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Telegraph GOLF - DECEMBER 2007

The totally synthetic golf course

Taking a divot may have something of a rarity value in years to come. As the Kikuoka Country Club near Luxembourg Airport prepares to open a new course featuring artificial greens with the same contours as a natural putting surface, Steve Marnoch, the architect, says that it is now possible to build a totally synthetic golf course, right down to the bunkers.

"There is gathering interest in such a project," Marnoch, a senior member of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects admitted. "There would be a huge initial outlay but, against that, there would be relatively little in the way of upkeep. The variety of today's synthetic grasses is such that we could produce everything, right down to the different grades of rough they use for championships."

Although professionals such as Colin Montgomerie and Nick Dougherty have for long made use of flat, Astroturf-type putting strips at home, the greens on the six-hole Kikuoka course enjoy the same vagaries of borrow as any of their natural equivalents. Not only that, but they can run to whatever speed on the stimp meter is required - a factor which appeals to a club in Dublin which has been making inquiries.

"The more sand you put on the surfaces, the faster they are," said Marnoch, who added that chips and pitches react much as if landing on ordinary grass.

He does not pretend that the Luxembourg surfaces are in the same league as the greens at one of our Open Championship links. But, in judging them by the standard of your average golf club, he gives them "seven and a half or eight out of 10".

In Australia, now suffering its worst drought for 1,000 years, they have installed the first full-sized artificial practice putting green - an 800 square metre affair costing £38,500 - at the Centenary Park Golf Club south of Melbourne. Tour Greens Australia, the firm involved, suggest, optimistically, that hundreds of golf clubs will follow suit, with some wanting to take things further.

They note how a traditional grass green of 800 sq metres is estimated to consume up to a million litres of water a year in arid areas and costs £8,500 a year to maintain. Multiply those staggering figures for greens on a nine-hole layout and that is about 10 million litres of water.

The company talk of their artificial surface as "an environmental" winner. However, you have to wonder if the same would apply when it comes to a totally synthetic golf course. Would wildlife, for example, be as amenable as golfers in adapting to a new synthetic habitat? Or would they need the odd fix of that new product designed for Americans who have had second thoughts after installing a false lawn.

The product in question consists of cans of fluid boasting the scent of newly mown grass.

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