"I've waited far too long to voice my opinions concerning this extraordinary profession of greenkeeping"

How's that for a start? "The Walking Greenkeeper" introduced himself this morning. I expect this will be a fun blog to read.

Selection_010Now for an assortment of things that came to mind today, all of which are in some way related to Joe's blog post.

He wrote about some of his research this winter. Among other things, he mentioned me, MLSN, Jason Haines, and Chris Tritabaugh. "These fellas," he wrote, "and what I consider to be their alternative style to greenkeeping have inspired me ..." -- that's awesome.

So what came to mind? First, the #MLSN approach is about something very specific -- making fertilizer recommendations from soil tests to prevent nutrient deficiencies by ensuring the grass is supplied with enough of each element. However, the approach we have taken with MLSN has attracted interest from turf managers around the world who are interested in minimizing other inputs as well. And it is a lot of interest. I've been surprised that the MLSN newsletter mailing list, started just 6 weeks ago, already has more than 300 subscribers, from more than 30 countries.

If you are interested in the MLSN approach, you can subscribe to the newsletter here.

If you want more than just MLSN, you can sign up to the ATC newsletter here.

Here's an interesting question. Just what is the MLSN approach? Nadeem Zreikat wrote that he prefers efficient to minimalist:

Here's how I'd describe it. Lots of people are interested in MLSN and in the idea of managing things as efficiently as possible. I'd describe what I try to do, and with MLSN as a part of that, in this way:

For turf management at any site, the first thing to do is to define the conditions that one is trying to produce. Then, produce those conditions with the fewest possible inputs.

One could describe that as efficiency, or as minimalistic. I think both words, and many other words too, can fit the MLSN approach.

I wrote more about that in the Short Grammar of Greenkeeping. To produce the desired conditions, the turf manager manipulates the growth rate. In the Short Grammar, I wrote that greenkeeping can then be defined as modifying the growth rate to get the desired surface conditions. And the grammar provides a framework for adjusting the inputs to produce the desired conditions.

If that all sounds really vague, you'll want to read a great description of that approach in practice. I recommend Jason Haines' Turfhacker summary of everything that's interesting to me as a description of how these principles can be applied.

The whole idea is to produce the conditions we want, doing so with the minimum amount of work. Maybe that's efficiency, or minimalism, or sustainability, or something else. But that's where I'm coming from, that's the type of definition that the MLSN approach fits into, and this is for any type of turf.

I made a huge omission in last month's roundup. I forgot to include the 2016 Ryder Cup: Hazeltine National Turfgrass Team video featuring Chris Tritabaugh.

2016 Ryder Cup: Hazeltine National Golf Club, The Turfgrass Team from Chris Tritabaugh on Vimeo.

This is part of the approach too, and the video shows it. Be passionate about the work. Produce the conditions one is trying to produce. Do so with a minimum of inputs. Or as efficiently as possible. Have fun doing it. Find ways to do it better.

I expect everyone in this business is doing that in some way. It seems to me that the MLSN and Short Grammar approaches have provided a framework from which we can all work on and compare ways to do it better.

Even more elephant footprints on golf courses

And these are the real ones this time, not the turf disease.

image from c1.staticflickr.com

I was at Soi Dao Highland Golf Resort in Chanthaburi. This resort is surrounded by mountains near Khao Khitchakut National Park and Khao Soi Dao Wildlife Sanctuary.

I asked, "are there any elephants here?" There weren't any, but I was told the count is 11 elephants living in the adjacent forests, and that the occasional elephant comes onto the course. Here are elephant footprints at the edge of a pond on the course.

image from c1.staticflickr.com

All the flags and all the rakes are collected each night to prevent elephants from playing with and breaking them. Apparently that was a problem in the past.

image from c2.staticflickr.com

The course has impressive views and holes that border the forest and tropical mountain streams. The driving range is one of the best in Thailand. I wasn't sure if this was a driving range or a par 3 course. It could be both.


For more elephant footprints on turfgrass -- the real ones, and the fungal ones -- see:

High expectations


I've rarely been so excited to read an article. Last week when I saw Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from turf management of two Swedish golf courses, by Tidåker et al., I immediately dropped what I was doing and read it.

