Friday, June 29, 2012

The University of Melbourne, in conjunction with the Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association has started a major scientific study into the biodiversity and carbon benefits that golf courses provide within our cities. The study is to be run over the next three years with surveying already underway on the 13 Melbourne golf courses involved in the project.  One of the early reports contained the following;
"Microbats are small, native
mammals that can fly. They eat insects and can eat up to half of
their body weight in insects each night. We recorded what bats fly around the golf courses at night using recording devices which we put inside boxes. So far, we have recorded the presence of bats in every course we visited, some courses recorded up to ten bat species. One of the most common species found in Melbourne is the Gould’s Wattled Bat. This bat only weighs 13 grams and eats beetles, flies and bugs. Unlike large fruit bats, most people never see or hear microbats flying around but they can be one of the most common urban mammals".  So it just shows you what goes on at night on a golf course!

Well the rain has returned and the 3+ inches we have had the last couple of days has the courses well and truly saturated again.  But it could be worse when you look at the famous 17th island green at Sawgrass TPC in Florida earlier this week after hurricane Debby came to town.  All of Florida was hit very hard and there is widespread major damage across the state and you can only imagine what the golf courses look like. 

Back on the Tweed and hopefully the forecast is right and the weather improves so we can get the courses up to speed for the start of the men's Club Champs next week.

17th green at Sawgrass

jacksonville, florida, debby, tropical storm
Says it all really!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The US Open golf has been put to bed for another year and although only seeing it on TV I felt that the course played in footy parlance - hard but fair.  The rough was penal but such is the slope on the course that the longer grass actually stops your ball running in to the tree lines.  There was a graphic shown on the TV that had the elevation change from the clubhouse to the lowest point at the equivalent of an 18 storey building.  And one final on the Open, you have to feel for Ernie Els and what could have been.  His tournament scoring stats were; 15 bogeys, 2 "others" which were a double and triple in the first round, 10 birdies and 3 eagles.  He played the 7th and 17th in a combined total of 10 under for the week and was 9 over for the first 5 holes over the week!!  If only.
Well back at Tweed and the courses have dried out and I have to say I couldn't be happier with them at the moment.  The River greens are virtually completely dormant, hence the dark colour and the West greens really come in to their own at this time of year and are firm and fast.  The fairways are holding very good colour and the tees are benefitting from the use of the "forward" course which does help take some pressure off them from the wear point of view although the prolonged wet and lack of sunlight has them a bit thin is some places..
As I mentioned I attended the annual turf conference in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago and made a very good call by not taking the clubs and opting to host the golf championship at Commonwealth GC.  Host Super and an old footy adversary of mine Mark Prosser set the course up super long and the rain started after just a few holes.  The urn full of pumpkin soup in the starters hut was just the tonic on a bleak day.  I mentioned the other week about the two American presenters at the Conference who have specialised in getting better turf for less money and they had some interesting things to say.
Dr Frank Rossi was probably one of the most engaging and informative speakers I have seen over many years and he gave an excellent recount of a 12 year study that he and his colleagues have been conducting.  At one stage  in New York there was a notion that local authorities would ban the use of pesticides on “public” (council/authority) owned golf courses.  This is already the case in Denmark and was potentially a very real prospect.  So Frank went to Bethpage State Park in New York and started a trial on the Green course (they have 5 courses including the notorious Black) where 9 greens were treated conventionally and the other 9 with a vastly modified management regime with no synthetic pesticide products used.  The results were dramatic at the outset and a lot of turf was lost but over a period of time they were able to modify their programs to still achieve an acceptable surface.  Many greens and turf were lost in the process and player numbers and income dropped dramatically but that has since turned around.  I won’t go too far in to the results suffice to say that such a program would not be considered for the Black course due to its standing in golf. Dr Frank did pose a number of questions and challenged a lot of long held beliefs in greens management.  The best part of this research is that is was conducted on an operational golf course and not in a green house.  

Dr Frank in full flight

My interpretation of a good conference is one that can give you some ideas to take back to your own course and tinker with your operation to the betterment of the golf course and that is certainly the case this year.  I was lucky enough to chair the final session of the conference where Dr Frank spoke on this research and it was the fastest 2 hours of my life, such was the interest he generated amongst the audience.

Well let's hope this weather keeps up and we can continue to enjoy the courses as they are playing at the moment and we prepare for the upcoming men's club championships.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I have had some time over the past couple of days to see a bit of the US Open golf at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.  I was lucky enough to play the course in early 1988 just months after the club hosted the 1987 US Open and the course bears little resemblance apart from the topography and general layout of holes.  There have also been a couple of very controversial changes (from some members point of view as would be expected) made to the 7th and 8th holes.   There has also been some major tree clearing to allow for improved turf growth conditions and the general grooming of the course is indeed outstanding.  It makes you realise just how far golf course management has come in the last 25 years or so.  Although as I have mentioned before the pressure that the quality of the playing conditions at a US Open brings upon us regular Supers is always present.  The age old "why can't our course be like that?" comes up every time. 
A few facts on the Olympic Club to help paint the picture.  The Club is an athletic club and has over 5,000 members who compete in a wide variety of sports.  There are 45 holes of golf consisting of The Lakes, The Ocean and a 9 hole par 3 course.  The club has a regular full time grounds staff of 50 and there are 100 volunteers on site for the US Open which is being played on the Lakes Course.  This includes a contingent of about 12 Australians and a female Superintendent from Slovenia.  The greens average 450 square metres (about the same as 18 West) although the 18th which has also been modified comes in at only 250 square metres.  The greens were rebuilt in 2008/9 and were turfed with a mix of Tyee and 007 Bentgrass which are varieties I have never seen.  But looking at the way the greens are playing it looks very very good.  The greens were previously Poa annua as most Californian courses are and suffered from numerous ailments that affected the playing surface.  Poa annua is very hard to control in the west coast climate that Olympic experiences but they look absolutely pure.
I saw a video on some of the course preparations and noted that there were 11 fairway mowers sent out and a roller for the fairways!!  That’s right a roller.  I saw Tigers interview after the first round when he commented that he couldn’t believe how fast the course was.  Please don’t tell me we are going to have to stimpmeter fairway speeds!!
A couple of photos;
The 8th green in the 1920's.
Another version of the 8th.

