From the Editor: the summer in turf

Turfgrass on display in its various forms
Mike Jiggens
August 20, 2018
By
Some of the finest and most varied sports turf on earth were showcased this summer for the entire world to see on television.

Within a period of just one month, sports fans from around the world got to see the Wimbledon tennis championships played on the famed grass courts in England, the FIFA World Cup soccer championship played in Russia, and the Open Championship (British Open) played at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland.

Three entirely different sports were played on three vastly different playing surfaces.

Here in North America, we’re accustomed to playing tennis or watching it being played on asphalt surfaces. To most tennis aficionados on this side of the pond, playing the game on grass is virtually an alien concept.

 The FIFA World Cup marked the first time in its history that the championship final was played on a surface that wasn’t 100 per cent natural. It was close enough, though, to satisfy the athletes who – to a man – are adamant about playing on a natural surface.

A new hybrid surface consisting of 95 per cent natural turf and five per cent synthetic fibres was put into play for the final at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium. Called SISGrass, it was developed by a British company that claims the combination of both grasses offers better stability and longer life than 100 per cent natural turf.

Since 95 per cent of it was natural, it allowed some of the finest footballers in the world the feel of a completely natural playing surface while decreasing the amount of field wear. It satisfied the demands of the most discriminating athletes.

Artificial turf sports fields have become increasingly more popular than ever before in this millennium, largely due to the fact that weather isn’t as much of a factor as it is with natural turf. A longer season can be played on synthetic turf, and the quality of the field itself has come a long way since the days of Astroturf. Although it is safer and more aesthetically pleasing than ever before, it hasn’t quite reached the point where it is universally embraced. It’s still Miracle Whip to real mayonnaise or margarine to butter.

Because artificial turf is not a living, breathing organism, it will probably always fall just short of the real thing, but it certainly is better than it ever was before. Perhaps this SISGrass system is the compromise that will appeal to both athletes and groundskeepers alike.

And then there was the British Open. Armchair golf enthusiasts who might watch only the sport’s four major championships may well have asked, “Why is the grass so brown at the British Open yet it’s so perfectly green at The Masters?”

For those of us in the know, the brown grass at Carnoustie was just fine in terms of its health. Its superintendent wasn’t about to put his job in jeopardy to risk the well being of Carnoustie’s fairways, especially when putting it on the world stage. The Royal & Ancient Championship Committee obviously feels that turf allowed to go a little dormant isn’t going to adversely affect the way the game is played. It’s what gives these British venues such character and sets this particular major apart from the others. Well, that and the pot bunkers.

Those outside the industry who might think the superintendent is goofing off and failing to do his job because the fairways are more on the brown side need to do a little research. Some might argue that he and his colleagues working at other British courses actually have the right idea, that aesthetics aren’t everything and that the course can still play without the need for copious amounts of water.

This is something that North American golf needs to realize, but course owners and members are Augusta-obsessed and want all things green. To accomplish that, irrigation systems must be turned on more frequently. Never mind the fact that a little brown isn’t going to hinder the course’s playability.

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