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A course like no other

Ch
The distinctive crest of the Club

I love hill stations. And the best hill stations all have golf courses. One of my favorites is Kodaikanal Golf Club (founded 1895). At an elevation of 2,100 m in the Palni Hills, and just 10° north of the equator, the clubhouse sits at the edge of a cliff, high above the plains.

Fog
Kodaikanal is 2,100 m above sea level and receives the most rainfall in southern Tamil Nadu

One of the great attractions of Kodaikanal (Kodai) is the temperate weather. This was my third visit. Each time I've taken the winding road up the mountain, I've watched the roadside grasses change with each kilometer. One sees the tropical grasses of the plains on the lower reaches of the mountains, with kikuyugrass (Pennistetum clandestinum) starting to appear as one gets closer to Kodai.

First
The uphill approach to the wide-open first

Ecologically, the golf club sits on a sky island. That is, it is at such an elevation, and surrounded on all sides by lowlands of a completely different environment, so one finds many endemic species here – along with introduced plants such as kikuyugrass.

Memani2Club Secretary G.S. Mani (pictured with me at right) takes special care to employ organic practices on this property.

I've been impressed with the fine conditions produced at this hill station course with a minimum of inputs, no pesticides,and only the smallest amounts of organic fertilizer. There is a real focus on improving the environment by providing wildlife habitat, removing invasive Acacia tress, planting of native species, and developing natural wetlands.

You may have noticed the fence and gate to enter to course, and on the approach to the first, there was a net around the green.

At the fourth, one can see the net that encircles the green – and the fine turf around the green.

 

Fence
Nets are placed around the greens every night to keep Indian gaur from walking and grazing on the green surfaces

Every night, Indian gaur come out of the forest and onto the course, starting from the 16th hole. This is the world's largest species of wild cattle, larger than the American bison, and the nets around the greens help to keep the gaur off the carefully maintained putting surfaces.

There are a lot more wildlife here than Indian gaur. Especially around the clubhouse, practice green, first tee, and 9th and 18th greens, one finds troops of bonnet macaques. This one is running across the kikuyugrass on the first tee.

In the fairways one finds kikuyugrass and common carpetgrass (Axonopus affinis) and many other species that are managed to produce a good playing surface.

On the greens, which are rolled multiple times each week to improve the smoothness, the primary species is blue couch (Digitaria didactyla), with some patches of invading kikuyugrass.

Flag
Clouds blowing in just before sunset at Kodaikanal Golf Club

Another great hill station is Ootacamund (Ooty), about 6 or 7 hours drive, on a separate Sky Island. One finds imported gorse on the golf course at Ooty, but I don't think there is any gorse at Kodai.

If you like reading about hill station golf courses, you may be intrigued with the fairway maintenance at the Ootacamund Gymkhana Club. That Club was founded in 1896, but no mechanical mowers have been used on the fairways. Photos and videos here of the fairway mowing at Ooty.

Kodai has more conventional fairway mowing, with a farm tractor pulling a well-maintained 3-gang reel mower. But with native grasses, cold mountain temperatures, no fairway irrigation, and no chemical fertilizers, there isn't a lot of mowing to do.

For photos and information about this fascinating place, this video from the 2012 IGU greenkeeping programme shows more.

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