Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Minimalist Golf: A New Face on an Old Line

I prefer a man with rugged good looks; you know… the firm jaw, confident sensual mouth, twinkling eyes creased with laugh lines, thick animated brows, and a tanned face sprouting a day-old beard. A man more concerned with what he does than how his hair is combed. A cross between Hugh Jackman and George Clooney, I guess.

What does this have to do with golf, you might ask? LOL! Well, something cool is happening to golf course design these days. Golfers are enjoying a new breed of golf course. I’m talking about unmanicured, rugged and ungroomed courses with roughed up links. Designers are purposely leaving in creased and crinkly surfaces that lead to unexpected bounces and rolls and even seeding their fairways— and greens— to fescues rather than the common blue and bent grasses.
 These natural courses need less water and fertilization and play more firmly. I’m told that high handicappers delight in the way their balls go farther and that water hazards are close to nonexistent; and better players are challenged by strategic considerations and unexpected bounces. And everyone appreciates the more natural setting over trudging in a “suburban park”. In fact, carts are usually banned or at least discouraged in these courses.

This minimalist trend is only a decade old and currently concentrated in the western states of the U.S. according to Jim Sutherland of Westworld Magazine (Summer, 2009). For example, Tetherow Golf Course in Bend, Oregon (about 300 km southeast of Portland) opened in July 2008, and was named by Travel & Leisure Golf the fifth best course to open worldwide in 2008. Tetherow joins several other minimalist courses on the west coast of U.S. and Canada (like Bandon Dunes also in Oregon; Chambers Bay in Tacoma, Washington; Sagebrush Golf and Sporting Club near Merritt, B.C.) that are considered “the hottest thing to hit golf since Sansabelt slacks,” according to Sutherland.

Graced with a mosaic of undulating sand dunes, pockets of natural sagebrush and tree stands, Tetherow is one of 50 courses worldwide named as an Audubon International Certified Signature Sanctuary in recognition of its sustainability and habitat-preserving initiatives. Minimalist golf courses are without a doubt the hottest new courses, according to Sutherland. They are “beautiful, challenging, inspiring tracks that are making all the Top 100, ‘Best New’ and ‘Play Before You Die’ lists, and for all the right reasons,” says Sutherland. “They’re more fun to play and easier on the environment.”

Tetherow is the creation of David McLay Kidd, the young Scottish designer responsible for Bandon Dunes, considered by many the most influential course of the late 20th Century. He is working on a course in … well—yes, Margaret—Fernie, British Columbia. Avid golfers will enjoy the avant-garde challenges in this type of course, like Toronto native club pro Martin Chuck found out recently—driving through back trees, watching his approach shots bounce wildly astray or catch gusts of wind, ball landing in scary bunkers and gnarly rough. Minimalist golf compensates its general lack of water hazards with rough-edged hazards “so aesthetically appealing they seem to follow from the Japanese concept of wabi sabi or finding beauty in imperfection,” says Sutherland.

Sutherland goes on to describe Bandon’s “postcard-beautiful” course with something akin to ardor: “holes unfurl across a pastoral landscape that already featured open meadow, stands of picturesque trees and even clumps of gorse.”

The strength of these rolling natural courses lies in achieving a fun-quotient while reducing their eco-footprint. Minimalist golf courses protect wildlife habitats, improve water quality of nearby waterways and rehabilitate degraded landscapes.

Traditional golf courses have a bad reputation for being environmentally unfriendly. Between their high water demand, potential contamination of nearby water courses (e.g., through fertilizers and herbicides), deforestation and mono-cropping, golf courses have been a bad scene for environmentalists. In the Okanagan, a rich fruit growing mecca located in a desert-like ecosystem of British Columbia, golf courses are currently outcompeting the agriculture sector by taking the lion’s share of water in the region. The forty-five golf courses “use about the same amount of water as all the grape-growing areas in the basin,” says Hans Schreier, professor at the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia.

Minimalist golf courses are part of a new wave, heralding in a smarter future, guided by nature and our appreciation of the natural beauty of our planet. They celebrate a healthy ecosystem, provide a smaller ecological footprint, and conserve water. As a golfer, you can join the wave and promote more sustainable golf at your favored course by letting them know that you don’t mind clover or other weeds mixed in with the grass and that you prefer fairways firm and fast—and not overwatered. You do, don’t you? (big alien grin).

