Jimmie Johnson and Greatness in Sports

I had intended to only post about golf topics here, but given that we have just witnessed NASCAR award Jimmie Johnson the Sprint Cup for the fifth consecutive year, I felt is appropriate to comment on sustained greatness in sport. How significant is this? Consider that within NASCAR, since it was founded in 1947, only once before had a driver won more than two in a row (Cale Yarborough from 1976-1978). But also consider how rare this feat is among other sports, not just within NASCAR. The NHRA has had drivers win five or more championships in a row once in each of its three major series: Tony Schumacher from 2004-2009 in the Top Fuel class (6 in a row), John Force from 1993-2002 in the Funny Car Class (10 in a row), and Bob Glidden from 1985-1989 in the Pro Stock class (5 in a row). In the ARCA Re/Max series, Frank Kimmel won championships from 2000-2007 (8 in a row), in World of Outlaws Steve Kinser has won five-in-a-row twice in his career, first from 1983-1988 and again from 1990-1994, and in Formula 1 Michael Schumacher won five from 2000-2004.

For other major sports leagues holding yearly championships, the NFL has never had a team win five consecutive. In the NHL it has only happened once, when the Montreal Canadiens won five from 1956-1960. The feat has also happened only once in the NBA, with the Boston Celtics winning eight in a row from 1959-1966 and once in MLB, with the Yankees winning five from 1949-1953 (a time when it should be noted that some of the better players, not the least of which being Ted Williams, were serving in the US Military). Five in a row has never occurred in English Premier League and has occurred once in the UEFA Champions League when Real Madrid won five from 1956-1960. In the Nippon Baseball League the Yomuiri Giants won nine in a row from 1965-1973. And in the Canadian Football League, the Edmonton Eskimos won five from 1978-1982.

In individual sports, Kelly Slater won five ASP World Championships in surfing from 1994-1998. In tennis, the year-end #1 ranking was held by the same person five or more straight years twice, Jimmy Connors from 1974-1979 and Pete Sampras from 1993-1998 (surprisingly, and also quite tellingly, Roger Federer did not go five consecutive years ranked #1). Women's Tennis has seen five in a row done once, Martina Navratilova from 1982-1986. In golf, on the European Tour, Colin Montgomerie won the Order of Merit seven times in a row from 1993-1999, Annika Sorenstam was a five-time LPGA player of the year from 2001-2005, and Tiger Woods was PGA Tour Player of the Year from 1999-2003.

My purpose for bring out all these statistics, and I surely missed some sport or event that someone considers to be serious, is to show how rare it is for any athlete or team to win five season championships in a row. This may well be the only time NASCAR ever see's a five time champion, just as we golfers may have witnessed, just recently, the only five-time season champions in our sport on the respective tours. This is quite a rare feat, and whether or not you watch auto racing, or if you do, whether or not you like Jimmie Johnson, we all need to take a step back and look at how great this accomplishment really is, it truly is a once in a lifetime occurrence and Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, and that entire team are once of the greatest teams in the history of motorsports and sports as a whole.


Purpose and scope of this site/project

In starting this research my purpose was to look for places that new golf courses could cut costs in design and maintenance and where existing courses could save in those same areas with some moderate repair and renovation. In dealing with irrigated and maintained rough space, my friend Garland Bayley told me about the rural courses he played in his younger days and how they had no rough irrigation at all and only had generally single row fairway irrigation. I have played these kinds of courses in my younger days as well and prior to my most recent move I was a member of a club that met this rural description. These type courses are not the focus of my research and writing since these clubs generally operate on a shoestring budget, barely having enough money to cover basic maintenance, let alone the more expensive work done by higher end clubs. My purpose is to look at the practices in place at mid to high end clubs and how they could potentially save money in renovation costs or new construction costs. In general, it is my desire and purpose to show that it is possible to both lengthen golf courses and reduce irrigated and maintained space. While certainly the property tax amount goes up with more land ownership, the amount saved in irrigation water, chemicals, and labor would more than make up for that cost. In this project, I will show how much money could be saved if clubs drastically reduced maintained rough areas, modified irrigation systems to more uniformly apply water to all irrigated spaces and different types of turf that required less water and/or less desirable water types such as gray water or salt water. Hopefully those of you reading this can gain as much from this project as I do.


