Some television and on-site viewers who observed the greens at Pebble Beach at the 110th U.S. Open Championship may have asked why they did not look like the emerald green putting surfaces everyone has come to know at Pebble Beach. TV viewers saw mottled, spotty, discolored greens that would be alarming and perhaps unacceptable to many superintendents and golfers. The Poa annua greens at Pebble Beach are a combination of two construction methods --- five different- aged USGA greens and 13 native soil greens --- growing in multiple microclimates that require different management strategies. No easy task for Superintendent Chris Dalhamer and the maintenance staff.
The mutual goal of the USGA and Pebble Beach was to provide firm, smooth, and fast putting greens to test the skills of the best players. Cosmetics and appearance were not high on the priority list. The grass on the greens is predominantly Poa annua, and like most Poa annua greens there are many slightly different types (biotypes) that comprise the turf. When the greens were maintained on the dry and firm side, significant color differences became more apparent.
The two techniques most important in preparing the golf course for the championship involved reduced fertilization and effective irrigation management. The putting greens went through a gradual dry-down process to achieve the desired conditions. They were in good shape and could handle being pushed. Moisture and firmness levels were monitored in the morning and evening, and measures were taken to keep the greens from going over the edge.
The U.S. Open is not about cosmetics; it’s about providing a challenging and rigorous test to identify the best player. Producing a cosmetically attractive golf course would have been the easy task: a little more water, a touch of fertilizer, and we would have had green, pretty putting greens and soft conditions, but that was not the goal.
Managing greens to this level requires meticulous preparation for months or years. Keep in mind that this conditioning is conducted for just one week of the year. Golfers should not expect championship conditions on the greens they play on daily. Dry, firm greens require nearly perfect shots to keep the ball on the putting surface. It also demands an extraordinarily talented and large maintenance staff to achieve the conditioning. Greens that are growing very little are subject to damage from traffic and other stresses. It is one thing to stop the growth for the few days of the U.S. Open, but it would be reckless to attempt to achieve this type of conditioning for daily golfer play.
Following the championship on Monday, I viewed Pebble Beach greens that were well on their way back to normal following a little drink of water. They looked great and will continue to provide outstanding enjoyment for golfers who want to see how their game holds up on one of golf’s greatest courses.