Brad Klein of Golfweek magazine attended the education sessions of the recent ASGCA Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. He reported on the rich discussion, including members sharing information on the latest science and technology in the industry.

Klein wrote:

Washington, D.C – Ninety percent of what makes a golf courses work lies beneath the ground, invisible and entirely unknown to the vast majority of golfers. If any of that subterranean technology – pipes, wires and layers of sand and root zone – doesn’t function properly, the golf course is awful.

Met the folks who make that stuff work. It’s the annual meeting of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and 85 men (and a handful of women) are traipsing around to seminars, congregating at the bar and catching up with friends, most of them instantly recognizable by the legendary (and slightly absurd) red and black tartan jacket they wear – or at least are expected to wear. It’s a tradesmen’s version of the Augusta National green jacket, and the professional society these folks form is surprisingly collegial for one involving direct competitors for what could be lucrative design constructs.

Except these days, most of those contracts are renovation jobs, not new courses. And the focus isn’t on lengthening courses or making them tougher but on making them more fun and more successful as businesses. Amateur savants of architecture like to debate the virtues of Redan holes and if a Tillinghast restoration is true to the original. The fact is that golf design these days has a more prosaic task: to help folks have fun. And even that isn’t so simple since traditional baby boomer golfers have different standards than younger millennials.

Dana Garmany, president, founder and CEO of Troon Golf, a major golf operations firm, summed up the shift in priorities that architects have to deal with when he quoted a millennial golfer’s comments about his course preferences. According to Garmany, the younger-than-average customer said that “I’d rather play a goat ranch with three buddies than Pebble Beach with three jerks.”

Nobody here actually wants to design a goat ranch, which is why the red tartan jacketed crowd gets all worked up when someone with the stature of U.S. Golf Association Green Section agronomist Dave Oatis opens up a discussion of the highly technical standards of modern greens construction and entertains architects’ input on changes in construction technique. Next thing you know, there’s an intense discussion involving Michael Hurdzan, Andy Staples and Stephen Kay about where to locate outlet drains and how varied the sand mix needs to be to prevent greens desiccation. An observer might mistake the intensity of talk for rancor. No, it’s just that everyone cares and these are basically engineers who get paid for details and sued if the nuts and bolts don’t fit.

There’s a lot of talk about software technology. ASGCA staff member Marc Whitney throws out references to the latest and greatest digital tools – Paper 53, Autocad 360, PlanGrid, Carbonite, Sun Seeker, iAnnotate, Expensify, Skiplagged, MyEyesOnly – and each one spawns quick response reviews from architects who love them or hate them.

But what makes this annual gathering hum isn’t just the science. It’s also the old time story telling. Michael Bamberger, a golf writer for Sports Illustrated, played to this perfectly in his after-dinner acceptance of the ASGCA’s Donald Ross Award for lifetime achievement.

The entire Golfweek article can be found here.