Pictured Above: To avoid moving much dirt while reserving the natural beauty of the rolling glaciated Kettle Moraine area, fine fescue was no-tilled into the fairways at Wisconsin’s Erin Hill course, site of the 2017 U.S. Open Golf Championship.
So what does no-till have in common with this week’s 117th U.S. Open Golf Championship being held here in southeastern Wisconsin?
Located 30 miles from the No-Till Farmer offices, the tournament at Erin Hills will welcome 156 of the world’s top golfers vying for a title that has been contested each year since 1895. More than 45,000 golfing enthusiasts coming from around the world are expected each day during the June 12-18 event, which is expected to pour $130 million into the southeastern Wisconsin economy.
Along with the Masters, British Open and PGA Championship, the U.S. Open is among the golf world’s top four major competitions held each year. In its 117-year history, 51 courses across the country have hosted the U.S. Open, and Erin Hills is one of six public access courses to host this championship.
However, Erin Hills may be the first course for this spectacular golf event where no-till has played a key role.
No-Till Saves Terrain
When the Erin Hills course was constructed in 2006, there was a major concern about the best way to seed the fairways while taking full advantage of the unusual land. While the thin layer of topsoil was ideal, the ground beneath it consisted of gravel and rock that had been left behind thousands of years ago by the glaciers.
Wanting to design a layout that truly fit the rolling landscape, the golf course architects feared discing the soil would bring rocks to the surface on a site where they wanted to take full advantage of the glacial dunes, ridges and wetlands without moving much dirt.
The solution was to spray the fairway areas with Roundup to burndown the existing vegetation. Fine fescue grass was then no-tilled into the dead plant matter.
“I’ve been involved with 1,400 golf course projects and built probably 300 courses and that’s the first time I heard of doing that,” golf course construction expert Bill Kubly told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “That’s why all the little bumps and rumps are all there. It truly is natural.”
All thanks to the no-till seeding technique that was used on this course that was selected as the site of this year’s prestigious U.S. Open.
But Wait, There’s More
In 2013, golf course superintendent Zach Reineking decided it was time to cut the course’s 18-inch tall fescue growing in the “rough” areas alongside the fairways to make the course more playable and to improve its overall appearance. But he knew simply mowing the tall fescue and letting it lie there on the ground would hinder play and wasn’t the answer, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
After watching a local farmer bale hay, the course’s maintenance crew decided to mow, rake and bale the fescue. The crew expected to end up with 500 or 600 bales weighing around 40 pounds harvested from the areas along the 18 fairways on the 145-acre course.
Instead, they wound up with 3,480 bales, which were moved to a back corner of the property. But if they were to bale the fescue every year, they needed to find a way to get rid of the bales.
While searching in 2014 for an Amish-built furniture store operator to build some items for the course, a crew member hit upon a solution. The Amish family ended up building wooden trash cans and benches for use on the course in exchange for hauling the fescue away to feed the family’s cattle. Each year, the crew decides what new items of furniture can be built for the course in exchange for hauling away the fescue hay.
Expensive Golf Viewing
Before you ask if I’ll be taking a day or two off work this week to attend the U.S. Open golf championship, the answer is no.
Up to 45,000 spectators are expected to attend each day of the tournament, despite the fact that one-week tickets started at $450 per person. And get this: More than 500 volunteers forked over $175 each in exchange for earning the opportunity to work free at the event. (That’s $87,500 of income just from the volunteers!)
The tournament represents big bucks for dozens of sponsors. At past U.S. Opens, corporate hospitality packages ranged from $37,500 for a 10-person table in a hospitality tent to a $500,000 investment for a corporate chalet.
I’ll probably be among the more than 100 million television viewers who will watch part of the tournament’s 40 hours of coverage later this week, especially the final holes on Sunday afternoon. Not only will I be watching the world’s top golf professional walk down the fairways while competing for $12 million in prize money, but I’ll also be checking to see how the no-tilled seeded fescue stands up against nearly 900 rounds of golf being played this week at Erin Hills.