Previous month:
October 2009
Next month:
December 2009

November 2009

Golf Course Visits and Tournament Sponsorship in Philippines

Micah and steve at founders cup

I was at the Philippines last week to play in the Founders Cup tournament at The Orchard Golf and Country Club. As sponsors of the tournament, Asian Turfgrass Center along with Bernhard and Company were able to enter a team in the sponsors division, and playing off scratch (I don't have an official handicap at present, unfortunately!) along with Steve Wilson, Business Development Manager Asia Pacific for Bernhard, we made a respectable showing at the challenging Palmer and Player courses over which the tournament was contested. The Palmer course has Tifeagle bermudagrass greens, while the Player course has greens of Sea Isle 2000 seashore paspalum. During the tournament, course superintendent Jelly Palmes had the greens on both courses in excellent condition, rolling at a good speed and providing a superb playing surface. Below is the 7th green of the Player course, showing its seashore paspalum green with the par five 9th hole in the background.

Orchard golf and cc founders cup 

I had planned to be at the Philippines for the Founders Cup and to meet other friends in the golf course industry. It turned into a busy week, as I visited Manila Golf Club on the day of my arrival, played in the Chairman's Cup tournament at Sherwood Hills the next morning, went to Wack Wack Country Club and saw the renovation project there, and played practice rounds at Orchard for the Founders Cup. In less than five days I had been to five different golf courses, and later in the week I also went to Manila Southwoods and to TAT Filipinas.

Meet dr mok mareth I was at TAT Filipinas Golf Club in October for a turfgrass advisory visit and I was there again this week to meet delegates from the East Asian Seas Congress 2009 who were making a field trip to see the sustainability initiatives at TAT Filipinas under the direction of club president Edna Paña and manager Joe Dagdagan. I spoke with Dr. Mok Mareth (pictured at right), the Senior Minister of Cambodia's Ministry of Environment. We discussed golf and the environment, two subjects which Dr. Mareth and I are both passionate about.

Relieving Turfgrass Stress: Part 1

Banyan-huahinWhenever I see unhealthy turfgrass, my first advice is to relieve plant stress. Relieving plant stress may involve adjusting the amount of water or air in the soil, optimizing the availability of essential plant nutrients, increasing the mowing height to allow more light absorption by the leaves, and very important but sometimes overlooked is this: cutting the grass cleanly.

My front lawn near Bangkok has three sections. Near the driveway is St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), in the center section is centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuroides), and in the corner in broadleaf carpetgrass (Axonopus compressus). I took a selection of photos from the St. Augustine grass section last week, showing the damage that can occur when mower blades are not sharp or are not adjusted properly. Because St. Augustine grass has a wide leaf blade, the damage from dull mowers is especially evident in these photos.

Leaf-blade-mow 1 The tip of an unmown St. Augustine grass leaf has a boat-shaped tip. This is how a normal leaf tip looks, at right, with no damage at all from mowing. Once we mow the grass, what kind of damage can we expect? Remember, by relieving stress on the grass, we can make it healthier. If we have healthier turfgrass, we can manage it to create the desired playing surface. Obviously grass must be mowed to create the desired playing surface, so we need a good plan for mowing to avoid putting undue stress on the grass.

Leaf-blade-mow 3 Here is another leaf of St. Augustine grass from my lawn, but it has been mowed. You can still see the V-shaped leaf, but the boat-shaped tip of the leaf is now gone. A small amount of yellow scarring is visible at the mown tip, but this is a basically clean cut with no shredding. This is the type of clean cut you want because it minimizes the stress on the turfgrass plant.

Leaf-blade-mow 2 At bottom right is what you don't want to see when you mow. This is another St. Augustine grass leaf from my front lawn. The damage and shredding at the leaf tip from cutting with a dull mower puts stress on the grass and causes a problem with plant health, with visual appearance of the turf, and eventually that causes a problem with playability as well.

So to relieve stress on your turf, make sure that you are mowing with sharp, well-adjusted mowers, and that you are getting a clean cut and not one that is shredding the turf. Sometimes from a distance you can see a whitish or yellowish tinge to the grass; upon closer inspection (get down and have a look at the leaf tips) you may see that the leaves themselves are green and healthy but the leaf tips are shredded and damaged by the mower.

Also, think about what mowing height is appropriate to give the desired playing conditions and appearance. And if you mow the grass with a thoughtful and creative mowing pattern, you can improve the appearance of the grass while reducing some other inputs.

Golf and the Environment in Vietnam

I was surprised to read "A Harvest of Golf Courses From Vietnam's Farmland" in the NY Times and International Herald Tribune. It didn't match what I know of the golf industry in Vietnam or the work done by my friends there. I have worked with Hanoi Golf Club and have visited other course in the Hanoi, Dalat, and Ho Chi Minh City areas -- I am familiar with golf course maintenance in Vietnam.

