Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ingrained Ignorance

This may not exactly be a gardening article, but it is about turf grass and by golly it is about golf.
Reprinted with permission from Turf Magazine.

Living in a northern climate, I enjoy watching golf on television during the winter. Just seeing people in short sleeves in stunning locales like Hawaii, the coast of southern California and Scottsdale, Ariz. is heartening. But increasingly, I seem to do it with the sound turned off as the announcing just gets more trite and ludicrous with each passing year.
The number of overused meaningless clichés, the constant deference to Tiger's skills, the desire to fill up every second with commentary and the forced collegiality between announcers is almost enough to switch to an NBA game ... almost.
If the networks would spend more time miking the surf and the birds, or even just showing stunning outlooks where the trade winds blow, I think they would please a larger segment of the audience. If I hear, "he'll be lucky to get this within 20 feet," or "he's lost that one to the left," right before Vijay or Ernie muscle it out of the rough and land it softly 4 feet from the pin again, I'll scream.
However, my favorite demonstration of the announcer's ignorance is when they start talking about grain and how it ruined Phil's otherwise perfect putt. This must make superintendents want to kill, considering grain virtually disappeared from any putting surfaces the PGA Tour visits in the first Clinton administration.
Although all the big name announcers have knelt at the altar of grain, Johnnie Miller seems the most captivated by the ancient concept. Miller can apparently see grain in a marble table, because he's always telling us how it will rocket a ball off toward the ocean, or the setting moon or the halfway house by the tenth tee. Did he enter a time warp when he shot 63 at Oakmont, never to emerge in the modern era of golf course maintenance?
The GCSAA notes: "Much has been said and written about grain and how it impacts putting. Because superintendents rotate mowing patterns, a single pattern of grain generally is not established. At professional championship competition where greens are mowed to 1/8 inch, the short leaf blade exhibits no (or insignificant) grain pattern that would affect putting."
That was clearly written when greens were only being cut at 1/8 inch-today a PGA Tour green is more likely to be shaved to 1/10 inch for the final round. And to think that in a few hours the poor tortured grass plant can grow toward anything at that height is absurd.
In a November, 2005 article titled "Grain on the Brain," John Foy, director of the USGA Green Section's Florida Region nailed the problem. "Historically, grain has occurred with all putting green turfgrass, but it tends to be especially pronounced with stoloniferous turf species such as the creeping bentgrasses and bermudagrass. In the plant world, the stimuli of sunlight and gravity are the primary controlling factors affecting growth habit and bending movements. Thus, while turfgrasses are not considered to have strong phototrophic responses like sunflowers and follow the sun across the sky each day, grain formation in an east-to-west pattern can occur."
Granted that at your local course where turf on the greens is allowed to grow long enough to be healthy, there may be grain. But most of the players who frequent those courses can't get a putt on the perfect line often enough to notice the swirl of crop patterns, much less grain.
Foy goes on to write about the bermudagrass greens he grew up on that were once cut at a quarter of an inch. "There is no denying that, in the past, grain was a factor on putting greens. Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing through today, much more intensive putting green management has been employed in pursuit of faster speeds, but a reduction in grain and its influence on ball roll is a benefit of the advances that have been made in putting green management. Routinely changing the direction of mowing patterns, using grooved rollers on the mowing units, verticutting, brushing, groomer attachments and frequent, light topdressing are some of the standard practices for promoting an upright shoot growth character and in turn minimizing grain.
"There is a consensus among the Green Section staff and golf course superintendents at facilities where professional events are hosted that the biggest reason why the effect of grain is not a factor today is the extremely low heights of cut being practiced. At very low heights of cut, there is simply not enough leaf surface area in contact with the ball to affect its roll."
In light of this, will someone please tell the announcers how ridiculous they sound?
Bob Labbance is Turf's golf editor and a frequent contributor. He resides in Montpelier, Vt. He can be reached with your ideas and comments via

email.

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