Golf Club In Rio Throws Its Bucket Cap Into The Olympic Golf Mix

You can just imagine what the architects backstabbing each other to get the job will think of this. For Immediate Release:

2016 Olympic Golf Tournament: Itanhangá Golf Club Board of Delegates Approves Plan to Host 2016 Olympic Golf Tournament, Garners Support of Pelé

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – May 4th, 2011 – During its monthly board meeting on Sunday May 1st, 2011, the Itanhangá Golf Club board of delegates authorized club president, Arthur Porto Pires Jr., to proceed with the club’s plan to host the 2016 Olympic Golf Tournament.  In a letter addressed to Peter Dawson, president of the International Golf Federation (IGF) sent via e-mail on April 21, 2011, Mr. Pires expressed his club’s desire to host the 2016 tournament.  “The choice of Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympics is a just reason for Brazilians to celebrate and an opportunity for us at Itanhangá to have our premises considered by [the] IGF and the Olympic Committee to host the golf competition,” said Mr. Pires in the letter.

Itanhangá Golf Club is one of two existing golf clubs within the city limits of Rio de Janeiro that is under consideration to host to the 2016 tournament.  After extensive analysis Itanhangá has emerged as the only existing club with the necessary space to host a championship tournament of this scale.  Itanhangá Golf Club encompasses nearly three hundred picturesque acres centrally located just minutes from the Olympic Village.  The club features two courses totaling twenty-seven holes (an 18-hole tournament course and a 9-hole practice course), a sprawling grass driving range, and an extensive clubhouse area with a spacious modern locker room facility. 

The 18-hole tournament course will require minor improvements including the addition of approximately six hundred yards in order to adapt the course to the contract requirements of the IGF and International Olympic Committee (IOC).

600 yards...minor?

A number of course design professionals including representatives from the IGF have visited Itanhangá and have confirmed the course’s tournament potential subject to the necessary improvements.  

Oh they just want the work!

An initial survey completed by the club has shown that these improvements can be funded through the club’s share of tournament commercial operations revenue and will not require a large expenditure from the government.

In his letter to Mr. Dawson, Mr. Pires highlighted Itanhangá’s track record of hosting professional golf tournaments. “Itanhangá is consistently chosen for major Brazilian and international events for its world-class, though not overly difficult layout, and its spectacular natural setting and beauty,” he said in the letter.  The European Tour chose Itanhangá to hold their first Latin American event in 1999, and the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) has made a yearly tour stop at Itanhangá since 2009.

In addition to providing a major championship caliber venue, Itanhangá’s Olympic project entitled “Olympic Dream Itanhangá 2016,” promises to leave a lasting social legacy on the local community while promoting interest in the game of golf in Brazil.  “In light of the other alternatives that have been suggested for the tournament including the costly construction of a new municipal course on an sensitive wetlands area, Itanhangá felt obligated to offer a solution that is socially, fiscally, and environmentally responsible,” exclaimed Mr. Pires. 

"Nearly every private club in the Miami Valley has special offers. All it takes is a telephone call to learn what’s available."

Thanks to reader Larry for Jim Harper's Biscayne Times story on "The Trouble With Golf" that details the woes of south Florida courses. It's a long read but it's worth noting because Harper looks at all sides and talks to people on the ground. Much of the talk about golf in Florida these days stems from the recent bill introduced to convert at least five state parks into Nicklaus-designed courses.
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Q&A With David Owen

The release of David Owen's lastest book, Green Metropolis, coincides with a powerful look at golf's sustainability in the November, 2009 Golf Digest.

GS: Your November Golf Digest feature lays out a pretty strong case for changes in the way we view golf courses and how they interact with the environment. Your bold conclusion seemed to say that no matter what we do conservation wise, shrinking the golf landscape is the top priority and to do so we must reassess the chase for distance. Do you think there's any scenario where this could happen?
 
It would take some courage from the game’s governing bodies—something they haven’t traditionally shown much of. The USGA, instead of tackling distance directly, has done things like spending millions on golf ball research. That’s like addressing climate change by creating a government department to build car engines. The easiest way to reduce golf’s environmental impact, as well as to hold down its rising cost per round, would be to reduce the amount of groomed acreage that the game requires, and the easiest way to begin doing that would be to dial back the golf ball. Doing that wouldn’t be sexy, but making unsexy decisions is what nonprofit governing bodies are for.
 
