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The great Poa dispute

Features, Sport / 24th February 2017

by @alistairbeggs (STRI head of advisory)

Clenched teeth, anger, palpitations and emotional outbursts are not just the symptoms of mass hysteria, but also characteristics to be found in participants of the great Poa fine grass dispute that rages across the turfgrass industry like wildfire. So, I decided to investigate whether the debate of one botanical species against the other, might just be the wrong debate to be having?

 

Poa annua

Poa Annua

 

The topic of sward composition and the merits of finer grasses over meadow grasses can divide people into entrenched camps. The greenkeeping practitioners, consultants and experienced green chairman, are equally keen to offer their view. There are even websites dedicated to this, which serve only to fuel the hysteria and rhetoric of the two opposing camps. I’ve seen sane, placid and balanced turf professionals change into rabid beasts when this poa subject is debated, and I fear it might be forever thus. I hope not!

STRI has always been a staunch advocate of the promotion of finer grasses. This approach being consistent with the origins of the game on links turf. Our views on this subject remain largely unchanged since formation in 1929. More recently we have been able to utilise data acquired from several years of performance testing to prove that greens dominated by the finer grasses tend to perform at a higher level and for longer than those dominated by meadow grasses. This said, having a basic understanding of soil science, botany, the principles of drainage and the dynamics of the game of golf, allows us to deduce that some sites are clearly more receptive and accommodating of botanical gains than others, for example:

 

  1. It is easier to undertake and complete a sward improvement or sward conversion process on an open, sand based links, rather than on a sheltered, ill drained, clay based site
  2. Research (Grime etc.) teaches us that plants have evolved to colonise environments that suit their survival instincts and needs. Fescues are stress tolerant and thrive in dry, open maritime sites, whereas annual meadow grass outcompetes its neighbours in disturbed environments

 

Accepting the above as fact brings into question the sanity of trying to impose grass types that are simply not suited to a given environment. Could the heated debate concerning the merits of differing botanical species, be the wrong discussion to have? Perhaps more greenkeepers should be asking the question – what is my primary function and objective as a first-class turf manager?

 

  • To provide a facility that meets the needs and requirements of the end user?
  • Ensure that the end user enjoys their experience?
  • Encourage the end user, member or guest, to come back and pay money to play again?

 

festuca_rubra

Red Fescue

 

Just like hoteliers, retailers and restauranteurs, greenkeepers must deliver a high-quality product and experience to remain competitive. If the product appears deficient in the eyes of the customer, they walk!  If he/she walks and others follow, those preparing the turf won’t have a job at all. This applies even if you believe yourself to be doing the right thing.

So, the prospective golfer is looking for a course to play on, as their previous one may not be meeting expectation. What does he or she look for in the new club?

 

  • Price is likely to be a key factor for most people
  • Reliability and course performance. The golfer needs it to be open as often as possible, offering good playing conditions for most of the year
  • How well it suits their game
  • Friendliness of club personnel
  • How good the off-course facilities are

 

All the above factor in the decision-making process. However, for serious golfers, the final decision will be made largely on the condition, presentation and performance of the course.  Therefore, illustrating the importance of the whole turf management operation to the overall success of the golf club.

Not once, does the golfer ask what grasses the greens are made up from. He or she trusts the professionals involved in the course preparation process at that club. They expect the club to deliver the most appropriate grasses that offer the best authentic experience and deliver the best for the customer. Objectives and approaches will however differ between clubs depending on status, resource, budget, soil, climate and level of play.

 

 

Increasingly, we live in a world of lessening patience, one where the end user or customer expects excellence whatever the circumstances. Not all clubs are the same, and not all courses are the same. The golfer is not interested in what grass they putt on, all they want is performance without closure or disruption.

It is the job of the greenkeeping team to deliver on this expectation. To do so, it is vital that the right agronomic decisions are made to suit the objectives and budgets of that club. There is no “one size fits all” solution to the botanical question. In my opinion, it is fatuous and pointless to impose a specific management style, or encourage growth of a certain grass type in an environment where it cannot and will not work. Basic science supports this view.

Perhaps the future of greenkeeping and golf would be brighter if the industry became less obsessive and judgemental on the issue of grass type, and more focused on performance. Performance is a fundamental cornerstone of any successful business. Successful golf clubs facilitate the development of a stronger golf industry. This in turn can positively impact the well-being and happiness of dedicated greenkeeping teams, and ultimately create a unique set of golf courses across all soil and climate types that deliver for the golfer.

Good golf performance can be experienced on a range of grass types and mixes, and whilst STRI will continue to advocate a simple, sound, well-researched approach, each site must be assessed on its own merits and managed realistically.

For more advice on your golfing surfaces, contact our advisory team at enquiries@strigroup.com / +44 (0) 1274 565131