interview by Zack Hall | photos by Thomas Boyd
Ken Nice, the director of agronomy at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, likes to say that he finally put two and two together when he decided to combine his commercial landscaping experience with a newfound passion for firm-and-fast links golf. At age 30, the native of Corvallis enrolled in Oregon State’s turf management program. And at age 34 in 1999, he and his wife, Pam, moved to Bandon, so he could be an assistant superintendent at an unknown links-style course that would revolutionize American golf.
Links golf was largely foreign to the golfers in the United States before Bandon Dunes opened in 1999. How have attitudes changed toward the faded fescue grasses and firm-and-fast conditions?
I think there has been a movement [toward links golf]. I don’t think everybody gets what a fun game it is to play on a hard surface that is not overfertilized, overwatered, etc. You have the option of a ground game. That’s what got me really into golf—from a passion standpoint—was watching British Opens and seeing the way those courses were presented and how they played.
Links golf is also considered more sustainable than traditional American parkland-style golf, and Bandon Dunes has won numerous environmental honors. Why?
You’re really fertilizing and throwing inputs at the course that are not even coming close to optimizing the full growth of the plant. You’re just sustaining what you need for your surface. By doing that you are really restricting your use of fertilizer, chemicals and water to create that surface. The two go hand in hand. To create a good surface, you are going to be environmentally friendly, because you aren’t going to use anything in excess. So you really have no chance at leaching or runoff or anything like that because your inputs are so small (applied) in low doses incrementally.
Are there misconceptions about the environmental stewardship of the golf industry?
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about that. But if they look at the facts—the USGA (United States Golf Association) and the GCSAA (Golf Course Superintendents Association of America)—there are a lot of very valid, accurate studies out there that show that the input levels on golf courses are far less than what agriculture uses.
As a native Oregonian, do you feel a certain added responsibility?
One, there is a tremendous amount of pride knowing that this facility exists in our state. I just feel special that we, as Oregonians, have Bandon Dunes. And yes, there is a strong responsibility to do things right here.
Is there anything new you’re adding to your agronomic program?
You have to stick with your fundamentals and then you can try new things on your edges to see if something fits into your program. The thing about links golf is you can go a long way with real traditional greenskeeping. You don’t have to get ultra fancy with it. Keep it simple.