The NY Times piece about golf in Vietnam, written by Seth Mydans, included a number of misapprehensions about the golf industry in Vietnam, particularly in the areas of water use and land use. So I was pleased to see Mandarin Media's article "Off Course: Did the International Herald Tribune get its story straight on golf in Vietnam?", which presents another view of the golf industry in Vietnam and provides clarification on some of the issues raised by Mydans. Both articles are worth reading in their entirety for anyone interested in golf development in Vietnam specifically and golf courses and the environment generally.


Mydans' article quotes Le Anh Tuan (of the Can Tho University Environmental Technology Center) as saying that an 18-hole golf course could consume 177,000 cubic feet (about 5,000 m3) of water per day. This would be the peak water use during the hottest and driest time of year, assuming 70 hectares of irrigated turf. However, the actual amount of water used can be much less (see the photo from Hanoi Golf Club above). I have done advisory work with Hanoi Golf Club, and at that course, even at the driest times of the year, most of the course remains unirrigated, with the key playing corridors receiving just enough water to sustain the health of the plants, and no more. The effective irrigated area here is more like 25 ha, and the amount of water applied is only a fraction of what one would infer from reading the article in the NY Times. During rainy weather, of course, the use of irrigation water on turf is nil.

Vietnam-golf-and-cc-organic-fertilizer Other courses such as Vietnam Golf and Country Club at Ho Chi Minh City use an organic fertilizer (see the storage tank at right) that is produced as a byproduct from a large MSG factory nearby. This industrial waste is recycled and used to great effect on this course, which is also a Laureate Course of the International Golf and Life Foundation (IGOLF). The chairman of IGOLF is Paul Sochaczewski, a superb storyteller and award-winning journalist who has written a number of articles about golf and the environment, many of which can be downloaded here.

For more information about golf courses and the environment and the best management practices for golf courses to follow, I suggest looking also at the Golf Environment Organisation website and The R&A course management website. For more information about turfgrass management in Asia, see a selection of articles at the Asian Turfgrass Center's turfgrass information page.

Golf Digest Singapore Interview About Grass

I was interviewed by Golf Digest Singapore when I was there earlier this year to speak at the 2nd IGOLF Singapore Golf & Environment Forum at the Keppel Club. That interview, where I speak about the Asian Turfgrass Center and the challenges of managing turfgrass in Southeast Asia, can be seen on the video page of the Golf Digest Singapore website or you can view the video on YouTube.

Five Ways to Improve Turfgrass Conditions

Golf_business_asia_cover_aug2009 I can actually think of ten simple ways to improve turfgrass conditions -- these are only the first five ways, and I will write more later about another five ways to improve grass. The article I wrote on this topic has been published in Golf Business Asia and can be downloaded here. So what do I think are the first five ways to improve turfgrass conditions?

1. Set course maintenance standards. If we have a certain level of grass quality, and want to reach an improved level of playability or appearance, we need to define what that standard is and what work must be implemented in order to achieve the desired quality level. For more details, an article I wrote on this topic can be downloaded here in English and downloaded here in Chinese (中文). A simple example is grass quality and tolerance of weeds in the fairways. If there is no standard for this, than at what weed threshold are the fairways acceptable, or unacceptable? When I was a golf course superintendent I was not a big fan of these types of standards, thinking them extraneous, but I now think that written standards, no matter how simple, are the starting point for any turfgrass management (or turfgrass improvement) program.

Warm_season_grass 2. Choose the right grass. I cannot overemphasize this enough. There are certain grasses that are well-adapted to certain growing conditions and that can be managed to provide the desired playing surface. There are other grasses that are less well-adapted to your growing conditions and that require a tremendous amount of maintenance in order to produce the desired playing surface. Or perhaps you struggle to achieve the type of playing surface that you want. Would a different species of grass or an improved variety of the one you are currently growing help to improve turfgrass conditions? It seems like a lot of wasted resources to manage grass that is not well-adapted to your site. For more information about this, you can search for the information you are looking for. There are some excellent turfgrass specific information resources available online, and I wrote about the best of them (in English) and you can also download the article about information resources in Chinese (中文). Also, you may wish to read an article I wrote for Golf Business Asia about managing and choosing warm-season grasses. And you can see a selection of photos of different warm-season grasses, along with some advantages and disadvantages of each, at this photo gallery.

3. Fertilize the right amount. This is critical for improving the grass. If I want to be healthier, one of the first things the doctor will tell me to do is to evaluate my diet, right? And I should eat a balanced diet with the right amount of fruits and vegetables and vitamins and minerals and so on. Well, grass is the same way, except it is a lot simpler. With grasses, we can conduct a routine soil nutrient analysis (a laboratory test of the soil's chemical properties) to determine how much of the essential plant nutrients are present in the soil, and how much should be added as fertilizer. In many soils, there is already enough phosphorus to meet the needs of the grass, and in some cases there is enough potassium as well. If there is not enough, then we simply add more. The key element to get right in the fertilization program is nitrogen. This is like me, if I am on a diet, being concerned about how many calories I eat every day. Eating more calories than I burn each day will make me gain weight, while burning more calories than I eat results in me losing weight. If the grass gets too much nitrogen it will grow too quickly, and if the grass doesn't have enough nitrogen it will become yellow and grow too slowly. The goal is to control the growth rate of the grass to create the desired improvement to turfgrass conditions by applying exactly the right amount of nitrogen. For many grasses, a good starting point for the amount of nitrogen to apply is about 3 g N m-2 month-1, during the seasons when the weather is conducive to vigorous grass growth. The exact amount of nitrogen to apply can be adjusted based on the turfgrass performance. For more information about this, see this article I wrote for Golf Course Seminar (in Japanese, 日本語) or this article from the Hawaii GCSA newsletter.

