As mentioned last week a letter was tabled at the information night and it was agreed to publish it and the responses here so here you go with my answers in red.
Coolangatta & Tweed Heads Golf Club Ltd.
Our questions are directed at the Greens Superintendent regarding the current condition and management of the West 18 Holes which have been re-grassed with Tifeagle and other issues.
1. Can you explain why you do not regularly verticut and dust these greens? Verticutting is the American term for what we in Australia call de-thatching. The West greens have been de-thatched 33 times in the 38 weeks since January 1, 2019. See the answer to no. 3 regarding dusting.
2. The Greens in the opinion of many members do not meet with the desired standard expected, which is, of course, softer and more responsive greens. At present these greens are far too hard and appear unhealthy, and very patchy in colour. Golfers are not getting the benefit of playing good shots to the greens, and good shots subsequently result in the ball going over the back and making scoring impossible. The greens were not designed in our opinion for run up shots, that is, landing short and hoping for them to run up to the flag, so softer responsive greens would be more suitable! It is noted that on many of the new greens the holes are cut at the front of the green making target shots impossible and when you land on the green the ball is then miles away from where it should be. It would be fairer if you placed the holes mid green to alleviate this problem. Three players the other day hit gap wedges onto the 9W green only to finish over the cart path behind the 4 R. The 17 W is still not holding balls. As the greens mature they will soften naturally. The difference between 17 (4 yo) back 9 (3 yo) and front 9 (2 yo) is distinct. TifEagle is a grass that can thatch up very quickly and this is a major consideration of the maintenance regime to prevent such build up which will lead to soft disease prone turf.
3. Tifeagle greens in our opinion should be managed in accordance with the Suggested Management Practices as outlined by the developers at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, GA. We understand you travel overseas to America and make a study of greens. Can you explain why you do not use their guidelines for proper greens management and implement what you learn? The suggested management practices on the web have probably not been updated since the early 2000’s by the look of them. They make mention of methyl bromide which was phased out in the early 2000’s. They also state that only curative fungicide applications are required whereas I have learned that every superintendent with Tif that I have met makes preventative applications as you will lose turf if you dont. Also if you read those guidelines they indicate that using Tif will require huge inputs from staff and cultural practices. This from the list; Therefore, each superintendent considering TifEagle is encouraged to review these suggested management practices to determine if their personnel and budget will support the required management inputs. Of the first two clubs in Australia to plant Tif (around 2000), one removed it after just eighteen months and the other wished they hadn’t planted it as they didn’t have the resources to manage it as per the original guidelines. I first planted Tif here in 2005 and even by then the guidelines had eased somewhat with regards to the intensive maintenance and it has certainly been found that you don’t need the high inputs originally suggested to achieve a result. At a seminar I attended in the USA in 2015 the researcher opened with the comment “we got the maintenance practices for the ultradwarfs wrong at the start.” Much has changed since 2000 with regards to maintenance practices as more and more courses have converted their greens to Tif and other ultradwarf couchgrasses as they are known. I have travelled to the USA (largely at my own expense) to further study Tif maintenance and on each occasion I have gone looking for answers and come back with more questions. What I most definitely have learned is that almost everyone maintains their Tif differently and almost all succeed with achieving a good putting surface. Essentially there is no recipe or cookbook of maintenance practices and that is true for all turf types. The main area of difference is in the de-thatching and dusting programs. Essentially you are either a de-thatcher or a duster. I have only met a very small number who do both on a regular basis and they are generally at very high end courses. If you dust the greens with sand the de-thatcher will come through and pull a lot of the sand out as it passes over the green. A google search for “verticutting” will show a good photo and video of how the process works and makes it obvious that any sand in the top profile will be pulled out. So I have lent towards de-thatching for thatch control as I feel it results in the best putting surface at CTHGC. When I have travelled to the USA I have mainly visited Florida, particularly the Naples and West Palm areas as they have very similar climatic conditions to CTHGC. The difficulty comparing with them is that they actually mostly close for summer (yes that’s right) due to the lack of play so they can be super aggressive in their maintenance practices. They also close for a week at a time during their playing season at least twice and almost all close every Monday for what they call “maintenance Monday” as do courses throughout SE Asia. We don’t have that luxury so need to adjust our maintenance practices to suit our player numbers and available time. Thus the recent policy of closing one of the courses at CTHGC on a Tuesday following the ladies has been a huge benefit for us. There are about six courses in Australia with Tif over their entire course and we all maintain it differently and all achieve an excellent putting surface. I am in constant contact with most of these superintendents and our conversations revolve around Tif which may sound boring but it’s what we do. Research laboratories / stations are very important in the development of new methodologies and product. However there is a huge difference between the lab and the real world. Take for example the bentgrass variety Penn G2. We planted that on the nursery green as a trial grass and it was virtually bullet proof as the research and product literature stated. We planted it on 17W two hundred metres away and it fell over under the stress of two hundred players tramping over it every day.