If you've talked with me about turfgrass management sometime in the past 18 months, our conversation may have touched on differences in energy use, and the difference in carbon emissions, caused by differences in grass selection and maintenance practices. In fact, this is one of the topics Dave Wilber and I discussed as part of our wide-ranging conversation during episode 14 of the Turfgrass Zealot Project. I don't know how to make these calculations yet, but finally with this article I've read something that provides the calculations, and that I can study so I can figure out how to do this myself.

Gelernter et al. wrote in 2014 about quantifying sustainability on golf courses. We suggested measuring and tracking the annual:

  • quantity of fertilizers applied
  • quantity and toxicity of pesticides applied
  • quantity of water used
  • fuel volume
  • labor hours
  • electricity used

One can keep track of those quantities, together with the associated costs, and from that one can check the efficiency of the operation. These quantities also serve as some of the basic data requirements for the GEO OnCourse program.

But the quantities we wrote about in the GCM article are all different: kg of N, kg of fungicide, L of water, L of diesel, kWh of electricity. By expressing all the turf maintenance activities in units of greenhouse gas emissions (expressed as CO2 equivalents) or energy use, one then has a single number for the entire course, or for an area of the course, or per square meter, that can be used to compare to other courses next door or around the world. And the use extends well beyond comparisons to other golf courses; one can use these units to compare the maintenance of a golf course to anything that has greenhouse gas emissions or energy use.

I had high expectations for the article, and I wasn't disappointed. The authors described the fertilizer rates, topdressing rates, water use, mowing frequencies, and much more, for the two courses, and then expressed those units in GHG or energy use. N rates were up to 22 g/m2, as were K rates (I think the rates for golf course turf in Sweden should usually be less than reported in the article -- using precision fertilization, or temperature-based growth potential and MLSN, will lead to lower recommended amounts of fertilizer). Sand topdressing on greens was about 10 mm/year. Irrigation of greens was about 300 mm/year. Mowing of fairways was about 85 times/year, and greens were mown about 180 times/year.


I think this is fascinating because one can consider Sweden to have relatively low inputs. If you're familiar with golf course maintenance in a tropical environment, let's say in Phuket, you might expect fairways to be mown more than 150 times a year, greens more than 300 times, about double the fertilizer, and more than twice the water use. Now imagine what happens when comparing irrigated vs non-irrigated rough? Seashore paspalum wall-to-wall vs. manilagrass? A 60 ha sandcapped golf courses vs. one with drainage and 2 cm of sand topdressing? Overseeded vs. not? The differences in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions will be huge.

What did Tidåker et al. find in their analysis? The entire paper is worth a careful study, but in summary they found mowing was the most energy-consuming activity, and mowing together with the production and application of fertilizers (especially N) contributed the most to greenhouse gas emissions. They suggest:

Appropriate measures for reducing energy use and carbon footprint from lawn management are thus: i) reduced mowing frequency when applicable, ii) investment in electrified machinery, iii) lowering the mineral N fertiliser rate (especially on fairways) and iv) reducing the amount and transport of sand for dressing. Lowering the mineral fertiliser rate is of particular importance, since GHG emissions originate from both the manufacturing phase and from N turnover after application.

Jason Haines has some interesting reads about how turf condition can be improved while at the same time reducing inputs:

The relationships between golf and health, with multifunctional golf facilities thrown in just for fun

Golf and health

Yesterday I saw the new paper by Murray et al. in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on The relationships between golf and health: a scoping review. The reviewers identified 301 studies on this topic that met their search criteria, and then they summarized the results in terms of:

  • participation
  • golf and physical activity
  • golf and longevity
  • golf and physical health
  • cardiovascular system
  • respiratory system
  • metabolic health
  • cancer risk
  • musculoskeletal health
  • golf and injury
  • golf and mental health/wellness
  • mental health
  • mental wellness

It's a comprehensive review, and if you are interested in this topic, I suggest you read the paper. From the golf and physical activity section, here's the calorie burn and walking distance:

Studies assessing calorie expenditure during golf typically classify golf as a moderate intensity physical activity with energy expenditure of 3.3—8.15 kcal/min, 264—450 kcal/hour, and a total energy expenditure of 531—2467 kcal/18 holes. Golfers walking 18 holes take between 11,245 and 16,667 steps, walking 4—8 miles, while those playing and riding a golf cart accrue 6280 steps or just under 4 miles.