Find out more about minimalist golf and the new wave in golf at http://www.golfclubatlas.com/. Here’s a list of some minimalist golf courses to check out:
  • Shuksan, Bellingham, Washington, U.S.A.
  • King’s Links, Ladner, B.C., Canada
  • Wolf Creek and Blackhawk, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • Dakota Dunes, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Arthur Vernon Macan courses (Vancouver, Chilliwack, Nanaimo, the Okanagan, B.C.), Canada
  • Stanley Thompson & Donald Ross courses (Banff, Jasper, Waterloo, Waskesiu, West Vancouver, Winnipeg) Canada
Photo 1: Tetherow Golf Course, Oregon
Photo 2: Bandon Dunes Golf Course, Oregon
Photo 3: Chambers Bay Golf Course, Washington
Photo 4: Sagebrush Golf and Country Club, British Columbia

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Acxtually, your description of the ideal man sounded like Abraham Lincoln!

Nina Munteanu said...

LOL! Oh, Jean-Luc! That's marvelous... :) I do so admire him too...

Baby Brie said...

HaHa! As it turns out, when I was in Fernie, Marilyn and I walked over to what may become the minimalist golf course you mention here!
And I was just saying to Gary and the kids that Fernie continues to be one of the major centres of the world. As it turns out, New Westminster is the other major centre! Go figure....More on that later....

Nina Munteanu said...

HAR! Margaret, I figured you'd find this post! As for New Westminster.... where exactly is that?... I don't think I know that place... :)

Oh, speaking of Fernie, B.C. (one of the most famous unknown little towns in the world) I was half expecting to meet someone from there at World Con (I will post soon on my very interesting experience at that convention) ... but no show! Fancy that! Maybe I didn't hang out at the bar long enough.... LOL!

Baby Brie said...

Actually I would have been VERY suprised if you found someone from Fernie at the World Con...LOL!
At a bar in Montreal...not so surprised...HaHa!
Ah...if you do not know where New Westminster is then you have obviously been orbiting in the outer reaches too long...LOL!
People in Fernie know where New Westminster is....Need I say more!

Nina Munteanu said...

LOL! Now, does that say something about New Westminster or about Fernie?...

I think they both belong to the same Space Zone...

Anonymous said...

Fernie is Famous!!!
It made it into Rolling Stone Magazine and has likely been cited in Skiing magazines.

As for New Westminster, British Columbia's First Capital City. The world knows her well - Recent co-host location for the World Police and Fire Games!


BTW - I recently saw and alternate (and possibly apropos for you) meaning for LOL - Little Old Lady.

Remember - Le Grande Frommage nose

TTFN - Limburger

ps. I knew three other people from Fernie before I met Ms. Brie

Nina Munteanu said...

HAHAHAHA!..... (LOL in disguise)... wow, you knew THREE people from Fernie before you met Brie? Well, you must feel ... well ... very special. I felt special knowing ONE.... :)

Rolling Stone, eh? I wonder what the topic was... I know that Fernie has a few large "rocks"...

Anonymous said...

I thought this is a comment place, Where you actually left comments. Not a chat room!!!!

Nina Munteanu said...

HA! Dar! Nice to see you here! Well, it's a comment page AND a chat room! HA! And now I'm chatting to YOU!

but you're right... it has evolved from being a comment page about golf and men to Fernie, B.C. Now, how did THAT happen?!!!

Anonymous said...

Where are you today? It's Teresa last day of work. Can't wait to move. See you soon.

Nina Munteanu said...

LOL! I'm laughing because I was supposed to be arriving in Halifax when you made your comment... Instead, I'm in Washington DC, flying standby! Little detour... :) (missed my connecting flight)... I hope to get to Halifax today (unless I end up flying standby to Paris, or something... LOL!) We'll see where this adventure takes me...

(so much for minimalist golf! HAR!) You're right, Dar... this commentary has taken a sharp turn into uncharted territory, just like my trip!... more on my book/conference tour in my next posts--when I get time to post! (all this flying is...well...time-consuming)

p.s. Great big hugs of congratulations to Teresa! Yeeha! I'm looking forward to seeing you soon. Missing those hugs, Dar!

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