I visited the Philippines a few times last month and was again impressed by how well manilagrass (Zoysia matrella) performs there. The classic East Course at Wack Wack Country Club in Manila is undergoing a restoration project that leaves the manilagrass greens untouched. The grass on these greens is relatively free of disease, has a very low fertilizer requirement, and provides a fast and firm putting surface. By using native grasses on the fairways (primarily Axonopus compressus, known as Carabao grass in the Philippines) and on the greens, Wack Wack CC's East Course provides a classic test of golf and uses grasses that require almost no inputs apart from mowing and irrigation.
Why do I mention these grasses? Because the use of the native grasses is surprisingly uncommon when golf courses are built or renovated in Southeast Asia today. There are some situations where bermudagrass (Cynodon) may be the right choice, and there are occasions when seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) is the right choice, but for many golf projects, using native grasses such as zoysiagrass or carpetgrass would be a better choice. Why?
- The native grasses require less fertilizer than bermudagrass or seashore paspalum
- The native grasses are generally more resistant to diseases, insect, and weed invasion than or bermudagrass or seashore paspalum
- Pesticide use on native grasses is minimal
- It costs a lot less to maintain native grasses
- Some of the best courses in Southeast Asia use them! Sentosa GC in Singapore has zoysia fairways and roughs, the aforementioned Wack Wack CC has carpetgrass and the greens are zoysia, Hong Kong Golf Club has carpetgrass and zoysiagrass on most of the property, and the best new course in Asia Pacific for 2009, Banyan Golf Club in Thailand, uses native zoysia for fairways and roughs
- The course presentation and playability with native grasses is still very good
- There is a lot more flexibility in the maintenance when native grasses are used
What do I mean by "flexibility in maintenance"? Above we see a native manilagrass (Zoysia matrella) lawn beside swimming pools at the Anvaya Cove development near Subic Bay. At the swimming pool, with virtually no maintenance, zoysia is a foolproof grass. It just grows along, slowly, providing the desired groundcover. Below we see the exact same grass at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial (as an aside, do go there if you are ever at Manila -- the cemetery is a beautiful, quiet, and moving place, with 17,202 graves of military dead of WWII).
The native grasses can be maintained to look green and lush, or dry and close-cropped to the ground, and the native grasses don't die. There is less flexibility with imported bermudagrass or seashore paspalum. Without the optimum amounts of water, fertilizer, and pesticides, the bermudagrass or seashore paspalum cannot provide a good playing surface in Southeast Asia. With native grasses, there is a lot of flexibility in the type of surface that can be created. But don't try to get too flexible with seashore paspalum or bermudagrass, or those grasses will fail.