Fescue to the rescue

There is a word that will crop up frequently this week in relation to the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay not normally associated with this major, and there is an Irish company to thank for that.

Fescue to the rescue

That word is ‘fescue’ - the grass so familiar to Irish and British golfers who have played the game on links courses around their islands yet oh so alien to this venerable championship. For this year’s US Open will break new ground by the shores of Puget Sound in America’s Pacific Northwest as host course Chambers Bay becomes the first course in championship history to feature all fescue grass.

The American golf world dropped its collective jaw seven years ago when the US Golf Association awarded its 2015 national championship to Chambers Bay. And the furore has not diminished as the tournament’s first round approaches this Thursday. The latest edition of Links Magazine features a cover line which states “Get Ready for the First US British Open” while Golfweek’s Martin Kaufmann, arguing against Chambers Bay hosting a US Open in a debate with colleague Bradley S Klein, wrote: “Don’t be surprised if players complain about the greens and the turf conditions during the Open.”

Even Klein, arguing the pro side, wrote: “Yes, its grasses are finicky. Fescue, a linksy turf, is susceptible to sustained foot traffic and doesn’t winter well. That’s why play was reduced to let the turfgrass establish. Amazingly, it has come back.”

John Clarkin will not have been surprised at all that it did. The founder of Wexford-based Turfgrass, he worked closely with Chambers Bay’s renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Jr, who brought the Irish company on board as consultants.

What struck Clarkin as he viewed Jones’s sandy landscape for the first time was its likeness to home that made fine fescue the logical choice for the architect’s desire to produce a firm and fast-playing course in the manner of an Irish or British links. “When Mr Jones asked us to visit the site and make recommendations we discovered that the climate of Chambers Bay closely resembled that of Ireland,” Clarkin said.

“The notable difference was the Pacific Northwest’s warmer and drier summers. We also found there were occasional strong winds, which could cause erosion and blow out bunker sand. Our grassing recommendations took all these local conditions into accoun.

“When I studied the climate and other agronomic data a predominantly fescue-based seed specification was most appropriate. Our goal was a course which could be maintained in a traditional manner, with minimal inputs, capable of flourishing in wet conditions but tolerating drought well.”

With fellow Irishmen Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy having already won a US Open, Clarkin is proud his company has also now contributed to championship lore.

“We’re tremendously proud that Irish golf, which has enjoyed such prominence recently with the success of Pádraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley and of course world number one Rory McIlroy, could also help in the creation of the first true links course ever to host a US Open,” the Turfgrass founder said.

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