Golf Greens: History, Design and Construction / Edition 1

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The complete guide to the history, design, and construction of golf greens An internationally recognized authority on golf course environmental issues, Dr. Michael Hurdzan has compiled more than forty-five years of observations, experiences, training, testing, and learning to present this groundbreaking book-Golf Greens: History, Design, and Construction. Through a unique exploration of the history of golf greens, related design theories, and future trends in the game, Golf Greens uncovers how modern designs of golf greens fit in with the complete history of the game. It looks at the strengths and weaknesses of construction methods, legal considerations, how to manage specific problems, and much more.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471459453
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 6/11/2004
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 8.23 (w) x 9.09 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL J. HURDZAN, PhD, is a golf course architect based in Columbus, Ohio. He is the author of the bestselling book Golf Course Architecture: Design, Construction & Restoration (Wiley). He was the winner of the Golf Course Builders Association of America’s 2002 Donald A. Rossi Award; Golf World magazine’s 1997 Architect of the Year award; and The BoardRoom magazine’s 1999 and 2001 selection for the same honor. Dr. Hurdzan has designed some of golf’s most famous courses, including Devil’s Pulpit and Devil’s Paintbrush in Caledon, Ontario.

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Table of Contents




CHAPTER 1: Evolution of the Golf Green.

CHAPTER 2: Golf Green Theories.

CHAPTER 3: Design Considerations for Golf Greens.

CHAPTER 4: Making Intelligent Compromises in Green Construction.

CHAPTER 5: Green Construction Techniques.

CHAPTER 6: Rootzone Sampling, Testing, and Evaluation.

CHAPTER 7: Selecting Turfgrasses or Artificial Turf for Greens.

CHAPTER 8: Legal Liabilities of Golf Green Construction.

CHAPTER 9: Postscript: My Personal Experiences Building Golf Greens and the Future of Greens.


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First Chapter

Golf Greens

History, Design, and Construction
By Michael J. Hurdzan

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-45945-3

Chapter One

Evolution of the Golf Green


The exact origin of the game of golf is unknown, but it is generally accepted that the game has been evolving for more than 600 years. Early evolution was a process of adopting elements of other related activities or games until golf was similar but unique.

By the fifteenth century, the Dutch were playing a game on ice with implements and techniques that closely resemble early golf clubs and golf swings (see Figure 1-1). However, the object was to strike a pole in the ice with the ball in the fewest strokes, and not to put the ball into a hole. It is reasoned that this ice game was also played on dry land and introduced in Scotland by Dutch seamen and merchants who were actively trading with Scotland, and who had time to kill while in harbor waiting for their ships to be refitted. The Scottish linksland was close by, and it was covered by pioneer grasses that were often stunted by the wind, salt air, and heat, or grazed short by wild or domestic animals (see Figure 1-2).

It is not known when the transition was made from striking an object post to putting the ball into an object hole, but it was some time before the first rules of golf were written in 1741. The very first rule of the first rules states: "1. The ball shall be teed no more than one club's length from thehole" (see Figure 1-3). Later the rules were revised to read two club lengths, then four, then ten. Finally, someone somewhere began the profession of golf course architecture by simply separating the teeing ground completely from the area around the object hole. Some historians believe that this was Allan Robertson or Old Tom Morris in the mid-1800s at the Old Course at St. Andrews. Precisely when and how the teeing ground became distinct from the putting ground is unknown, but it was a critical step in the evolution of the game, as well as in the process of allowing the area we now call greens to begin its own distinct evolution.

In 1857, there were 18 known and established places to play golf in Scotland, which increased to 59 by 1880. While the Dutch game on ice has faded into oblivion, golf had taken root on the earth and is still prospering.

The next 120 years saw rapid changes in all aspects of the game, including demographics, personalities, techniques, rules, equipment, hazards, sites, conditions, golf courses, and not least of all, golf greens. The area around the hole or cup came to be treated with more care and concern than other parts of the golf course and slowly evolved into modern-day putting greens. From then until now, there have been a succession of approaches to constructing and maintaining golf greens, with each having the goal of raising the standard of putting green quality. Many of those old ways are being rediscovered because of today's concern for environment, while others simply formed the foundation from which the art and science of greenkeeping has evolved. Therefore, it seems worthwhile to review this rich history and identify significant advances or discoveries, all the while keeping in perspective the impact of social influences that were prevailing during each of these periods.


