Robert Thompson had been commissioned by the OGSA to write about the state of golf courses following the difficult winter we’ve had in eastern Canada. Through this work he has championed education, awareness and invited dialogue around the effects of this winter on many courses in Ontario and throughout Canada; most notably, the losses of greens through winter kill. Thompson identifies that Poa annua grasses which many courses have used did not survive the winter and now, when combined with a less than ideal spring and low numbers playing as a result of this all could spell trouble for the golf industry in Canada.
The real eye opener for me was seeing 45 passionate responses to his blog post dated April 25, 2014 on his blog Going for the Green. There were opinion from golfers, superintendents and likely others. While sharing a strong passion for the game, this discussion created considerable noise but very little clarity on root causes or solutions to the issues at play. I understand it, people care and they are deeply passionate about the game of golf.
But I am curious to know how research can help inform this conversation? I know nothing about agrostology (or any other aspects of botany), or golf course maintenance to be more specific so I have been lurking. But for a topic with significant social and economic impact I would wonder how a program like University of Guelph’s Turfgrass management program could support this? Do they already do so? I am sure they’re not the only school in Canada engaged in this field of study. I am confident that OSGA has a strong relationship with academic researchers but do they have a strong Knowledge Transfer and Exchange (also called Knowledge Translation or Knowledge Mobilization) plan?
Research is one component to help understand and address complex issues, but only one. In some cases economics drive decision making, or in others, strong public opinion (or a majority vote from courses’ Board of Governors). But allowing the time and space for evidence informed decision making could help address complex scientific and economic issues and help create a foundation of sustainability and health for the courses and the industry. I feel Robert has done significant and very strong work here in opening us up to the complexity of issues here and the importance they have had in the short term, and possibly the long term. And while I feel for all courses, it is public courses, with marginal profit margins and restricted funding bases to be able to offset losses in revenues or an inability to make significant investments in infrastructure that I am most concerned about.
Not to be flippant, I plan to more aggressively support public courses in my home province of Ontario…just doing my part. But I will also help people like Robert who are leading an important conversation on an issue we all care about; the future of the golf industry.