks for and repairs the ball mark left on the green by the approach shot. Vanishingly rare is the person that repairs someone else’s as well. It is becoming more common to find immense divots hacked from greens near the pin. It is even more common to experience theft of equipment, or deliberate vandalism to carts. Worse yet is the attitude of those confronted in the middle of such misbehavior, as if they were entitled to abuse the space played on because they had paid a greens and cart fee. One staff member at another course commented recently in a magazine article about reminding a foursome of golfers to fix their ball marks and being told, “No, that’s your job.” Other staff note being routinely “F” bombed or threatened physically upon warning players about misbehaviors. Coarse indeed.
The neighboring course has ended twilight rates because of the systemic disrespect of its space and equipment. Can’t fault them for that. I sincerely hope we will not have to follow suit at Argue-ment. I saw a dad teaching his son to fix a ball mark the other day… There is hope.
Ah, the ultimate grade school put down! You don’t know your head from a hole in the ground, redolent of Lincoln’s commentary on Gen. McClellan’s headquarters in the saddle. This is the time of year golfers and golf courses have to wrap their heads and games around more than the cup as the hole in the ground. After a summer of abuse of all sorts, most of the greens are in need of a refresher, the infamous aeration and top dressing. At Argue-ment the greens have been affected again by fungal infections at the root zone, at the base of the “thatch layer” composed of roots, dead plant tissue, residue from mowing. Number 3, in particular is a fungal disaster right now, with 9 and 1 also heavily infected. The fungus grows in a layer between the thatch and the soil, forming a black layer that functions almost like plastic. Since we do not make routine use of fungicides because of concerns regarding secondary effects on the amphibians we rely on for insect control (one of those sustainability balance points), that layer has to be penetrated mechanically in order for water and air to enable the bent grass roots to penetrate as well. Core aeration and backfill with sand is the means to that end. It’s going to get ugly for a while, but we will be attempting to minimize the disruptions.
Sometime this coming week, the staff will begin pulling cores. The aerator is tuned, tines installed, sand ordered and delivered, bent grass seed for overseeding is on hand. Between now and Sept 15 or so the greens will be all done. Sept 15 is the end of the optimum time frame for fall seeding of turf grasses. Weather permitting, the greens should be much improved by Sept 30. So, these holes in the ground are thoughtfully necessary. Hopefully a successful aeration and top dressing program now will also get us through winter with less damage from desiccation and frost kill.
You can’t pick up a golf course maintenance or management magazine lately without seeing the “sustainable” meme. Like any other word, context is critical. When you naturalize a golf course, as we have done at Argue-ment, you quickly discover that life is prolific, tenacious, and insistent. Left to its own devices, the natural order will pile on every conceivable plant the local climate will allow, to the point that evidence of past human contact quickly submerges. The plants will attract the insects. The insects will attract other insects like Mantis and Dragon Flies, and the frogs, toad, bats, and birds. The root zones attract the burrowing invertebrates and the mole predators that follow. Voles and mice seek the seeds and grasses. Groundhogs, rabbits, and squirrels fill their niches, with coyote and raptors seeking them in turn. Quickly the system sets itself in motion and begins to sort out some kind of balance, portions rising and falling by a kind of natural market symbiosis. Each component intrudes until limited by some other component. The system is sustained by the cycle of such risings and fallings within the flow of the seasons. Charles Darwin framed it as the survival of the fittest. I like to think of it as God’s great and gracious gift of systemic evolution.
Sustainability in this model is not stasis but homeostasis, a natural search for a balance point between inputs and outputs. The evidence from the ground at Argue-ment is that this process has been going on for thousands of years here in conditions of water, wind, ice and fire, life balancing itself in response. Sustainability at Argue-ment means observing how the balance points in the system are impacted by our maintenance practices and doing our best to work within those balance points rather than against them.
The US Opens, both men’s and women’s. were held in 2014 at Pinehurst #2. The course is certainly worthy to challenge the best golf any man or woman can bring. I had a chance to play it a couple of times 20 plus years ago, before the restoration to Donald Ross’ original look and feel by the design team of Crenshaw and Coore. The restoration shocked some people because of the sudden shift from fully manicured to naturalized. Reports in the golf management and maintenance periodicals indicate that species of plants native to North Carolina have reappeared in abundance in the sandhill waste areas reclaimed from the pine straw. Many people would call them weeds, and did. Others simply noted that “weeds” is an insult hurled at plants that show up where we don’t want them. Commitment to “sustainability” drove the changes at Pinehurst #2. Water usage is down considerably. Some areas that used to be green are brown instead. The contrast with a course like Augusta National, where the Masters Tournament is held annually could not be more stark.
The notion of Paradise, the walled garden, has been a strong one in golf’s recent history. Everything was to be fine tuned, clipped and snipped, picture perfect, always TV tournament ready, dark mutterings in the superintendent’s magazines about unrealistic daily expectations on the part of golfers, not withstanding. In the public mind, golf courses even came to be seen as threats to the environment and neighborhoods they were in, because of assumptions of over use of everything from chemicals to water in search of perfection. When Argue-ment Golf Course was in its earliest planning stages (around 1990) we set out to challenge that narrative head on by reverting to an older, simpler model. We were arguing that a natural play space, like that of the earliest Scottish game played by shepherds and sailers, could still be viable. Paradise did not have to be artificial. Argue-ment and Pinehurst #2 demonstrate that on a daily basis.