Saturday, September 24, 2016

The journey to Tifeagle.

I thought I would give some background to the decision to change the West greens from Bentgrass to Tifeagle, so settle in for a read!!

CTHGC has had Bentgrass greens since the 1970’s and they have regularly provided a substandard putting surface during summer over the years often resulting in temporary greens being in play.  Bentgrass is classified as a “cool season grass” and will struggle in the sub-tropical climate that exists at CTHGC and that fact, coupled with the amount of play the courses receive, makes maintaining Bentgrass a difficult option.

March 6, 1980 was the first time that it was documented that a change to the greens was recommended to the Board from the Match and Greens Committee and there have been several more discussions, recommendations and consultant reports over the ensuing years.

It has always been an emotive topic and has resulted in much robust discussion at Board level and amongst the membership.  In 1998 the Board of the day passed a motion to change the back 9 greens on the River course to the Couchgrass variety Tifgreen 328 and the program was put in place.  All the greens were done at once to a design by course architect Peter Williams and the project commenced in October 1998 with plans put in place for the front 9 greens to be done the following year.  The back 9 greens were constructed and strictly followed the USGA specifications for greens construction and were solid turfed.

I arrived at the Club in June 1999 to greens on the back 9 River that had very high thatch levels but generally in good condition.  Budget limitations dictated that only three greens – 1, 2 & 6 – would be re-constructed in 1999.  On my advice all the front nine greens were re-turfed with Tifgreen 328 with 1, 2 & 6 being totally re-constructed.  The other six greens simply had the existing Bentgrass surface stripped off and turf laid which is why there is considerable encroachment by common Couch in some of these greens.

The West greens were also to be converted in the grand plan but once again budgetary limitations intervened and the fact that I was able to keep the greens in reasonable health during summer, the West conversion was shelved.  In 2005 17 West green was re- grassed using a recently developed strain of Bentgrass known as “Penn G2” which had been successfully trialed in our turf nursery adjacent to 17 River but the grass struggled to maintain a satisfactory year round putting surface on 17 West.  This was put down to the location of the green and wear from golfers as the grass thrived on the nursery.  A back up plan was devised of replacing the green with Couchgrass should it completely fail again.

In 2007 the Board of the day approved the Club’s participation in a Queensland Department of Primary Industries trial of the new “ultradwarf” Couchgrasses that had become available.  The Board also approved the construction of a nursery green for the trials and it was built with the same growing medium as would be used in future greens constructions.  We trialed six of the new improved “ultradwarf” varieties of Couchgrass with a view to their suitability as a putting green grass at CTHGC.  All of the varieties, proved to have a much finer leaf than “328” Couchgrass (which we have on the River greens) and therefore provided a better putting surface.  The variety Tifeagle was part of that trial and had been available in Australia previously with Northlakes GC planting the grass on their greens in the early 2000’s. Tifeagle was the stand out grass in our trials and provided an excellent putting surface with little susceptibility to disease outbreak.  It was therefore earmarked as the grass that would be used on 17 West.  

Some of the other issues faced by Bentgrass greens at CTHGC include;

Our climate.  The summers experienced at CTHGC are too severe to make bentgrass a viable option without huge labour and plant protectant product usage.  It is fact that bentgrass roots start stressing and dying off in soil temperatures above 24ºC.  In the months of November through March our soil temperatures rarely fall below 23ºC and the irrigation water that is applied is normally a minimum of 26ºC with a high sodium content.  I have in fact recorded soil temperatures above 35ºC on many occasions and the water has been 30ºC on many occasions.  The combination of these factors is a recipe for disaster.
The age of the greens. Some of the existing West greens are more than 30 years old, albeit with constant patching and re-sowing prior to my arrival.  Several of the greens, eg. 2, 3, 4, 10, 13 &15 have passed their use by date and are causing problems year round.
Foreign grass invasion. Particularly Couchgrass which has been controlled as far as possible with the available products.  All I am able to do now is reduce the spread of the Couchgrass.  Greens 4, 6, 8,10,12,14,15 and 18 are the worst for contamination.  This problem is most noticeable during the summer months when the Bent is at its weakest and the invading Couch at its strongest.  The most difficult aspect of controlling the existing Couchgrass is that to totally remove it from the surface it can only be sprayed out and then have at least 300mm of the growing medium removed and replaced.  In the past fumigation could be used which provided a fast result and meant the surface could be re-seeded as was done on many occasions previously.  Fumigation is now no longer available.
Staffing.  The maintenance of Bentgrass greens in this climate, particularly through the period of October thru April, requires a huge commitment from the Superintendent to continually monitor the greens.  One of the aspects that amazed me when I arrived here is just how much the greens can dry out overnight in comparison to greens in the southern States.  Similarly the change in the greens from 2.30pm in the afternoon when staff leaves and 6.30pm when the sun stops beating down is substantial.  This means the greens need to be monitored continually throughout the day, seven days a week and decisions on irrigation requirements assessed on a daily basis.  This didn’t happen prior to my arrival with obvious results.  Having Bentgrass greens in this climate is like having a 2 week old baby that is in need of constant attention. Such constant attention requires a commitment from the staff and the generation of workers coming through is not interested in working such hours and that trend seems to be getting worse.  The days of people working 70 plus hours a week as I do are numbered.

Unfortunately the backup plan for 17 West needed to be implemented in January 2015 when the green all but died from the combined stresses of disease and insect attack and Tifeagle was duly planted.  The other West greens were not far behind 17 in what was one of the most brutal summer’s I have experienced up here.  The biggest test for Tifeagle on 17 West was not how it would grow in summer but more so how it would survive the low growth time of winter which it has done exceptionally well over the past two winters. 

So the moment is nearly upon us with the conversion of the remaining back 9 West greens commencing on Tuesday October 4.  There will be weekly updates on this Blog for the information of members.

And just a photo to finish off this week with a shot of the nursery green in 2009 with 328 on the left and Tifeagle on the right.  The photo shows the disease pressure (small yellow discolored spots) on the two grasses with the bottom section of the photo having had plant protectant products applied and the top having nothing applied.  The Tifeagle on the right is almost disease free as it has been on 17 West.

Tifeagle on the right nearly disease free!!

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