GS: Who would you like to see take the lead on this and how would you sell it to golfers that a distance rollback is the best thing for everyone involved?
 
DO: In the ideal scenario, the USGA, the R&A, the PGA Tour, the PGA of America, the European PGA Tour, the tournament committee of the Augusta National Golf Club, and anybody else with influence over the game would agree that it’s crazy for an expensive sport with shrinking participation to continue driving up its own costs. Longer clubs and balls lead to longer golf courses, which require more maintenance and consume more real estate, water, fertilizer, pesticide, and fuel, thereby driving up both maintenance budgets and greens fees, and driving away players. Manufacturers will probably scream—they have in the past—but they don’t need distance to compete. Making putters and wedges is usually more profitable than making irons, but nobody buys a putter or a wedge because it hits the ball farther. Let manufacturers compete on accuracy instead of yardage. Let them make their equipment so accurate that we can get by with smaller greens and half-width fairways, which would cost less to maintain.

 
GS: It seems as if the argument would be aided by numbers that say, if the Overall Distance Standard was dropped by X amount, X number of acres less would be needed for golf, and therefore, X amount of energy, water and money would be saved annually. How much of a rollback do you think would make a difference for existing courses?
 
DO: I have no idea what the numbers are. And, of course, making a long golf course shorter without ruining it or spending a fortune isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. But the lousy economy is shrinking golf’s landscape right now. Between 1990 and 2008, according to the National Golf Foundation, the number of golf courses in the United States grew by almost 25 percent, from fewer than 13,000 to roughly 16,000, yet during much of that same period participation by golfers actually fell. In fact, Americans played 20 million fewer rounds in 2008 than they did in 2000—and the decline has presumably accelerated since then, as the economy has tanked. Those forces, right now, are driving marginal courses out of business, pushing us back toward where we were in 1990. The resulting contraction will be good for the survivors, because the golfers who remain won’t be spread so thin, but bankruptcy is a very blunt instrument of change. It would make more sense to try to wind golf back in a more orderly way.
 
GS: You write that the trick is to find a "sustainable balance." Do you think the economic collapse is actually making this a possible path for golf's future, or will it just be another example where the game's leaders are just saying what they think needs to be said to cover their rear ends?

 
DO: I have no idea what the game’s leaders are saying. Many, I would guess, figure that technology will save the day—that, for example, somebody will come up with a type of turf grass that doesn’t need to be watered, fertilized, or mowed, and everything will be fine. But technological breakthroughs are at least as likely to increase costs as to reduce them—and, besides, we already understand the technology of making things smaller. The problem is that low-tech solutions don’t seem very glamorous to most people. I know a married couple who are getting ready to build a new house. The wife read a book about the environment and got all excited, and suggested to her husband that they make the house green. He said, “Good idea. Let’s make it 2,000 square feet instead of 8,000,” and she said, “That’s not what I meant!”

 
GS:  You get around a lot in your work for the New Yorker and you still play a fair amount. Do you hear a lot of negative feelings directed toward golf and if so, do you think much of it comes from the game's image as a resource waster? Has animosity toward the game gotten worse recently?
 
DO: I don’t know that animosity has increased. In fact, I think golf is still enjoying the image upgrade it got from the rise Tiger Woods. But golf’s leaders should worry less about the game’s image and more about its rising cost per round.
 
GS: On another subject, in the October 12 New Yorker you profile of Nell Minow, the influential independent researcher who co-founded The Corporate Library and who believes CEO compensation is "doing more to destroy capitalism than Marx." You write about the subscription database she runs which includes SEC filings, contracts and background information, including "in one case, overlapping golf-club memberships of corporate directors."  Did you find out any more about this and what it might say for the role certain clubs play in the corporate world?
 
DO: That club was Augusta National, and the membership list was one that was made public back in the Martha Burke days. Lots of business gets done on golf courses, but I think golf-playing corporate hotshots are more likely to think about the effect that their business relationships might have on their golf club memberships than the other way around. Will serving on that board make me more likely to be invited to join Seminole?—that sort of thing.
 
GS:  Back to golf and the environment. Do you think there's ever a day when golf courses could be viewed as environment beacons, or is mere survival and basic sustainability the real goal at this point?
 