The earliest verified record of a person being employed to care for a golfing green, or "fairgreen" as golf courses were once called, seems to be a receipt of payment in 1744 to an unnamed boy who was retained as "greenkeeper and caddy" for the sum of 24 shillings per year and a change of clothes by the Royal Burgess Golfing Society. Later, in 1819, a William Ballantyne was paid one guinea for the care of grounds for the Thistle Golf Club (see Figure 1-4). What those duties entailed is not clear, but this does show that by this point golfers no longer wanted to simply play the linkslands as they found them, and were willing to pay out some money to preserve or improve them. It is reasonable to assume these early greenkeepers (see Figure 1-5) were not much more than farmhands, employed to be jack-of-all-trades repairmen, whose main golf course duties were to repair minor damage caused by animals, especially burrowing rabbits, and occasionally to change holes and tee markers; they were not necessarily involved with grooming the turf.


It is also evident that greenkeeping was not a highly paid or esteemed profession, and hence those early pioneers labored in anonymity, until a person of extraordinary abilities became publicly recognized and respected. That person was Old Tom Morris (see Figure 1-6). In H. S. C. Everard's A History of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St. Andrews 1754-1900 (London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1907), he writes that in 1863, when Old Tom Morris was hired back to St. Andrews from Prestwick after Allan Robertson's death, Tom's duties were listed as follows:

His duties were explained to him: to keep the putting greens in good order, to repair, where necessary, and to make the holes. For heavy work, carting, &c., he was to be allowed assistance at the rate of one man's labour for two days in the week, and it was understood that he was to work under the Green Committee. Emblems of office were then handed over to him-to wit, a barrow, a spade, and a shovel-in prophetic instinct, belike, that "saund," and ever "mair saund, Honeyman," would be in future ages the watchword of the newly-appointed Chief of the Links. The sum of £50 per annum was voted by the Union Club for payment of the custodian's salary, and £20 for the upkeep of the Links.

In the delightful book by G. Witteveen and B. Labbance, titled Keepers of the Green: A History of Golf Course Management (Chelsea, MI: Ann Arbor Press, 2002), there is much more detail about the demands and skills of early greenkeepers, and the book is recommended to students of golf course history.

However, the reasons for Old Tom's fame were not only his agronomic skills, but also his proven expertise as a player, club maker, ball maker, teacher, innovator, spokesman, father, and pious man. Every aspect of his personal and professional life earned the respect and endearment of folks in and outside the game of golf. Therefore, he first emerged as a leader and then as a senior practitioner whom colleagues and employers followed because he got favorable results.

Imagine a golf course superintendent of today convincing golfers to reduce their course by four holes, from 22 to 18, as Old Tom did at St. Andrews. Or his closing the course on Sundays to give the golf course a rest. Or alternating the direction the course was played to reduce wear, or building and filling in bunkers as he pleased (see Figure 1-7). Whether legend or fact, Old Tom's role in every one of these decisions seems to have been central. But just as important in establishing Old Tom's stature were the playing conditions at St. Andrews, especially the greens, which became the standard against which every other golf course and all other greens were judged.

One should not forget that the social climate of Old Tom's era also helped him become even more influential. First, as a result of the Industrial Revolution in northern Europe in the nineteenth century, more people had more time for leisure activities, including golf. Golf equipment also became less expensive because of mass production. Hence there was greater interest in places to play golf, like the vacation town of St. Andrews. Newspaper accounts and golf books were becoming more widely available, and thus making public figures of golf celebrities. Telegraph, then telephone, communications allowed news and sporting results to be reported in a more timely fashion, and exhibition matches were widely promoted and hence of greater public interest. This new interest resulted in town governments acquiring or protecting public land for the growth and playing of golf, and thereby seeking the advice of golf professionals like Morris. Inevitably there developed competition between towns for the recognition of the finest links, and this in turn spawned the collecting and spending of money to improve their links or golfing grounds. This was important, because without money and resources, the greatest greenkeeper in the world could not produce notable results, and that is as true today as then. So in the late nineteenth century, the greenkeepers, course designers, and constructors had some money available with which to advance their crafts and creations. Finally, there developed the social dynamic of forming a committee of concerned golfers to justify and monitor the work and expenditures of the greenkeeping staff, and to advise them on matters of concern to golfers. The Green Committee was born and thus began an even faster upward spiral to obtain and maintain the very best golfing turf, particularly putting surfaces.

