Posted: June 25, 2015 9:28 pm
We’d rather not talk about grass – growing it or smoking it or making putts on it – but the United States Golf Association has left us no choice.
Last week, the U.S.G.A. held its biggest event, the U.S. Open, on a former gravel mine covered in two kinds of grass: fescue and poa annua.
Fescue is usually seen in Europe, particularly on the famous, ancient links that host the British Open. It’s considered an excellent playing surface for golf, even though when it gets U.S.G.A. treatment (that is, baked and cut to 1/10 of an inch), it can appear, as the writer Charles Pierce put it in Grantland this week, like “the surface of Mercury.”
Poa annua is, arguably, more weed than grass. It shows up on golf courses mostly unwanted, its seed sticking to the bottom of shoes or riding wind or irrigation water.
On hot afternoons, fescue lies down for a nap, while poa annua grows a “seed head”, which would look, under a microscope, like branches.
Put the two together, and, well, you saw it at Chambers Bay last week: greens that are green and brown and grey and almost blue, and putting surfaces that caused the biggest gripes from pro golfers about course conditions in over a decade. In one case, that of pro Billy Horschel, they resulted in histrionics that appeared almost seizure like.
Henri Stenson compared the Chambers Bay greens to broccoli. Apprised of that, Rory McIlory said no, broccoli’s too green. Cauliflower, maybe.
Which brings us to Lancaster Country Club, site of the upcoming U.S. Women’s Open and very unlike the surface of Mercury. There is no fescue at L.C.C. , and poa annua is being fought to a hard-earned, if not absolute, victory.
“It can be a pain in the butt,” Todd Bidlespacher L.C.C. Director of Golf Course Operations, admitted Wednesday. “We are vigilant. It can take off like wildfire if you’re not.”
Bidlespacher estimated that his course’s fairways are 10-20 percent poa annua. The greens, he said, are less than one percent.
When Bidlespacher and his staff see poa annua, they take advantage of its weak, shallow roots by actually physically removing it, with tiny tweezers or digging tools.
“It’s a terrible grass for golf; we view it as a weed, in fact,” he said. “It’s better than dirt, I guess, but not much.”
L.C.C. re-did it’s greens starting in 2011 and finishing in May of 2012 as part of a renovation of the course without which the Women’s Open wouldn’t be coming. The existing bentgrass/poa annua surfaces were burned off and replaced with a U.S.G.A. recommended bent-grass blend known as A1/A4.
“If we wouldn’t have re-grassed the greens, I might be having sleepless nights,” Bidlespacher said.
As it is, he said, “I think about it, but I’m not losing sleep. I know our greens are gonna be smooth.”