4. Can you tell the membership when you will eventually rectify the subsidence (GUR) in the front of the 8 R fairway? This area is under discussion at the moment as it has been previously. The subsidence has been caused by a failure in the pipe that connects 6R dam with the Tweed River. The difficulty is that due to the high water table in the area you can only work at very low tides and it makes the job a lot longer as you really only have three to four hours a day that you can work on it at low tide. If funds are made available we are targeting our River course renovation days to do it this year as the course is closed which is another consideration as due to operator safety, and being located right in front of a green, the hole needs to be closed to play.
5. And further, when will the GUR area on left fairway on 1 R be fixed given it has been in this condition for some 30 years? This is also under discussion at the moment and would be done in conjunction with proposed works on the creek rockwall and 9R tee area. It is not simply a case of dumping a couple of loads of sand there as it is a critical drainage area on the course and again the water table is very high and ensuring we maintain drainage off the property is critical. The area is subject to regular tidal inundation and this is a major consideration and problem and the reason it is so difficult to maintain quality turf there. It will be an expensive job and needs to be very carefully planned and executed.
GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT PLAN
Some years ago the Club engaged a company to conduct a Golf Course
Management Plan. I am aware that this cost the Club some $34,000.00 in
consultative fees for a 10 year plan.
6. Can you explain to the members what steps you have taken to implement these plans or are they now superseded by other plans? In 2014 a course designer was employed by the club to look at reducing the number of bunkers on the courses and to look at the tree lines with respect to playability. For want of a better name it was called a “Course Improvement Plan”. The plan identified thirty bunkers for removal and eleven for a significant reduction in size. The works were implemented in 2015. For various reasons the Golf Management Committee decided that five of the proposed bunker removals not take place and another two were added to the removal list on 7W. Four of the other five still remain on 7W, 12W, 18W and 14R and were to be included in other proposed works that never eventuated and are not considered a priority at this stage. The plan was only for those works and was essentially a one year plan. There has not been a ten year plan in place at the club to my knowledge and there has never been a sum of $34K drawn from the course maintenance budget for consultative fees. The 2014 plan cost $7,500 in consultative fees.
7. One such implementation was to remove the walk down areas in bunkers, and on the 14th River the rear left hand bunker was to be removed completely. Why has this not been done? The walk down areas that remain have a bunker lining fabric underneath them and would need the bunker to be almost totally rebuilt to remove them which has not been considered due to cost as was the decision when the plan was implemented in 2015.
8. If substantially more bunkers were removed from both course would it decrease significantly the labour? If so what steps have you taken to remove or consult with Course Management with a view of removing the more labour intensive bunkers? Removal would perhaps might make our games more pleasant for all members and less maintenance costs. This has been discussed at Golf Management but no further removals have been suggested. It seems that as many members are in favour of more bunker removal and just as many are against it as it will make the courses “too easy”. As I mentioned at the information night I spend more money on bunker maintenance than greens maintenance. And they are a hazard!! Somewhere along the line golf has lost its way with the level of bunker maintenance expected by players.
9. It has been noted that rogue grasses have been growing on the River greens for a number of years during your watch! Do you have a plan to fix this problem? Encroachment and its solution is a very difficult subject and at the outset it should be noted that you won’t beat it. We are not doing too badly on the West greens at the moment but rhizomes are starting to shoot on these greens now. In the early 2000’s there was very little concern shown toward encroachment at any clubs apart from at a couple of high profile high budget resort courses. In the mid 2000’s we started a program of poisoning the encroaching grasses and re-turfing which was done on holes 6, 7, 11, 16 and 17. The encroaching grasses re-infested the areas within twelve months as the root zone wasn’t fully removed and the couchgrass re-shot. To do the job properly would require a temporary green to be in play and for the rootzone to be completely removed so as to remove all the roots to prevent regrowth. The area would need to be filled with a new growing profile and turfed or stolonised. This was the method employed on the West greens rebuild and to date no couchgrass has regrown from within the greens. It has been discussed at Golf Management but never implemented. Significant funding would be needed outside of the course maintenance budget. Please note that River greens 4, 7, 8 and 9 were not re-constructed and the 328 turf was just laid after the bentgrass was removed as the plan was for those greens to be completely rebuilt but that never eventuated. This means that the couchgrass contamination on these greens is just regrowth of the grass that was there previously.
10. Can you tell the membership why fairways are sometimes cut from side to side rather than up and down the fairway? Surely this is a more labour intensive exercise. It is actually the fastest most productive way to mow fairways when you are doing it in amongst play as you only have to let the group pass you once and you can continue mowing rather than driving towards them and stopping to watch them hit or following them down the fairway and stopping to wait for them to hit. It also helps give an alternate line of mowing which produces a better cut and finished product. When there is no play in the mornings for example cross cutting as we call it is not done.