DO: Golf, like all human activities, will always exact an environmental cost. But it’s worth remembering that the first golf boom in the United States, back in the late 1800s, took place at a time when the equipment was primitive and playing conditions were extraordinarily crude—no four-piece balls, no watering systems, no fungicides, no greens mowers. Anybody who has ever played cross-country golf on a closed course in the middle of the winter knows that the game doesn’t have to be played on a 7,500-yard billiard table in order to be compelling.

My home course is a century old. It has just nine holes, and it fits on 40 acres—about half the size the USGA’s recommended minimum for a nine-hole course. To play 18 holes you play it twice, from different tees, and the whole thing, if you stretch it out to the absolute tips, measures barely 6,000 yards. Big-hitting members sometimes used to complain that it was outdated, and that we’d eventually have to either abandon it or find a way to make it a thousand yards longer, but it now seems serendipitously well-suited to the times, and to our likely environmental predicament in the years ahead. My club’s costs are low because we don’t have much acreage to maintain, and the course is short enough to allow four players on foot to play 18 holes in three hours. As a result, we’ve been able to keep our dues under control, and, although the stalled economy has hurt us, we haven’t suffered the sort of membership crisis that some other clubs in our area have. I think we represent one possible model for the future—and I’m sure there are others.

"Golf's governing bodies have dithered on the distance question since the early 1990s, but that attitude seems increasingly unsustainable."

So I'm reading David Owen's look at some of the bold efforts to reduce water consumption by Las Vegas golf courses and thinking about what a joy it is to read a New Yorker-style story in Golf Digest. It's packed with great information, insight and some personal observation from Owen, who has just written a new book titled Green Metropolis.
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"Grass-Roots Advice"

The November Golf Digest features a photo and quote from several leading superintendents about the state of golf maintenance and golf's place in the environment. It's a nice example of the print version featuring a digestable teaser, with more online since Golf Digest posted the entire audio of each super's answer to a couple of questions from Ron Whitten.

A few that I've listened to so far and enjoyed: Garrett Bodington, Russ Myers, Peter Wendt and Paul Latshaw Jr.

"A great way to enhance the game, make it cool again and bring back some of the interest among younger people is to make golf the greenest sport in an environmental sense."

Reading Roger Schiffman's November Golf Digest interview with Tom Friedman, I couldn't help but think that (A) Friedman absolutely hits a home run, and (B) how too many folks in golf will pinch their necks as his insights fly right over their heads, all because they can't understand why the model for golf they crafted is unsustainable and, as Friedman notes, will not sit with the coveted 18-34 year olds.
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Ground Zero Of Golf V. Environment?

Julia Scott of the San Mateo County Times filed an intriguing piece on the Sharp Park situation because it the fight there seems to be heating up thanks to supervisors offering distinct proposals for the course.

This is what I took away from the story:

  • The course is proving to be a valuable wildlife refuge and habit for rare species, yet the Center for Biological Diversity wants it closed.
  • The city says the course is a financial drain, but figures are murky (Scott included a reference to $500,000 in profit last year but it was later taken down). Either way, the neighboring city of Pacifica has offered to take this burden off city hands and was turned down.
  • The course should be designated a historic landmark thanks to its MacKenzie ties, and such a proposal was hastily made by Sean Elsbernd: "Do I genuinely believe it will be landmarked? No. One side is throwing a bookmark down, I'm throwing down another," said Elsbernd, who said he would "fight" to retain the public 18-hole golf course in Pacifica. "Golf and the environment are not mutually exclusive. They can wok together and I have every expectation that we can make that happen."
  • And this rational logic from the golf side: Longtime Sharp Park golfer David Diller, president of the Sharp Park Golf Club, doesn't like the idea that he and his fellow golfers may be an endangered species themselves. Flooding on the course, a seasonal occurrence, has partially closed the 14th fairway, and existing protections for red-legged frogs prevent pumping the water out when the frogs are laying their eggs in the spring.  There's always this misconception that if you're pro-golf you're anti-environment — but nothing could be farther than the truth," said Miller. "(Sharp Park) has been there for over 70 years. If we're doing such a terrible job, why are there still San Francisco garter snakes and red-legged frogs? 

It seems to me that if a place like Sharp Park with such heritage and clearly one making a positive impact environmentally can't be shown to be an essential place to keep around, the game is really in trouble. If golf's leadership is genuine in the game's future, they would be descending on San Francisco to take up the cause of Sharp Park.

