‘Equation that doesn’t fit’

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Annika Sorenstam brings bunker maintenance and economics into the forefront at the PGA Merchandise Show.

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February 9, 2016

Retired great Annika Sorenstam performed a bunker playing and maintenance demonstration at the PGA Merchandise Show Demo Day.
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Annika Sorenstam raked bunkers for a summer as a junior golfer. She then flourished from the hazards as a professional.

Now, in the early stages of her golf course architecture career, Sorenstam is learning why plotting bunkers on a course surpasses any challenge she encountered playing from them.

Sorenstam tells GCI she “loves putting down the bunkers” – until she discovers the amount of maintenance they require. The dilemmas created by bunkers served as the focus of a demonstration involving Sorenstam at the PGA Merchandise Show Demo Day at the Orange County National Golf Center outside Orlando.

The demonstration, which was arranged by Capillary Concrete, presented an opportunity to reach golf professionals and general managers, groups that experience frequent ineractions with customers. The message Sorenstam relayed is an important one: desired conditions come at a cost.

“Now that I’m a little bit more removed from playing and in the operating realm, you realize it’s tough and there’s pressures and expectations on golf course managers and superintendents,” says Sorenstam, who retired in 2008 after winning 10 majors. “People want lower membership fees, but they are still going to play as much and they want to keep up the maintenance. Sometimes it’s an equation that doesn’t fit, like one plus one is three. It really doesn’t work.”

The technology designed for maintenance dilemmas, especially ones involving bunkers, could be a means to solving the equation, according to Sorenstam. Last year, Sorenstam made a financial investment in Capillary Concrete. Sorenstam and Capillary Concrete founder Martin Sternberg, CGCS, are both from Sweden, and the pair first met in the late 1980s when Sorenstam worked for a superintendent friend of Sternberg’s.

The PGA Show Demo Day, where equipment companies allow attendees to test new clubs, might seem like an unlikely spot for a maintenance demonstration. But Sternberg says Sorenstam brings a compelling story about bunker maintenance and water management to new audiences.

“The biggest thing that we are trying to convey here is that golf as an industry is making progresses as far as inventions and new products to help the environment, help the game forward, help lessen the burden we put on the environment through golf courses,” Sternberg says. “The golf course superintendents have much more to bring to the table than a lot of people think. We have taken such strides in the golf course industry in the last 20 years to make it more sustainable and environmental, and we need people like Annika to help us bring that message out.”

Not only did Sorenstam offer tips for playing from the sand during the demonstration, she introduced proper maintenance techniques. Moisture and firmness were also topics, with an explanation of data collected by a FieldScout TruFirm meter included in the demonstration.

Instead of dreading bunkers, Sorenstam wants golfers and course operators to embrace the hazards as an important part of the game.

“People are afraid of bunkers,” she says. “They go in and their heart skips a beat. I want to open up the dialogue, give them a few samples and for them to realize it’s not just a hole with sand dumped in it. There’s a lot behind it. How can we make it more fun? We can make it more fun for the playability and make it more fun for the managers from a money standpoint. It really has a lot of benefits. We need to communicate to people more about what goes into it just because I didn’t know what was out there. It doesn’t have to be so complicated. It’s not that complicated.”

The more she transitions from playing, the more Sorenstam is learning about the underbelly of a golf course. The design arm of her business has completed courses in South Korea, South Africa and China. The company plans to open its first European design in Estonia in 2019. Crafting natural, economical and playable courses are Sorenstam’s primary design goals.

“I’m learning a lot,” she says. “Drainage certainly isn’t my expertise. I’m learning quite a bit about that. I come in more from a player’s perspective. Overseas they just put tee boxes out and think it’s a course. But it’s a lot more than that. You really build a course for life.”