This ties in well with something I've written about before, which is golf and health and multifunctional facilities. In the words of Don Mahaffey, "golf is good for you" but this aspect of golf is often overlooked.

See these posts for more from Don Mahaffey, and from info about STERF's research into multifunctional golf facilities:

A few examples of multifunctional facilities


Weddings and banquets, of course, are common at many facilities. This is a chapel at Club de Golf Escorpión in Valencia.


Use of a practice tee for sports training, at Escorpión.


A football field at El Saler, just to the right of the 8th and 9th holes. This has been used by the Spanish national team and by Valencia CF, among many others.


Birdwatching is a common activity at El Saler, and this sign near the clubhouse shows many of the species one can find in this area.


Many golf facilities have trees or hedges with fruits or nuts. At Golf Costa Brava, the cork oaks are harvested.


Walking, hiking, or biking the Cami Ral will take one right through PGA Catalunya.


Hiking paths at Domaine de Falgos in the Pyrénées start at the golf clubhouse.


The driving range fairway at Domaine de Falgos doubles as a rugby field.


More about the most sustainable grass hypothesis

I've written about a hypothesis for identifying the most sustainable grass.

Paul Johnson wrote with some feedback on this hypothesis, and a few questions. From Paul:

Some more to consider:
  • What is sustainable really depends on each situation, and that involves temperature and light but also what is expected from the turf area. That’s probably what you mean by location. Here, fine fescue in some cases is most sustainable because it needs the fewest inputs, generally, but that only holds true in lower use areas. Kentucky bluegrass, while needing more water and somewhat more N, its best adapted when the turf area gets a lot of traffic.
  • Not sure what you mean by the assumption of one that doesn’t die when N and H2O are reduced. Do you mean temporarily? Some species here can tolerate the dry summer by going dormant, but only so long or maybe one year.
  • Sustainability for turf area should also consider social aspects too. Would the social need for recreation and green plants (psychological aspects) be included in the sustainability equation, offsetting the inputs of some nitrogen, water, and labor? I think so.

This is a good opportunity for me to clarify and elaborate.

Paul points out that one needs to consider "what is expected from the turf area. That's probably what you mean by location." Yes, embedded in my use of location is the assumption that one is considering only grasses that could produce the desired surface at that location. If the grass cannot produce the desired surface at that location, no matter the inputs, then I omit it from the comparison, or only include it as an extreme case. For example, Tifeagle in Siberia is an extreme case that I sometimes use.

Paul asks what I mean by N and H2O reduction. He asks if I mean temporarily. I don't have a good answer for that one. I'm thinking long term, something like 5 to 10 years, and imagining which species disappear (die) over that time period when N and H2O are supplied in low amounts. The "low amounts" I refer to must be enough to produce the desired surface for at least one species, but will not be enough for the species that die. For some background on this, see the seashore paspalum that was naturally replaced by manilagrass in South China. I recognize that this may appear a bit convoluted, and I will work on a better and more specific explanation of this part of the hypothesis.

For the third point, the social aspects, I'm going to classify this consideration as an important one that I agree with, but that is outside the bounds of what my sustainable grass hypothesis is attempting to predict. I'm trying to compare species. I'm not trying to compare a grass surface vs. alternative surfaces.

I'll rephrase the hypothesis here, hoping I don't veer too much from the original.

Let's say we require a turfgrass surface with characteristics defined as X.

The geographic location we can call G. At G, there will be a list from 1:n species that can possibly produce X. I'll call that list of species S. What I want to do is find the one species from the list S that will require the fewest inputs to produce X at G.

I'm proposing that the one species I'm trying to find can be identified at G by finding the species with the most growth per unit of N and unit of H2O applied. That's what I mean by this hypothesis:

The most sustainable grass for a given location is the one that has the most growth per unit of N and per unit of H2O applied.

A hypothesis about the most sustainable grass

I've written about zoysia growing faster than bermuda. Mike Richardson asked "is that better? Slow growing has always been one of my favorite traits of zoysia."

I answered that it is better, and that I would explain my hypothesis later. Here it is:

The most sustainable grass for a given location is the one that has the most growth per unit of N and per unit of H2O applied.


