by Bart Potter
PALOUSE RIDGE Golf Course in Pullman, Wash., flows seamlessly up and down and around and about the contours of the topographic region that gives the course its first name.
It’s safe to say it’s the only golf course in the U.S. – the world? – that sits beside a nuclear reactor and a grizzly bear research compound.
The Nuclear Radiation Center, home to a 1.3 mega-watt general atomics TRIGA nuclear reactor, a 1,000 Curie cobalt-60 irradiation facility, and a borated neutron capture treatment (BNCT) facility; and the Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Program building, with live grizzlies in residence (but not always in view), are worthy conversation pieces as you move tee-to-green past them.
It’s less likely you’ll be talking about, or even thinking about, something much closer at hand (and foot). But around here, the Kentucky bluegrass fairways and creeping bentgrass greens are the object of intense study.
Palouse Ridge, which opened in August 2008, is a golf course, but it’s a laboratory, too.Washington State University’s renowned turfgrass management program provides the science behind the sport, the grass beneath your feet, for its on-campus teaching, first, but also throughout the Northwest golf industry.
Charles Golob is research supervisor and manager of the turfgrass facility. He’s got a B.S. and M.S. in agronomy from WSU, and he’s worked in the turf program for 22 years.
There are good turfgrass reasons for the good ball roll that course superintendent Todd Lupkes says is a central part of designer John Harbottle III’s grand plan for the course. According to Golob, the fairways, a blend of four bluegrass strains, show a vertical leaf growth pattern, mowed to a height of 3/8-inch to ½-inch, that holds a golf ball up and promotes roll.
Golob was the lead author for a study last fall titled “The Use of Black Sand to Accelerate Creeping Bentgrass Seed Germination and Emergence on a Late Fall Planted Putting Green.” The site for the study was the green at No. 17, a left-to-right dogleg par-5.
The goal was to apply greens-grade sand (from Atlas Sand and Rock, Lewiston, Idaho), to “determine the effectiveness of black sand, applied as topdressing, to accelerate creeping bentgrass seed germination and seedling emergence.”
Did you know: The greens at Palouse Ridge are of the T-1 cultivar, one of the newer cultivars among hundreds of cultivars of creeping bentgrass. The T-1 is more dense than older bentgrass cultivars and darker green in color. Cultivar: cool word.
I won’t be thinking about seedling emergence rates and T-1 cultivars when I’m standing over my putts at Palouse Ridge – there’s too much in my brain already at that point – but it’s nice to know somebody’s thinking about it for me.
The artist’s vision
Todd Lupkes had the unusual opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Palouse Ridge designer John Harbottle III and see the golf course through the artist’s eyes, well before there even was a golf course.
More often, a superintendent like Lupkes is an interpreter, long after the designer is done, rather than a collaborator.
“We got to build it,” says Lupkes, who calls Harbottle one of the great young course designers in the nation. “We got to really understand the vision.”
For Harbottle, who also designed the Olympic Course at Gold Mountain in Bremerton,Wash., his vision clearly includes rolling fairways in harmony with the distinctly Palousean hills. It brings into play dazzling 360-degree visuals from countless vantage points on the course.
The signature hole might be No. 10, where it is said you can see seven other holes from the commanding elevated teebox. No. 1 plays directly toward Bryan Clock Tower, WSU’s most recognizable landmark. Idaho’s Moscow Mountain comes into view from across the state line to the east on No. 2, one of the high points on the course.
It’s hard not to appreciate those sight lines, the views to forever. And Lupkes points out one thing a player on a recent weekend didn’t notice: no hole shares a rough with any other hole.
“It’s 18 individual golf holes set out in the middle of the Palouse,” he said, “and every one of them fits.”