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July 2011

New R&A Golf Course Website & Case Studies

You are probably aware of The R&A's "Working for Golf" campaign and their active support for golf development around the world. Maybe you've been to the R&A-supported Sustainable Turfgrass Management in Asia conferences, held over the past few years at Thailand, Philippines, and Malaysia. The R&A's Golf Course committee have just this month unveiled a new web site, appropriately titled The Golf Course, that will be of interest to anyone involved in golf course management and development.

Randa_thegolfcourse What do you find on the site? Relevant content, updated regularly, in the categories of playing performance, golfer expectations, turf management, economic performance, environmental stewardship, water resources, social responsibility, energy efficiency — the list goes on, all good topics.

Has anyone asked you about the fairy rings visible on the greens at Royal St. Georges during the Open Championship? I've been asked many times, and the best explanation I've seen is this article on The Golf Course site: "Provided the greens are mown frequently, as they are during The Open Championship, the growth stimulated by the extra nitrogen ‘fertiliser’ does not affect the smoothness of the putting surface and, therefore, has no adverse impact on play." The article goes on to explain how a team from the Sports Turf Research Institute conducted daily soil moisture measurements and other tests to assess playing surface performance, and it notes that "The R&A is far more concerned about the quality of how a surface plays than its aesthetics."

I've worked with Banyan GC in Thailand (pictured above) to prepare a case study about the use of drought tolerant (among many other beneficial attributes) zoysiagrass, and with Wack Wack Golf and CC in the Philippines (pictured below) to develop a case study on innovative renovation techniques and the use of native grasses. Wack Wack just hosted the Philippine Open on its shade-tolerant carpetgrass and zoysiagrass surfaces. Both case studies are now featured on The Golf Course.

Banyan GC case study (Thailand)

Wack Wack Golf and CC case study (Philippines)

Why is it so important to choose the right grasses, and why are these courses so notable for choosing the carpetgrass and zoysiagrass, native grasses that perform especially well in Asia? Have a look at the chart below.

We can choose Miami as a typical city for North American warm-season areas, and Kuala Lumpur as a city with typical conditions for Southeast Asia. You can duplicate this chart by going to the animated bubble chart and selecting just Miami and Kuala Lumpur, deselecting the other cities, and ensuring "trails" are on, and then clicking the "play" button. On the horizontal axis we have the average temperature, and on the vertical axis we have the average sunshine hours per month. These "trails" trace the temperature-sunshine combination throughout the year for each of these cities. One thing really stands out to me — these cities never overlap. There is not a month in the year, on average, when the temperature-sunlight combination at Kuala Lumpur is within the range of combinations seen at Miami. And vice versa.


On average, there is always less sunshine at Kuala Lumpur than there is at Miami. And the temperature almost never changes at Kuala Lumpur, while there is quite a bit of change at Miami. Even when it is the same temperature at Miami and Kuala Lumpur, there will be, on average, considerably less sunshine at Kuala Lumpur: just 50% to 75% of the sunshine hours we would have at Miami. These are, in short, completely different growing environments. 

And I would argue, and the success at Banyan GC and Wack Wack Golf and CC and other clubs throughout the region would support this, that the native grasses produce superb surfaces, are tolerant of low light from the massive tropical trees and the cloudy weather so typical of Asia, and that native grasses outperform imported hybrid bermudagrasses and seashore paspalum in many situations.

Ten Years Ago on a Golf Course in Japan: part 1


I was a golf course superintendent in Japan from September 2000 until August 2001. Now, ten years later, it is interesting to see some of the photos from that year and to remember what it was like. We were working with a maintenance crew of about sixteen people in July of 2001, and I think five people on the crew went on to be golf course superintendents themselves; two interns from the United States, and three of the Japanese crew. 

habu cc eighth hole 22 July 2001We had a great team. July 22 was a Sunday that year, and on Japanese courses then, it was not typical to have much afternoon or "twilight" play. Golf tended to be (and generally still is) a structured event, so tee times (Japanese courses usually do a two tee start, off #1 and #10) would generally be booked a few weeks in advance, with the last tee times usually set at midday. Even on a busy day, after 14:00 or so the course would begin to clear as the last golfers played their final nine holes. 

We were able to get a lot of work done on these afternoons. Soil tests of the fairways showed that the soils were low in magnesium and potassium. We were able to find sul-po-mag (0-0-22) from a Japanese agricultural supply company and apply it to fairways to increase the potassium and magnesium availability. And we had to do a lot of work to manage soil compaction, improve water infiltration, and stimulate growth on the bermudagrass fairways. At the time Habu CC was one of the few courses in Japan that used two passenger carts, and at which the carts were allowed to be driven on the fairways. We were doing about 4,000 rounds per month, all with carts driving onto narrow fairways of this course in the mountains of Chiba. So ten years ago today, we waited until the last golfers had moved off these holes and then worked until the sun went down.

habu tenth 22 July 2001

Interactive Chart for Climatological Normals

I've previously made a series of static bubble charts that show the climatological normals for a selection of cities where warm-season grasses are often grown. I've now, thanks to the googleVis package in R, been able to use these same data to create motion charts. I find the motion charts fascinating because the differences (or similarities) between cities in various climatological characteristics are easily ascertained. Clearly, the weather has a huge impact on which grasses should be used, and on what maintenance practices are necessary to create the desired playing surfaces. Just because it is a warm-season area doesn't mean all grasses will perform the same. By looking at climatological data in this way, it is evident just how different the weather is between the cities plotted on this chart.