Lower Cost Golf Course Design: Part 1 Irrigated Turf Area

In my previous post, I spoke about golf course cost savings coming potentially from limiting irrigated and maintained space on a course. While these two go hand in hand, I will first look at limiting the irrigated space. While it would seem this is more of a maintenance item, given that an irrigation system costs between $650,000 and $1,500,000 it becomes much more of an initial design feature. (1)

In a study titled Golf Course Water Use and Regulation in California, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America gives a breakdown of average acreage of tees, greens, fairways and roughs on a 110 acre golf course/irrigated space. The study lists the averages to be: Greens- 3.1 acres; Tees- 3.7 acres; Fairways- 43.7 acres; Roughs- 59.5 (2)  For simplicity of calculation, I used 42 acres of fairway to be the baseline, increasing the size of irrigated rough spaces. There are two figures of note here, one which I will address here and one I will address later. First, the size of irrigated rough is greater than the size of irrigated fairway. Second, the tees occupy a larger area than do the greens. I will address the proportion of rough area to fairway area at this time.

Assuming uniformity in the fairways, and each green being the same size (this of course wouldn't be the case in practice, but given this is wholly hypothetical, nothing is lost or gained by making this assumption) one comes to an average hole length of 372 yards; 256 yards of fairway at 44 yards width (this works out to 2 1/3 acre of fairway on each hole as one acre is 22 yards x 220 yards) 100 yards of irrigated rough between the back tee and the start of the fairway and 16 yards from the end of the fairway short of the green to the center of the green. This average of 372 yards yields a golf course of 6,696 yards.

What would be the resultant change in total yardage if the irrigate rough space was reduced to 19.2 acres and the fairway space increase to 84 total acres? If the fairway width were to remain the same and the length doubled, the average hole length would increase to a mind-boggling 628 yards for a total length of 11,304 yards. If you were to increase the fairway width to 66 yards, the average hole length would be reduced to a still-long 457 yards and a total length of 8,226 yards. In each of these cases, the total irrigated space has not increased, only the irrigated rough space decreased.

According to Jeffery D. Brauer, renowned golf architect, an 'average' golf course in Des Moines, IA would use between 30 and 35 million gallons of water per year. (3) This is over 130 acres. 110 acres is 84.6% of that figure. If, in the original set-up, the rough space were to be reduced 20 acres, the total irrigated space would be 70.5 acres, 54.2% of 130 acres. Understanding that all golf courses use different amounts of water to irrigate due to a number of factors, the numbers are still quite striking. If the top end number of 35 million gallons is used, the 110 acre course would use 29.61 million gallons. The 70.5 acre would would 18.97 million gallons. Given an average cost of $360 per acre foot of water (325,851 Gallons) that decrease in usage would equate to a savings of $11,755 per year just in water usage, changing only irrigated rough space. (4)

While that savings may not seem like much, it certainly translates to money that could be spent elsewhere, and, when coupled with lower labor costs to maintain the rough spaces, less electricity used by less heads, controllers and pumps, and other factors, can certainly add up to a significant amount over the course of a year.



Affordable, new golf courses

How much is the average, public course golfer willing, or able to pay to play a round of golf? That is the key question that course owners and managers are asking themselves during these trying times for the golf industry. Potential new course developers are asking this question as well. Very few new courses are being built at the present. In the Tidewater region of Virginia the last new course opening was Lambert's Point, a 9 hole course built by the City of Norfolk. In Raleigh, NC there have been four new course openings in the past 3 years, two private courses, one upscale public, and one affordable public. There have also been two affordable public courses close since 2003.

Among courses built around the country in the past ten years, it would seem that very few were built to be marketed as affordable, public options. This is a problem for the golf industry. In these times when all families have less disposable income, golf will likely be the expenditure cut out if necessary. It would seem that in most regions there is a real lack of golf courses that are both affordable to play and interesting to play. While an affordable price will get golfers to come to a course once, there must be interest in the design in order to get them to return.

What can be done to make new golf courses more affordable? First, developers and potential owners can seek out those designers who work to build golf courses with minimal amounts of earth moving. Second, in conjunction with limited earth moving, they can work to limit the amount of irrigated and maintained turf on the course. This second option, of course, requires a change in perception among the golfing public about what makes a course "good" but with sound design and an affordable price, most golfers are willing to be "educated," so to speak. And third, course designers and developers must research different types of turf to find out which type will allow the best conditions for the area, but also be tolerant to either less water than other types or tolerant to the use of effluent or gray water.

If designers and developers can follow these three steps, well designed, interesting and affordable new golf courses are possible. Its just a question of whether or not either of these groups are willing to do that.