Climate Change Forces Golfers to Adjust to Lesser Hues

AUGUSTA, GA. — You’ve no doubt heard that unseasonably warm weather in the South has forced Masters officials to dump truckloads of ice on their azalea beds to keep the famous shrubs from blooming prematurely. This may or may not be true. I was going to walk out to Amen Corner yesterday to find out, but it was too damn hot.

Masters Week

Augusta National's par-3 course, famous for its horticulture, may not be as bright this week. (John Garrity)

The meteorologist at our Kansas City headquarters, meanwhile, reports that spring is a month ahead of schedule. The dogwoods, redbuds and crabapples are already dropping their blossoms, and the Top 50 staff, in my absence, spend their afternoons sipping cabernets at sidewalk cafés on the Country Club Plaza. My imaginary friend Bert, who runs a snow-blower concession, says that sales are flat. “I’m a global-warming denier,” he says, iPhoning from the sixth hole of Donald Ross’s Heartland Club (No. 45). “But I don’t deny that the world is getting hotter.”

Bert is my imaginary friend, but I’m not afraid to tell him that he’s a dope. “The world IS getting hotter,” I tell him, “but you’re confusing weather with climate. The scientifically-measured increase in global surface temperature since 1980 was roughly a half-degree Fahrenheit, and if the most dire predictions of climatologists come true, it could rise another 4 to 10 degrees degrees by 2100. This abrupt warming could have a catastrophic impact on the planet, melting the polar ice cap, flooding highly-rated links courses and diverting the Gulf Stream, which would turn continental Europe into a year-round skating rink. But that’s CLIMATE. You’ll still have unseasonably cool summers and unseasonably warm winters. That’s WEATHER.”

Snow on Japanese golf course

The cherry blossoms have yet to bloom on Japanese courses. (Courtesy of Duke Ishikawa)

As proof I sent Bert the latest dispatch from our chief Asian correspondent, Duke Ishikawa, who reports that Japan’s cherry-blossom season is on hold. “We really had a cold winter this year,” he begins.

Enclosed several pictures from Suwako CC in Nagano Prefecture. One thousand meters above sea level. Many courses still closed, but Suwako opened on April 1. In two weeks, they shoveled almost a foot of snow. These pictures are evidence of it. This is why our professional tour cannot start this season until after the Masters.

Suwako, Duke points out, is near the Karuizawa 72 course, site of the 2014 Eisenhower Trophy competition (barring the onset of an ice age).

This talk of azaleas and cherry blossoms is not peripheral to course ranking. Many of the Top 50 courses are currently swathed in spring colors, from the dogwoods of 42nd-ranked Hallbrook to the wildflowers of second-ranked Carne. Here’s Duke again on the Japanese golf landscape:

We have a gorgeous cherry-blossom season from the end of March to early April (normally). That’s in the Tokyo area. Our island is longer than 2,000 kilometers, so the cherry-blossom season moves from south (Okinawa) to North (Hokkaido) with a front line of rising temperatures. We call it sakura zensen. (Sakura is “cherry,” zensen means “front line.”) The cherry trees usually keep one week of bloom in each area, so it is a very short moment. We made it a symbol for the Samurai who had to commit hara-kiri suicide in front of his boss after making a mistake. (Please don’t laugh.)

Some of our golf courses have one thousand cherry trees. With more cherry trees in the hills around, it makes us all pink. I occasionally send pictures of this to my fairway ladies, Louise Solheim and Barbara, whose husband is Jack.

Again, it is a great time of year. Sincerely, Duke

New Richmond Golf Club

The New Richmond Golf Club rivals Augusta National for spring coloration. (John Garrity)

Several of the Top 50’s course raters are licensed botanists, so I had them compile a spring-colors Top 5 from the current ranking. Here it is:

1) New Richmond Golf Club, New Richmond, Wis. (132.6)

2) Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga. (128.8)

3) Augusta National Practice Range, Augusta, Ga. (127.1)

4) Askernish Old, South Uist Island, Scotland (124.0)

5) Mid Pines Resort and Golf Club, Southern Pines, N.C. (123.9)

Top 50 on TV: The Masters (CBS).

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