Today I flew from Gatwick to Bangkok, via Dubai. I snapped the photo above as I was boarding the flight to Bangkok, and you can see that the weather in Dubai today was sunny. Which is what we would expect from the climatological data plotted on the motion chart. As the plane passed over India and the Bay of Bengal, there was turbulence, as we would expect during the monsoon season, where it was raining below. And the plane entered a holding pattern to the west of Bangkok to wait for thunderstorms to pass before making its approach to BKK. The data on the chart are average sunshine hours on a monthly basis, average temperature on a monthly basis, and average monthly precipitation. 

Click the chart image above or click here to go to the interactive bubble chart. You can change the data represented on the x- and y-axes, the speed at which the data move, which cities are highlighted, etc.

The Two Green System

Yesterday I visited four eighteen hole golf courses around the Tokyo area. That is 72 holes of golf. But those 72 holes had 126 creeping bentgrass greens. How is that? One of the courses had one bentgrass green per hole, and three of the courses used the two green system and had two greens per hole. 


Putting greens are the most intensively managed area of any golf course. At Japan, where so many courses use the two green system, golf course maintenance becomes even more complicated because of having to manage twice the number of greens. There is some advantage in having two greens per hole in that ideally one green can always be kept in perfect condition for play while maintenance is performed on the closed green. When I was a greenkeeper at Japan ten years ago, I was fortunate to work at a course with one green, and from speaking with greenkeepers here there is a general consensus that a one green system is easier to work with. 

Green_maintenance I would have to agree. Although at times it would be good to give the main green a bit of a rest, overall it is rather complicated to manage two greens on one hole. In almost all cases there would be no quick couplers at either green for handwatering. I know from experience how difficult it is to manage bentgrass greens at Japan in the summer without quick couplers. The soil conditions are usually different from the set of main greens to the sub-greens. Sometimes the grass species are different, for example with creeping bentgrass on one green and Zoysia matrella on the other. But in most cases there would be two different varieties of creeping bentgrass on the two greens. And then there are all the covers that, during the winter, need to be put on the greens every afternoon and taken off again every morning. And all this work is done with a maintenance crew that averages just over ten people. Japan is certainly among the most difficult places to be a greenkeeper.

What's the Most Accurate Way to Measure Available Nutrients in the Soil?

Have you seen this picture before? I used this photo in the announcement for turf science seminars I gave at Japan last winter, and a golf course superintendent asked me this week about what is shown in this photo. This is a cation exchange membrane in general, and is specifically a PRS (Plant Root Simulator) probe from Western Ag Innovations. In my research at Cornell University, I used these exchange membranes to measure potassium flux in the soil. 

Ats_prs The results of this experiment were summarized in a paper we published in Applied Turfgrass Science. Exchange membranes are quite sensitive to changes in nutrient supply, and one could make a strong case for exchange membranes being a more accurate way to measure the really available nutrients in the soil compared with conventional soil testing techniques. Potassium supply to the roots, for instance, is affected by the activity of K+ in soil solution, leaching, soil temperature, soil water content, root uptake of K+, release of K+ from mineral forms in the soil, and other contributing factors. Exchange membranes, by measuring the nutrient flux over time, are able to capture much of the true variabiability in nutrient supply, similar to what grass roots would experience.

In our experiment, we found that the very sensitivity and accuracy of the exchange membranes makes them less practically useful than a conventional soil test in predicting whether potassium should be applied or not. To summarize the results of our experiments with cation exchange membranes, we found that:

  1. Potassium supply increases when potassium fertilizer is applied.
  2. The effects of potassium fertilizer can be long-lasting, even in a sand with low CEC (1.2 cmolc kg-1). We detected increases in potassium supply rate six months after an application had been made. I think most people would expect the potassium to leach or otherwise have no effect on supply rate six months after application in a low CEC sand.
  3. Potassium supply rate can be sufficient to meet plant requirements in many sands because of potassium release from mineral forms in the soil.

World Cities Plotted by Climatological Normals, July


This bubble chart shows 46 world cities plotted by average July temperature, July sunshine, and July precipitation. The plot for June had 45 cities; at the suggestion of Dr. Larry Stowell from PACE Turf, I have added San Diego to the chart for this and future months. 

Hong Kong has a bit more sunshine in July, more than 200 hours on average; that is twice the sunshine that Kolkata or rainy Mumbai would have during an average July; Miami, Honolulu, and San Diego are salubrious in July with an average of more than 300 hours of sunshine during the month. The bubbles for Osaka and Singapore overlap in July. This is the first full month of summer at Osaka, and in that area the standard grasses on golf courses are creeping bentgrass on greens, Zoysia matrella in fairways, and Zoysia japonica on roughs. Osaka is overlapping with a tropical region and the summer is just beginning, showing how difficult it is to manage cool-season grasses in transition zone climates.