To some, golf courses are Edenic symbols of leisure, athletic skill, and success; to others, the manicured grass and constructed hills represent opulence, waste, and sprawl. The latter group will probably feel like they’ve been hitting from sand trap to sand trap after reading this: SubAir, a company specializing in ventilation technology, has developed a mechanism that air conditions turf on golf courses.
To be clear, the SubAir system does not keep the air above the fairway 72 degrees on a 95-degree August afternoon. Instead, the units regulate the amount of water, air, and composition of both that enter the soil. “The concept is to supply fresh air into the root zone and help provide a more optimal growing environment for the plants,” SubAir project manager Kevin Crowe told Golf Digest’s David Owen. According to SubAir’s website,
The SubAir aeration and moisture removal system promotes healthier and stronger playing surfaces through moisture content management, subsurface aeration, and root zone temperature control. As a result, SubAir provides optimum aerobic subsurface growing conditions. SubAir is integrated underground with no impact on the golf course design options.
Ripping up the earth to install computer-regulated machines sounds at first stroke like a double bogey for environmentalists. “The management of terrain from below by subterranean machine-strata embedded in the earth itself is surely an extravagance whose accepted price of operation does not include its long-term environmental cost,” writes BLDGBLOG’s Geoff Manaugh. Is ecological progress uprooted when the machines need repair? Even if soil surfaces are thriving, what effect will terrain-conditioning units have on deeper earth and the water table?
Despite his looming environmental concerns, Manaugh is an optimistic futurist at heart. Imagine, for a minute,” he concludes,
a SubAir system powered entirely by renewable energy, aerating, pressurizing, and vacuuming the soil from below in some highly engineered series of fields or enclosed growth chambers, producing the “optimum aerobic subsurface growing conditions” out of which specialty foods, medicines, or biofuels will emerge; what would the moral objection to such a system be, and how would this not simply be but one more device of environmental-conditioning grafted onto an already highly complex bundle of other such networks?