"That’s akin to eliminating the need to water six courses, saving an estimated 1.5 billion gallons each year."

Because I was going for a big picture take on Obama, bailouts, the WPA and golf, my Golf World viewpoint did not get into too many specifics regarding environmental retrofitting of existing courses. However, I can't think of a simpler, more sensical model for saving water, improving energy efficiency, creating courses that better co-exist with the environment or doing more to improve golf's image than the Southern Nevada Water Authority's "Water Smart Landscape Program."

Cindy Elliott recently wrote about it and other water-saving programs for Golfweek:

...the program provides courses and other property owners with a rebate of $1.50 for every square foot of turf converted to xeriscape, a lush but water-efficient landscape alternative that requires virtually no maintenance once established.

Major conversions at facilities, including Spanish Trails Golf and Country Club, Red Rock Country Club and Wild Horse Golf Course, have contributed to the transformation of 629 existing acres. That’s akin to eliminating the need to water six courses, saving an estimated 1.5 billion gallons each year.

Imagine how much water and energy could be saved if we could establish a federal program mimicking the SNWA's concept. Seems like a serious win-win here for our courses and the country.

"So why is it Americans can't wean our golf courses off most chemicals..."

I was thrilled to see GolfDigest.com added Ron Whitten's December issue story on two organic golf courses and the issues they face (none really!). I think it's the most important story I've read this year, assuming you think it's time to see more courses lean on sustainable practices.

A couple of highlights:

Like Applewood, Granby River has bluegrass fairways and bent-grass greens. Tees and greens are cut a little higher than at Applewood, but the turf is lush and sparkling green, juxtaposed against large areas of tall, tan native grasses, conditions certainly suitable to its green fee ($40 Canadian). Again, it's hard to believe a golf course can look and play this good using homemade remedies and witches' brews. But it's true.

"We haven't used an ounce of any pesticide, herbicide or fungicide," Thevenaz says. "We fertilize fairways using composted turkey manure. We fertilize our greens with a compost tea that's a blend of bone meal, blood meal, kelp and humate, a refined carbon to encourage root growth. We brew the tea, supplied from a firm in New Brunswick, for 24 hours, then mix in the organics and apply it in liquid form.

"To fight disease on the greens, we apply a solution of garlic extract. It's not that expensive, about the same price per gallon as a pesticide. To fight grub worms, we apply rock glacial dust. It's abrasive; the worms choke on it."

And...

So what do they do if a problem does break out? Isn't there a strong temptation to spray a quick application to nip the problem? No, they say, mainly because they have no chemicals on hand.

"If a disease hits one of my greens," Rusch says, "I'll mow it with one of my walk mowers, to keep the disease from spreading to other greens, I'll apply a little ammonium sulfate to get the grass growing aggressively, and I'll either add water or back off the water, depending upon the disease."

"Weed control is the one thing that organic management hasn't conquered," Carlson says. "If we do anything, we hand-pick them, even in the rough. Golfers just don't like weeds anywhere in their line of vision."

So that's the big trade-off with organic golf? It's much more labor-intensive. It'll drive up the cost of the game.

Not really. Rusch's maintenance budget at Applewood, including payroll, is just $350,000 (considerably less than comparable 18-hole public courses). Granby River's is even less, $247,000 Canadian, including equipment leases. Carlson says his Vineyard budget is in the mid-range for New England private courses, spending a little more on labor costs.

So why is it Americans can't wean our golf courses off most chemicals, particularly when it could have a positive impact on the water we drink, the air we breathe and the wallets we carry?

You go Ron!

How Mad Is Golf At Green?

mail03_environment.jpgI'm just about to finish up my read of John Barton's extensive look at golf's need to go green in the May Golf Digest. While there is so much to consider in this extensive package of stories and interviews, I was shocked at the reaction Golf Digest has gotten from some readers (Bob Carney shares some of the letters here and here).

Can you imagine what a sad state of affairs we are in when someone wants their subscription cancelled over a call for more environmentally sensitive practices?

 

PETA and Golf

Golfdom logo.gifMy Golfdom interview with PETA's Stephanie Boyles has been posted. I'm pleased to say that she's gotten many calls and I have not received one "you-animal-rights-fanatic-communist-anti-golf-activist" piece of hate mail. Yet.

Actually, even the supers out there who love killing Canada geese would have a hard time finding fault with Boyles' practical solutions to wildlife and golf.