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It was a little over four years ago when Adam Garr penned “Wisdom from Both Sides of the Fairway” in the second edition of Turfheads Take Over. Adam is a former superintendent who now works as a territory manager for Syngenta, and he listed 15 bullet points sharing his experience from both sides of the desk. It was the fourth point — “Do Less with Less” — that created a good bit of conversation.

The phrase “do more with less” has been prevalent in our industry for several years as budget cuts were the norm for many facilities prior to the pandemic. Adam stated plainly you cannot do more with less, “you cannot spray more acres with less product, you cannot get more jobs accomplished with less staff and you cannot mow more grass with less mowers. Simply you will do less with less.” His message was a plea to peers to fight for the budget items they need.

A quick Twitter search for the hashtag #GrassCanTakeMore will reveal numerous posts of folks touting the ability of turf to withstand more. More traffic, more stress, more wear and tear. Granted, the majority of these posts the past few years have been made by our colleagues in the newly renamed Sports Field Managers Association. But you do find the occasional golf course-related post too.

It would be easy for one to misinterpret the hashtag and imply grass can take more inputs, but that is simply not the case. And according to one highly respected turfgrass consultant, grass can definitely take less.

Last month, a friend had the good fortune to attend a candid educational event and shared with me a stirring presentation a consultant made to attendees about how the COVID-19 pandemic had revealed just how much we can do with less.

The increased play experienced nationwide by golf facilities the past two years — the final Golf Datatech numbers of 2021 will show an increase of 20-25 million rounds nationally compared to 2020, which was a busy year nearly everywhere — has created situations where golf course superintendents have had to quickly adapt. Adapt to busier tee sheets, thus interfering with maintenance schedules, meaning less time on the golf course to make fertilizer or topdressing applications. Adapt to an ever-changing work environment with fewer staff as the labor crisis continues meaning fewer people available to perform the work previously accomplished.

Yet, despite these situations of less, what has the consultant witnessed? He stated simply that he had received zero 911 calls over the past two years from any of his clients as a result of doing less. In fact, he is seeing healthier turf and superintendents adapting and discovering creative ways to really make do with less.

Is this the new normal as we move forward? Most likely, but time will tell. Superintendents are not just responsible to provide the best playing conditions possible. We must also provide the conditions and aesthetics desired by our owners and members.

In other words, we must balance what is best for the turf with client desires. Hopefully the past two years have helped golfers open their minds and change their perceptions of quality playing surfaces. Hopefully, they have become more accepting of a little brown and scruff here and there. Besides, the larger our staffs and budgets, the more our attention is focused on the periphery when the game is still largely played down the middle.

I know I am excited to see how 2022 plays out. The rising cost of fertilizer caused by inflation and supply chain issues has me strategizing ways to make our budget work when we will purchase less than we did a year ago. I do know this: we experienced the best playing conditions in several years this past fall as a result of drought. After three consecutive years of above-average rainfall, October and November were the two driest months of 2021 and the golf course played to perfection.

Let us all hope 2022 is the year when the penny finally drops for golfers to understand that golf is played on a surface and not a color. What matters most is the quality of the surface and the way the ball reacts when struck or bounces and not how lush or verdant it may appear. And I hope each of you continues to find and share creative ways to provide the best possible playing conditions with less than before. If anyone can, it is golf course superintendents.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina and past president of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.