11. If this (Q10) is a workplace health and safety concerns, why is the staff not wearing (a) reflective clothing, (b) helmets, (c) safety glasses and (d) caged equipment? It has nothing to do with WHS but only with productivity as mentioned in no. 10.
12. It has been noted that you sent two workers out to blow leaves out of bunkers during high winds, surely this is not the best work practices, particularly when you sometimes infer on your blog that you do not have sufficient staff. One day a staff member of yours was seen to spend many hours weeding the nursery, perhaps his time could have been better spent weeding grasses on the River Course! Do you have a work plan for all staff performing duties on the courses? The work plan for both courses is to produce the best playing surface across both courses given the resources available, the prevailing weather and the amount of play expected. The mornings are very similar with normal course preparations in front of play where we are most productive. The day’s program is then adjusted to cater for number and type of players and the weather conditions. Re blowing; on a windy site as CTHGC it is sometimes necessary to blow during the wind as we need to get the bunkers in particular free of leaf debris in order to rake them. The same goes with the mowers or blowers used to clear the fairways as we need them as debris free as possible to allow for mowing and we also need to allow whatever light is available to get to the surface. Not to mention playability. Re hand weeding the nursery green; the nursery is hand weeded so that when we do patching out of foreign couchgrass in the greens, as was done last year and will be done again this year, we are doing it with weed free turf. The nursery is also weeded on days where there is so much play that we are better out of the way for our own safety and to give the players a free run without us. For example days such as Vets week of golf, Vets or ladies open days, senior match or strokeplay, junior girls events etc. One of our employees who was on quite restrictive duties under workcover was also deployed to the weeding of the nursery.
13. With the above question in mind do you know exactly how many staff you need to perform day to day, week to week maintenance and general duties? The formula at the club since it went to 36 holes was for eighteen permanent staff and four summer casuals and that is about right. In March 2017 the club commissioned a “course audit” that was compiled by an independent observer and the then Secretary Manager informed me that he advised these numbers as well. As mentioned below more staff relates to better conditioning but obviously relates directly to increased costs.
14. Have you in the past made a request to Board Members for additional staff? The last such report was tabled in January 2018 and contained comparisons to two other thirty six hole golf clubs who have significantly more resources available than CTHGC. This report also gave options for various levels of staffing to produce varying levels of course quality. As mentioned in no.13 I was informed that the course audit also recommended additional staff.
15. Last summer you cored the green in December, when most Queensland greens are cored in spring. Coring in November/December during the busiest time of the year for visitors and members is costing the Club financially. Can you rectify this issue by coring straight after the Twin Towns Open? We do the greens renovation in November / December as that is after almost all of the major club events have finished and the Ladies and Vets have completed their AGM”s. It is also not as busy a time as many people think compared to after Christmas. The weather is also more conducive to recovery at that time compared to now. Courses that renovate early normally do another renovation in February / March. Another 36 hole course in SE Queensland renovates in December and their Tifs are done in January and only do one renovation a year for example.
16. Since the blue line has been reduced towards the greens it has been noted that the areas are suffering as a result. The grass is flat, bare, and not conducive to playing successful chip shots. We are not that unfit that we cannot walk a short distance to the greens. This was a board instruction.
17. You mention in your blog that some areas suffer from lack of sunlight! Is it a fact that you are permitted to reduce the canopy by some 20 % and have you consider doing this to help alleviate this problem? Just trimming trees does not help. I have been a superintendent on heavily treed golf courses for well over thirty years and have never seen trimming improve turf health unless that trimming is done at ground level. Turf needs direct sunlight to allow it to grow successfully. For example on the RHS of 2R green the trees were lopped at about four metres from the ground many years ago. They re-shot within twelve months and this process had no positive effect on turf health. When the trees at 2R were removed completely turf health then improved. As I have put on my blog before there is a quote from a USGA agronomist who says that ”if your turf isn’t getting eight hours sunshine a day…. Why isn’t it?”
18. The short practise areas in front of the car park. These greens are very poor and at some stage will require work. In the meantime perhaps consider shutting them down to allow renovation and then recovery or make a large green in the middle of this practise area which would then reduce it to just a chipping area. The benefit is a safer environment for all to practise. At present the chipping areas are pitted with ball marks and useless as far as serious chipping practise is concerned. The condition of the short range green has been discussed previously on many occasions. The amount of play that it gets means that it will only ever be a target green. It is impossible to maintain a quality surface on a green that is so heavily used. Even getting to mow it is an effort for us due to the play there as players hit at it even if we are mowing with the flags out and it is in constant use throughout the day. There was discussion about a new green in the middle of the short range area and one of the reasons that it was not proceeded with was that players want to play longer shots than just chips as evidenced by all the divots and wear occurring up against the southern fence. Cost was also a consideration when there are many other areas requiring attention and this area is at least functional. It is also one of the few areas that we have that will allow for marquees, scoreboards and the like to be erected for tournaments and functions.
We look forward to your responses. I trust the responses answer your questions?