How the 8th will play for the US Open.
The 8th with Clubhouse in background in the 1920's.

Current day 8th.
Rolling fairways!!  Seriously??

Rolling fairways!!

And the Saturday pin placements....a tad bit edgy!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The practice nets upgrade is now complete after a problem with the mats caused them to be replaced.  The mat that is closest to 1 West tee is different from the others and has been placed there as a trial.  There are no rubber tee inserts in this particular mat but you can use conventional tee pegs in it as well as playing "off the deck".  The "pile" is only about 25mm thick so you need to adjust the length of tee you are using to suit your club.  If this mat is successful and popular it may be installed permanently on 7 West tee which is in severe shade and not big enough to cope with the wear that it receives.

Practice mat with no rubber tees

It was very pleasing to be mowing 9 West green this morning and be able to admire the quality of the putting surface as it enjoyed full morning sun following the removal of the Cadagi trees at the rear.  Previously at this time of year and following the rain we have been experiencing, the green would have been very thin and weak.  There is an old saying in turf that "if your turf isn't getting 8 hours of sunlight a day.....why isn't it?"  In the past winters 9 West green received virtually no sunlight during the day and as that other old saying goes; "the proof is in the pudding!"

Rear 9 West green bathed in sunlight at 8am.

On the other hand it wasn't very pleasing to look across to 4 River green and see where a golfer had walked up the face of the bunker to exit the bunker then toss the rake back over his head.  The chances of having firm bunker faces is nought when people do this to them.  At least he did actually pick the rake up.

And although not on the course, the refurbishment of the Clubhouse facade has commenced and works will be continuing for some time.  A large amount of scaffolding and work area is required and significant areas of carparking space will be unavailable from time to time.  To help ease parking congestion the short range practice fairway will be a designated parking area whilst the works continue.  Please drive carefully on the grass and also be aware of the contractors when moving around the Clubhouse and carparks.

Clubhouse works underway

Friday, June 1, 2012

Well it seems nothing much has changed with the weather as the rain continues to fall.  Unfortunately it followed me on my holiday as well as we had rain nearly every day.  Probably the best day weather wise was May 24th which was also the day Michelle and I got married at San Remo in Italy!!  It's only taken us 13 years to get there.
Congratulations are in order for my Assistant Simon on the job he has done with the courses while I have been away under pretty trying circumstances with the weather. Constant rainfall such as we have been experiencing brings disease pressure on the greens in particular and severely interrupts maintenance programs but the courses are in great shape and greens on both courses putting well.
Probably one of the toughest decisions that has to be made is the call on whether motorised buggies are allowed on the courses following rain and Simon has had to make that call on several occasions over the past month.  It is  a decision that is not taken lightly and numerous considerations are taken into account, not the least of which is the obvious effect on income and the disruption to members enjoyment of the courses.  In most cases when there is enough rain to potentially have the buggies removed, the courses are inspected at around a quarter to five in the morning in the dark and as I have mentioned before there are about six areas that are fairly reliable indicators of the condition of the courses.  The forecast and radar are also taken in to consideration and the call is then made.  The Pro Shop is normally informed first and then the club website is updated generally by 5.30am.  At this time of year in particular the drying process is much slower due to the lower temperatures and shorter daylight hours and when the courses are already saturated as they have been over the past two months, it doesn't take much for the courses to get very wet again.
I will be attending the 28th Australian Turfgrass Conference in Melbourne next week during which there will be a number of presentations on sustainable golf course management.  Every year we seem to be subjected to an increase in costs and this year will be no different with the "carbon tax" coming into effect which will no doubt lead to increases in the cost of good and services that we require for the maintenance of the courses.  It is difficult to get information from suppliers at this stage but there will no doubt be price increases across a range of products.  Fuel is probably the most certain for us and when you consider that it was only in 2010 that we were paying around $1 a litre it puts a lot of pressure on our budget with some forecasts of up to $1.75 being a real possibility.  There are two American presenters at the Conference who have both specialised in basically getting better turf for less money so it will be interesting to see what they have to say. 
And on Wednesday of Conference week I will appointed as President of the Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association for the next two years.  It is a role that I am quite passionate about as I believe it allows me the opportunity to contribute to an industry that has allowed me to enjoy my working life so much.  There must be something in the air at Coolangatta Tweed as I will be following two former Tweed Superintendents in Doug Robinson and Jeff Gambin as Association President.