When I speak with golfers, boards and green committees at courses that are considering a renovation, I always try politely to emphasize that whatever opinions they might have, they really have little or no idea about how the golf course actually works. I illustrate this by explaining the deep infrastructure it takes to give proper form to the golf course surface. Then comes the reminder that they need to respect the expertise of those who really know what’s out there – especially the superintendent.
Much of what it takes to make the course play well, I explain, is hidden under the surface and thus is unknown to the casual observer – including the overwhelming majority of golfers and most volunteer decision-makers at clubs. My job at that point is both to educate and to create space for professionals to help the course managers make informed choices. There’s a lot to be said for humility in the process. Learning about what one does not know is a very enlightening experience.
Golfers judge the course from its surface manifestations: the color of the turfgrass, the quality of cut, how smoothly putts roll on the greens and the uniformity of bunker sand. As for the deep infrastructure of networked mechanisms that make that surface possible, it’s enough simply to start listing them and eyes begin to glaze over. Irrigation pipe, electrical wiring, drainage channels, root structure, water quality, soil type and porosity characteristics, nutrient levels, fertility rates and moisture content all play a key role in course conditions. Most golfers know almost nothing about these things. Why should they? There are experts there to help.
It’s good to remind oneself that the density of networked components in a golf course parallels that of the human body. In that sense, superintendents are akin to skilled internists while most golfers are more like hypochondriacs.