Monthly Archives: February 2012

Minimalism

A few weeks ago I was speaking in England at the annual British and International Golf Greenkeepers Association Conference in Harrogate, about an hour and a half from Manchester in the Yorkshire Dales. Outside of the US and Canada it is the one of the premier golf turf educational events in the world.

I was presenting in a few sessions on Sustainable Golf Turf Management, Reduced Chemical Pesticide Use and my overall theme of resource efficient golf turf management.  An Irish Greenkeeper approached me during a break and inquired, “so, you’re a minimalist huh?” Not knowing exactly what a minimalist is and not wanting seem stupid I responded, “yeah, I guess I am.”

Not knowing exactly what a minimalist is and not wanting seem stupid I responded, “Yeah, I guess I am.”

I have since learned that minimalism is typically used to describe forms of art or music as well as architecture and design. Minimalist art purports to expose the essence of a subject by eliminating all non-essential forms. These are the odd sorts of pictures like a red strip down a blue page, or a blackbox on a white piece of paper, you know the kind of art you look at and say, “my 10 year old could have done that.”

Minimalism in golf is a slightly different animal. For example, the brilliant golf course architect Tom Doak has been referred to as a minimalist. In fact Tom (Cornell ’83) has penned an excellent piece called “The Minimalist Manifesto” where he describes his design ethic. Doak speaks of the “pandering” we do of the American golfer so that they do not have to take responsibility for hitting a bad shot.

Minimalism from my perspective as a turfgrass scientist and for golf turf managers is simply not do or use one more thing than I absolutely have to for meeting my clients’ expectations for a high quality golf course. This means my mantra of focusing on nitrogen instead of other plant nutrients, mowing less, irrigating more precisely, and using as few pesticides as possible is my own practicing of minimalism. Who knew?

Now, it is easy for me to say, as it is not my job to work within a budget to produce a golf course. Many would argue it is impossible to be a minimalist in the major golf markets in the US due to the demand for perfect conditions. Of course some might say this is “pandering”; others would say “it is what I must do to keep my job by meeting client expectations.”

Clearly it is much easier to produce a links golf course along the sea where perfect climate and sandy soils prevail; this is the essence of minimalism. However a parkland course with trees, rolling topography, cart paths and golfers who focus on perfect turf poses a challenge to the minimalist.

What if you took a 50 percent cut in budget for supplies and labor. What would be the products and practices left?

So if you want to be a minimalist with me, here is what I propose. In your mind and maybe in practice, strip your maintenance program down to the bare bones. What if you took a 50 percent cut in budget for supplies and labor. What would be the products and practices left? Would you focus on only nitrogen on greens, mow tees higher, focus management on landing areas, improve your water delivery precision, etc.?

I am not one who thinks the quality of the course needs to suffer if you are a minimalist. There are many things we do that we do because we always did them. We can no longer afford this complacency that forces us to makes things more complicated than they need to be. Stay open to new ideas, be skeptical of the latest and greatest, pay attention to research and fund research that makes your operation more efficient, try to keep it as simple as possible. As DaVinci said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”