Even before tuning into the tawny naturalism of Melbourne’s Kingston Heath last week, I’d seen golf’s future—and it isn’t green. Color me intrigued. Credit Scott Anderson.
Anderson is the super at Huntingdon Valley Country Club—27 holes just north of Philadelphia designed in the late 1920s by William Flynn—and for a man whose job is grass, Anderson cuts against the grain. Since 1983 he has done the unthinkable, encouraging golf’s true colors to shine through. He welcomes the various browns that Mother Nature nurtured before sprinklers and chemicals turned multihued swaths into monochromatic ones.
Such apostasy sprang from necessity. Working under severe drought restrictions, his predecessor essentially cooked the course, an ecosystem already made fragile by too much water and fertilizer. Like most of the overpampered, it couldn’t take the heat. So, with the backing of a forward-thinking, uh, green committee, Anderson embarked on a maintenance alternative so old—as in Tom Morris old—that it’s radical. 'Everything I can do to not use water, I do,' Anderson says.
By holding back on the irrigation of fairways—only tees and greens sip regularly from his sprinklers—he has stimulated nature into taking over. Unless there’s a lot of rain, Huntingdon Valley’s fairways go dormant in the summer, ideal for firm and fast play. At the same time, through organics, Anderson has discovered the benefits of feeding soil, so its nutrients and microorganisms nourish the grass.
The plants thrived without coddling, sinking deeper roots and growing stronger, more drought tolerant and more disease resistant. And maintenance costs plummeted. Less water means lower water and electricity bills, as well as diminished wear on his equipment. Dormancy means less mowing, which means less fuel, less pollution and a smaller crew. Less fertilizer saves money and puts fewer chemicals in the ecosystem.
Anderson has become so adept at hydro-stinginess that during a late-’90s drought his restricted seasonal allotment of 13.5 million gallons of water was actually five million more than his average. The savings make members happy, as does the challenge of a course that changes character with the weather. 'Playing conditions [come] first and foremost,' says Anderson, 'not color.'
So what’s the catch? We’re so conditioned to golf greenery that brown takes time to get used to. But what better time than now? 'Adversity stimulates change,' says Anderson, 'and economic adversity may stimulate more clubs to view change as an opportunity, not a threat.'