  • most sustainable grass is the one that requires the fewest inputs to produce the desired surface
  • location is the temperature and light combination. For more about this see climate.asianturfgrass.com.


  • one considers all the grasses that could possibly produce the desired surface at that location
  • from those, one selects those that don't die when N and H2O are reduced

It follows that of the remaining grasses -- those that don't die -- the one with the fastest growth rate will require the fewest inputs to produce the desired surface, because one can supply low amounts of N and water to that grass. The one with the fastest growth rate also gives the most maintenance options, because one can adjust the growth rate across a wider range.

For more about this, see:

Optimum playing conditions, minimum inputs

"Mekong River diverted into Thailand's waterways, worrying drought-stricken neighbours like Vietnam," says a recent headline. "Drought exacts toll on crops in region," says another. And "China has embarked on an unprecedented 'water diplomacy' mission to alleviate the drought in Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam by discharging massive quantities of fresh water downstream from one of its dams," says a third article.


The recent R&A Seminars on Sustainable Golf Course Design, Renovation and Maintenance in Asia, held in early March in Beijing and then in mid-March near Bangkok, were timely in addressing the use of water (and other resources) on golf courses.

Selection_037At these seminars, I spoke about how one can optimize the playing conditions of the golf course while minimizing inputs of resources such as water.

This 12 page handout has details of what I discussed, and includes links to articles and all my presentations.

One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of water required is to minimize the area of maintained turf.

Another way to reduce the water requirement is to use drought tolerant species. In particular, one can produce the best surfaces with the fewest inputs by using native species.

I also explained how to calculate the irrigation water requirement for any area of turf. First, estimate the water use by evapotranspiration, then subtract the quantity of effective rainfall and adjust for the surface area to be irrigated. Then, make further adjustments for the distribution uniformity of the irrigation system and the salinity of the water, and one is left with the quantity of water required as irrigation.

It is quite useful to have this number, and especially to make that calculation for a drought year. In that way, the necessary amount of water storage can be built, or one can adjust the turfgrass area or turfgrass species to make sure the golf course will be sustainable in terms of water.


If there isn't enough water for irrigation, then some grasses will die. Seashore paspalum is the grass that requires the most water to survive in Southeast Asia, and it dies when irrigation water is not supplied. Calculating the irrigation water requirement and planning to have that much water available can be quite useful. As this article states, regarding the current drought, and planning for water availability in such conditions:

Such long-term planning is unfortunately uncommon, say agriculture experts. Dr Leocadio Sebastian, a Vietnam-based regional programme leader for the Consultative Group On International Agricultural Research, says governments tend to be reactive. "They tend to favour relief intervention."

For golf course turf, one can't expect relief intervention, so it is better to plan ahead by choosing grasses that require fewer inputs.

Video report from The R&A sustainability seminar in Beijing

This report gives a summary of last week's R&A Seminar on Sustainable Golf Course Design, Renovation and Maintenance in Asia, held at the National Convention Center in Beijing in conjunction with the China Golf Show.

At the seminar, "more than 200 golf course superintendents, developers, managers and academics from throughout China learned from a number of speakers that sustainability is more than a concept or an idea. It applies directly to their golf courses and facilities and can have a tangible and measurable impact on the success of their operations."

Report from the China Golf Show

It's always a fun time at the China Golf Show in Beijing. There are the seminars, the old friends, the technology, and the Peking Duck. This year also featured The R&A Seminar on Sustainable Golf Course Design, Renovation, and Maintenance in Asia in conjunction with the Show. Here are a few highlights:

I saw a few people that I used to work with at Shanghai Links, including David Young with Nelson & Haworth. We reminisced about our work together 18 years ago. "Was it really that long ago!?"


The helicopter and drone sprayers are really interesting for spot applications and for treatment of extreme terrain. Integrated pest management and spot treatments taken to a whole new level. Cool stuff.



In my seminars (handout here) I talked about things that can help to produce better playing conditions with fewer inputs. It's not surprise that I'm not a huge fan of sandcapping. I shared some data to show why. Sandcapped surfaces tend to get soft -- really soft, like ballmark in fairway soft and mud on ball soft -- unless extensive work is done to control organic matter.

All my presentation slides from The R&A Seminar on Sustainable Golf Course Design, Renovation, and Maintenance in Asia are available on my Speaker Deck page.