Old Tom Morris is credited with accidentally discovering the virtues of routine sand topdressing to improve the density and uniformity of putting turf when he accidentally spilled a wheelbarrow of sand on a green, and the turf thrived. While the benefits of fertilization, lime, sulfates, and compost were well known in other forms of agriculture, it was not until Tom's time that money would be used for such materials to improve the growth of turfgrasses on golf courses. Likewise, the basics of drainage and the advantage of irrigation had long been known in agriculture, but not until Old Tom's era would they be justified to improve linksland golf courses. Old Tom was credited with digging shallow wells at each green for irrigation and with making minor drainage improvements in bunkers. So during the period from about 1850 to 1890, there was the making of "the perfect storm": golfers paying to use golfing grounds; competition between golf courses for income and prestige; formation of green committees whose mission it was to improve the playing conditions; Old Tom Morris gaining recognition as an industry leader and turfgrass innovator; an incredible growth spurt in terms of the number of golfers and golf courses; and recognition of putting greens as being of primary importance to golfers and as a mark of distinction between courses. Golf had money, incentive, and leadership, but limited know-how.


An excellent glimpse of the state of greenkeeping at the turn of the twentieth century is given in an 1897 letter to the editor of Golf Magazine (British), written by an A. H. Pearson of the Notts Golf Club (see Figure 1-8). For purposes of this text, I will summarize a few of his main points, ideas that will become important in shaping the next 100 years of knowledge about golf greens and their evolution.

According to Pearson, earthworms were a major pest. Worms produced casts or small earthen mounds that, unless removed before mowing, would streak and smother the turf beneath them, leaving an imperfect putting surface. Since this was a time before sophisticated pesticides, suggested earthworm control measures included a drench of lime dissolved in water and a topdressing of fine charcoal dust. However, Pearson also recognized the value of earthworms as natural aerifiers, so he further suggested using topdressing of coarse sand broomed into the turf and wormholes to help keep them open for the turfgrass. Rolling of greens was a common practice in the late nineteenth century, but some greenkeepers were beginning to recognize the negative impact of rolling in causing soil compaction on some sites.

Pearson stressed the value of using good clean seed for overseeding and that some grasses are better adapted to some situations than others, but he acknowledged that producing a mature putting surface takes time. Sodding of greens with established turf was not uncommon, so care in cutting and laying the sod was already known to be important in establishment. Amending rootzones with ashes, sand, or other porous material was a practice that was encouraged to gain the benefit of deep rooting by the turf, and improved soil capillarity.

By the 1890s mowing of greens had evolved from using the sickles and scythes of the mid-1800s to using push-type reel mowers (see Figure 1-9). These remained in sporadic use well into the 1930s. However, frequent mowing was thought to impoverish the soil, encourage weeds and mosses, and stress the turf. Fertilization was usually confined to spring with a light application, and Pearson warned of negative effects that can come from either too heavy an application or selecting the wrong nutrient source. And lastly, he conceded that even "Under the best conditions it [putting green turf] cannot withstand the trampling of feet, which it has to endure on anything like a crowded course, unless it has an occasional rest, and where there are a number of daily players, duplicate greens should be provided."

Meanwhile, golf in the United States did not become permanently established until 1888 (see Figure 1-10), and there is no reference basis for greenkeeping in this country until almost 1900. This 10- or 12-year period of golf's infancy in the United States created opportunity for many young Scotsmen who knew something about maintaining a golf course to come to America and work within this now rapidly growing pastime. However, most were experienced on sandy linksland golf courses that experienced a climate of fairly moderate and predictable weather. Thus, when employed on U.S. golf courses with conditions similar to those in Europe, such as on sandy soils found along the New England coasts or Long Island, they did well, and many of their golf courses became legendary for the quality of their turf and playing conditions. However, when given a golf course site with conditions uncharacteristic of linksland, they struggled and experimented to find management techniques that were better suited. This need for new and better understanding of how to grow turfgrass comparable in quality to those grown on sandy coastal sites ushered in a whole new emphasis in agriculture, loosely called grassland science or agrostology.


The very early information sources were seed suppliers such as Sutton's (see Figure 1-11) or Carter's (see Figure 1-12) out of the United Kingdom, or later the O. M. Scott & Company in the United States (see Figure 1-13). Companies selling supplies to the horticulture and agriculture industry made attempts to expand their markets by offering products that they believed would benefit turfgrass culture. University research on pastures and/or grasslands was often cited as information sources, and the earliest turf consultants were university professors. Taken together these company publications were important contributors to the body of information that greenkeepers needed, but it was mostly recycled information that had been gathered for other purposes, and it was not based upon research or investigations that were golf course specific.


Excerpted from Golf Greens by Michael J. Hurdzan Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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