Sicc_zoysia_mow_pattern 4. Mow with a plan. After choosing the right grass and applying the right fertilizer, there is no way to get the desired quality without mowing properly. That means using mowers with sharpened blades, set at the proper mowing height, and operated at the optimum mowing frequency for a particular area. And as long as the mowers are going to be sent out to mow the grass, why not mow an attractive pattern into the grass? This may be a type of stripe or checkerboard or even no stripes at all, but it takes a plan to achieve the desired appearance after mowing. Get the mowing right and the grass conditions will almost certainly improve.

5. Keep the grass as dry as possible. Or perhaps more accurately, keep the soil as dry as possible. How is that going to improve turfgrass conditions? If the soil is kept dry, there will be more air space in the soil. When the water content of the soil is high, there is not much space for air. Roots_dry_soil Grass roots grow better when there is plenty of air space in the soil, and if you can establish a healthy root system, the playing surfaces will be more stress tolerant and the grass plants will be more healthy. To really manage the soil moisture, I find it is extremely useful to use a soil moisture meter such as the Hydrosense from Campbell Scientific, the Theta-Probe from Delta-T Devices, or the TDR Meters from Spectrum Technologies. For most turfgrass sites, I like to maintain the soil moisture at more than 10% (by volume) and less than 25%. You can find the optimum range for your site, and by using one of these meters, you can monitor the soils as they dry, only applying water when the soil reaches the critical point when the grass will begin to wilt. I wrote about soil water management extensively in this article for Golf Course Seminar (in Japanese, 日本語) and in Irrigation for Bentgrass Greens: Theory and Practice (for the Kanto Golf Association and also in Japanese, 日本語). If you are interested to know more about this, please send me an e-mail inquiry or leave a comment here.

Cation Exchange Capacity in Sand Rootzones

Sand-cec Cation exchange capacity (CEC) is important because it is a measure of the nutrient holding capacity of a soil. I was reminded this week of something that turfgrass managers should know about CEC in sand rootzones. The 2009 International Annual Meetings of the Agronomy, Crops, and Soil Science Societies of America were held this week at Pittsburgh. I was co-author on a paper presented there by Dr. Quirine Ketterings of Cornell University. The paper, entitled A Simple Method for Estimating Cation Exchange Capacity Across a Wide Range of Soils, showed the results of experiments on estimating CEC on a range of fifty different soils from around New York state.

What is important to know?

  • Normal soil test procedures and the CEC values that you see on your soil reports are overestimated, especially for sand rootzones
  • Cation ratios or percentages based on these erroneous CEC values are meaningless
  • Addition of calcium, magnesium, and potassium fertilizers should be based on the amount of that element in the soil, and not on the percentage of that element
  • A nearly foolproof method of applying the right amount of nutrients to turfgrass, even without having any idea of the soil CEC, is to base the nitrogen application rate on the turfgrass growth potential (varies with turf species and temperature) and then to apply an 8:1:4 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium
For more details and a technique to predict the actual CEC of your soils (because the value on your soil report is almost certainly wrong), read on. Take this quote from the abstract of the paper presented this week: The CECsum estimates based on Mehlich 3 or Morgan greatly overestimated the CEC of the fifty soils tested in this experiment. This is exactly what I found in my research on soil testing during my time at Cornell. The CEC estimates that you see on a soil report from your laboratory are almost certain to be very different from the actual CEC of the soil. And these errors in CEC as shown on soil reports are especially evident when the tested soils come from golf course putting greens or other sandy sites.

In my research (you can download the chapter about CEC from my dissertation here) I looked at 54 sand and soil samples from around the world. Many samples were collected from golf course sites in Asia. We found that the best way to estimate CEC in sand rootzones is to use a 0.01 M solution of SrCl2 in a rapid five minute extraction. The standard soil tests such as Mehlich 3 produced an inflated value of the CEC. Because commercial soil testing laboratories do not use the SrCl2 method, the best way to estimate CEC for the average turfgrass manager is to use an equation with only two variables (soil pH and soil organic matter) to predict the CEC. Surprising, for sand rootzones, this equation predicts CEC more accurately than does a conventional soil test.

CEC (mmolc kg-1) = soil organic matter/100 * (-311 + (268 * soil pH))

If you are more comfortable in CEC units of cmolc kg-1 (or meq/100 g), then divide the soil organic matter by 1000 rather than 100 as is shown in the equation above.