BTN LiveBIG: Minnesota and USGA team up to drive golf's future

BTN LiveBIG: Minnesota and USGA team up to drive golf's future

Minnesota_golfGolf is a game of the elements. The rolling hills. The wind. Sand traps. Water hazards.

For the U.S. Golf Association (USGA) and the University of Minnesota, these features are also fundamental to a new academic partnership aimed at making the sport more enjoyable — and accessible — for all.

The two organizations recently announced a five-year agreement that will use the university’s Les Bolstad Golf Course as a canvas for a wide range of projects that draw on disciplines from agriculture to engineering to management.

“As professors, we have to have our places where we conduct our research — and from this partnership’s perspective, the laboratory is the golf course,” said Brian Horgan, a professor in the Department of Horticultural Science.

The initiative gives both partners the opportunity to come up with research ideas. Its open-ended design provides autonomy for the USGA and Minnesota to take advantage of the resources at hand.

“It’s a laboratory that allows us to bring the mission of the institution into the discussion where the priorities aren’t just about the recreation of 25,000 or 30,000 people who play golf on a yearly basis,” Horgan said. “The discussions are about how we can advance golf as a discipline.”

Horgan is familiar with what the USGA brings to the table in a partnership like this. His undergraduate research at Michigan State and his Ph.D. work at Illinois were both made possible through USGA grants and funding.

“I remember as an undergraduate student just how important that was — that the governing body of golf, the … worldwide leader was funding a project that I was a part of,” he explained.

While the partnership will cover tremendous ground in its scope, both Horgan and Dean Brian Buhr of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources stressed that the core tenets of the project are golfer enjoyment, making the game more affordable and pace of play.

“We’re looking at it primarily from the supply side, the production side of the golf course,” Buhr said. “Ideally, what you’re reducing is the number of inputs required, whether its fertilizer, water, energy for irrigation, mowing time and so on. That reduces your costs, which hopefully allows them to keep round fees lower. And of course, that means you make the game more accessible to people.”

Beyond just the putting green, both Minnesota and the USGA see applications of their research that could benefit those who never pick up a club. Horgan noted that because much of the maintained area of a golf course is the rough, translating their findings for general public use should be a chip shot.

“A rough is a home lawn, a park, a cemetery, [an] urban greenscape,” he said. “If you look at 60 percent of the golf course that’s managed as rough, it’s applicable for any … urban landscape.”

The USGA and Minnesota have already had a relationship in turf-grass research for the past 40 years, so expanding their partnership to other disciplines seemed like a logical fit. Projects related to water draining and course layout, as well as improving the speed of the green, are already underway.

“It’s a little bit of serendipity that the USGA and the university found one another at this moment in time,” said Rand Jerris, the USGA’s senior managing director for public services. “The terms of this initial partnership are five years, [but] quite honestly, I think we hope it goes on for decades.”

By Grant Rindner

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