Golf courses cannot be all things to all people. There is a movement afoot among architecture aficionados to return all golf courses to the original, native look of the links of Great Britain and Ireland. We’re talking Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Ireland herself. This notion is a complex one, as it involves the removal of vast plots of green-hued turf and the introduction of native grasses and plants.

I’m a fan of this direction, but not in the 100-percent way that some mavens are. From time to time, I need a fix of pure green to sate my appetite. To be fair, green is my favorite color across the palette, but I think I’d still need what many USA golfers consider “country club conditions” in order to get through an entire season. Transplant me to Dornoch, Southampton or Cape Breton and I might sing a different tune, but currently, not just yet.

I came across a video interview with Bill Coore recently. Coore and his partner, Ben Crenshaw, design and supervise the building of golf courses. A fair number are private, while a lesser quantity are public-access. Don’t hold that against them; the nature of golf course architecture demands that you build for the client, not for your leanings. You’ve seen Coore-Crenshaw courses in magazines, on websites and televised tournaments. If the commentary is cogent, a mention or two of the architects is included. In this video, both gentlemen discuss the worth of having native grasses across a golf course. It lasts about three minutes and is vital to the remainder of this opinion piece.

Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore discuss the virtues of native grasses on the golf canvas. from Dunlop White on Vimeo.


What I consider to be the most important words in this video segment come from Bill Coore. I’ll paraphrase his ideas like this: native grasses in out of play areas add a great deal to a golf course. I’ll take it a step farther and say this: to encourage the harmonious existence of new or weak golfers and native grasses, the latter should not be used as a hazard.

I’ve played Crag Burn when the fescue is tall and thick. Many golfers at Crag Burn are top-shelf players and they rarely visit the thick stuff. For them, it’s not in play. For an average golfer playing from tees of great distance, the need for length trumps accuracy, wild swings ensue and golf balls move more to the horizontal than the vertical.

I played Seneca Hickory Stick within a month of its official opening. There were many collars of thick, native rough around many of the bunkers. Being in the sand was a godsend; golfers in the thick stuff were better advised to take an unplayable-lie penalty stroke and drop into a more playable lie. One of the fellows in our group eschewed this advice, made four attempts to slay the dragon on a twenty-yard wedge shot, injured his wrist and was laid up for three weeks.

I recently photographed a golf course in western New York and the manager asked me, will the photos be in color? What was interesting was, they were: all green. The course had so many trees and absolutely no native vegetation, that until autumn arrives, green is it!

Committee members often put the brakes on a plan to remove trees, let the fairways brown naturally, or install areas of native vegetation. We don’t want to look like every other club or We’re not jumping on that bandwagon. I like to gently remind these important folks that course superintendents love to take down trees, as they allow for more sunlight and greater air exchange (wind) across the course. Photographers like tree removal, as cross-fairway vistas open up, and they look great in pictures.


Browning of the fairways allows for greater roll-out of tee shots, approach shots that bounce up toward the green, and yes, enhanced punishment for bad shots. These bound off into bunkers and other topographical challenges. Browning saves water, saves man hours, and is healthier for the turf. And native grasses? Never mind the Audubon Certification benefits; native areas add color for the aesthetically-inclined and they welcome back critters that aid in the cycles of nature.

I spoke with a superintendent at an elite golf club once. I mentioned that some clubs over-plant fescues and native grasses, with a too-thick crop as a result. He responded that they would bring sand into those areas and continue to dump it until the plants naturally thinned, as would happen along the shore, on a links. There’s probably more to the process, but I don’t recall all the specifics.  Next time you’re out golfing, keep an eye out for native areas. If they encroach on and hold up play, tell the course managers. If they add something to the visual, without affecting play, mention that as well.