The Campaign for Khaki
by Robert McNeil, ASGCA Associate

The Green Movement is clearly upon us. The world’s population has taken a responsible turn and is trying to give the planet a break and move toward long-term sustainability. Golf course design and management has been a leader in this movement, but the message seems to falling on deaf ears. So let’s change the message.

One shade of green I would like to make a case for is khaki….yes, khaki, one of only four colors of men’s pants sold worldwide. As I write this I just happened to be wearing a pair of khakis! And, I humbly propose that golf courses nationwide implement the “Campaign for Khaki.”

The “Campaign for Khaki” can help clubs educate members on the budgetary and environmental effects of striving for unrealistic maintenance conditions. It usually begins in April at a “tradition unlike any other” and is compounded every weekend. Players at the high-end clubs to the mom and pop muni have come to expect course conditions that somehow approach that of Augusta or the many wonderful Tour stops we see every week. What viewers perceive as standard is in most cases not the average club’s reality. The budgets and maintenance inputs—fertilization, water, mowing, labor, equipment and, in some extreme cases, if all that doesn’t work…green paint—that goes into a televised golf presentation far outweigh that of the average club. The conditioning we witness is a made-for-TV movie. The lens of the camera sometimes even tints the picture we see to heighten the hues of green.

Players have become so accustomed to the golf movie they watch every week that they have demanded the same conditions at their own club…which likely operates on a third of the budget or less. Is this a sensible expectation for your club? Consider the following suggestions to help your club respond to the environmental challenges that continue to define, and in many ways plague, the perception of golf:

The professionals practicing golf course architecture, environmental planning and golf course maintenance (particularly your golf course superintendent) have been the leaders in developing and executing ecological principles that make sense. Assistance with the development of your program should start with these professionals.

And now the USGA has taken a stance. At February’s annual meeting, new USGA President Jim Hyler outlined a framework for khaki to become the new green stating “Many of the standards by which we construct and maintain our courses have become, quite simply, unsustainable.” Read more:

Over the last 20 years and even more so in the last 10 we have seen a concerted effort to move toward a sound stewardship plan on new and existing golf courses. Through habitat creation, the development of conservation areas, plant and species diversity plans and buffering and infiltration practices, golf courses are beginning to look different. The leading issues that have driven all of these positive steps are responsible use of our water resources and protection of existing watersheds. A recent article by Forrest Richardson, ASGCA in “BoardRoom” includes a reference to “Golf & Water” pdf file, available from ASGCA website at in the “Publication” section. This is a great resource to begin the communication process at your club and with the public at large.

The challenge remains to push the communication of this environmental ethic uphill from its roots within the history of the game in spite of the unrealistic definitions of perfection televised on weekly tournament broadcasts. The demand for perfection is costly both financially and in terms of long term sustainability. Our sights might be more soundly placed on playability and strategy rather than what a course looks like. Wouldn’t it be fun to play along corridors and greens that change naturally with the weather or time of year?

The 18th at Pine Valley
(Photo by Robert McNeil)
Gardiner’s Bay- Shelter Island, NY
(water at tees and greens only- picture taken in September)

The question remains, should my golf course look like Augusta in April? The economic stresses that many clubs are facing have given rise to creative maintenance solutions that in essence will change the face of golf in the future. We are currently in the midst of a paradigm shift that will likely move most courses toward a more efficient, conservation based maintenance approach. Contour mowing vs. stripping, heightened disease scouting vs. preventative applications, firmer greens and fairways vs. lusher turf using less water and the development of framing and naturalization plans have all become standard protocol at clubs in an effort to quell the budget pressures.

The 18th at Pine Valley
Swinley Forest (photo by John Mayhugh)

A grand opportunity lies in the hands of the clubs pursuing a leadership role in the development and communication of sustainable practices to their memberships and to the communities in which they preside. Join the “Campaign for Khaki” by making your course a slightly lighter shade of green.

Suggested Reading:

Sustainable Golf Courses; A Guide to Environmental Stewardship; Ron Dodson, Audubon International, 2005

An Environmental Approach to Golf Development; Bill Love, ASGCA, Environmental Committee, ASGCA

Robert McNeil

Robert McNeil, ASGCA Associate is a golf course architect based in Saunderstown, R.I. and is President of The Northeast Golf Company.

The mission of The Northeast Golf Company is to provide clients with the best golf course design service tailored to meet their individual needs. To be the best requires focus on sustainable design principles, visionary ingenuity and the business objectives of each client by providing a creative and strategic plan that responds to the inherent nature of the land, the players served and the project budget.

The company provides comprehensive design services for new and existing clubs in the private, public, resort and international arenas. Robert’s current work includes the renovation of the Mohegan Sun Country Club for the Mohegan Tribal Council in Baltic, Conn., the recapturing of the Seth Raynor style at Gardiner’s Bay Golf Club in Shelter Island, N.Y. and the design of the Sun Garden Club in Cluj, Romania.

He may be reached through his website: