I was playing golf the week after the British Open several years ago and one of the players in my group said that the Open course looked like a cow pasture. We were playing that day on a well groomed, very green course, and it was a real contrast to the natural links of the Open. I think this was the year it was played at Hoylake, but whichever year it was, there had been very little rain and little or no irrigation of most of the course, so the Open course was browned out in many areas.
I defended the conditions at the Open, noting that it was a very different type of course than those we typically played, and that it was closer to how golf was originally played. My friend wasn’t impressed, and I have to admit I liked the lush course we were playing.
Our ongoing drought has made me think a lot more about how course conditions affect my enjoyment of the game. My home course is doing a good job of balancing fighting the effects of the drought with reasonable water conservation, but the extremely dry conditions are taking their toll. The fairways, greens, and tee boxes are in good shape, but the rough has become dry grass and bare dirt in many areas. The picture below shows a view down a fairway from the tee box, and you can see that the tee and fairway is green, but off to the other side of the cart path is bare dirt. That used to be bermuda grass. The fairway is also typically much greener than it is now, but it is healthy when in the light green color in the photo.
Our course is in better shape than some others around here, and it is in much better shape than my own yard. Some of the courses have very restricted water access, and I’ve played a few where the fairways have lost a lot of their grass. My yard is primarily mulch, bare dirt, and dried, fallen leaves.
It’s easy to get frustrated with the conditions and let them reduce your enjoyment of the game. Thin, bad lies are nearly unavoidable in the rough and it’s hard to remember that you shouldn’t have hit it there in the first place when you are staring down at a ball resting on hardpan. On the other hand, you get a lot of practice at nipping balls off of tight lies.
I’ve been working on remembering why I’m really playing and not getting too caught up in my score. My scores aren’t as good, partly because of a continuing slump and partly because bad shots are easy to hit and severely punished right now. But if I remember that I’m out doing what I love, playing golf with friends I enjoy, I do OK. The weather has been pretty good in its own way. After all, we don’t get rained out.
We have an ambivalent relationship with the courses we play. We play against the course and it’s our job to beat it, to dodge all the traps it throws our way. But at the same time we want it to be welcoming and to lie softly under our feet. The drought has just emphasized the adversarial side of the relationship.