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August 2011

Ten Years Ago on a Golf Course in Japan: part 3

If you've flown into Narita Airport in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo, and have happened to look out the window, you may have been surprised when you flew over golf course after golf course as the plane descended. Chiba prefecture has more than 150 golf courses, placing it third among Japanese prefectures in golf course count. Only massive Hokkaido in the north, and Hyogo prefecture near Osaka, have more courses.

This map shows a portion of Chiba prefecture where there is an especially high concentration of golf courses. The satellite image was taken in the winter, so we see that the korai (Zoysia matrella) fairways and noshiba (Zoysia japonica) roughs are dormant.

View Larger Map

Many of the golf courses at Chiba were constructed in the golf course building boom of the early 1990's, and for these courses, there is a pesticide ban. I was a superintendent in 2000 and 2001 at Habu CC, which opened in 1996 and was thus subject to the pesticide ban. Here the inspection team from the prefectural government made a visit to inspect the course, the maintenance building, and our records. We could use wetting agents, Polyoxin-D, and phosphites; other than that there was very little in the way of chemical control products that we could use. 

Chiba-ken chemical inspection team

One thing that I focused on, with the limited resources we had to maintain the course, was to have the central playing corridors in as good a condition as possible. We tried to have perfect greens, tees and fairways as good as they could be, and less attention was paid to the roughs, particularly in out-of-play areas. You can see here, in a view from behind the 14th hole at Habu CC, that there are some weeds growing behind the green on this par 5.

mow 14 approach Habu CC

I've sometimes had long discussions with Japanese greenkeepers about the philosphy of balance in golf course maintenance. If resources for maintenance are limiting, I've always strived to make green perfect and the playing corridors as good as possible. In Japan, there has historically been the idea that there should be balance on a course, and that all of the areas should be maintained. 

Balance is alright if you have enough resources to maintain every square meter at a high level, but if those resources are not there, then striving for balance is a sure way to have mediocre conditions all over the course. I think every course has the resources to make their greens perfect, and I am fine to let some out-of-play areas be a little less-maintained if I can ensure the greens will be excellent. This is still a challenge in Japan, because many courses were built in mountainous areas in a bubble economy and are inherently expensive to maintain. Maintenance budgets then get cut again and again, and it is very difficult to maintain these courses with the desired balance. I was lucky in my work, to be a foreigner, and to have an American boss. In this situation it was easier, culturally, to focus our maintenance efforts on the playing corridors.

ATC Articles Featured on Pitchcare Oceania

Have you seen the Pitchcare Oceania site? This online magazine has information about turfgrass management for golf and sports turf and this year has begun featuring selected articles from ATC.

With news, information, online message boards, and links to a variety of suppliers, this is a site that may be of interest to turfgrass managers in Asia. Check it out here.

Ten Years Ago on a Golf Course in Japan: part 2

Habu CC  putting green 3 Aug 2001

I was the golf course superintendent at Habu CC in Chiba prefecture near Tokyo from September 2000 to August 2001. Ten years later, I'm spending this summer at Japan, partly to study and collect data about turfgrass performance, but also to remember what it is like to be a superintendent. Now halfway through my time at Japan this summer, I've come up with a list of three reasons why it is especially difficult to be a golf course superintendent here.

Soil_temp_36 1. During July and August it is too hot for creeping bentgrass to grow well. This afternoon on a golf course at Chiba, the soil temperatures of a Penncross creeping bentgrass green were 36.3° at 2.5 cm, 34.8° at 5 cm, and 32.4° at 10 cm. Since July 1, I've yet to record a soil temperature on a creeping bentgrass green at less than 23.4°. In August, it is hotter on average at Osaka than it is at Atlanta, Miami, and Singapore. Tokyo is also hot and humid, averaging 31.1° for a high each day in August, with a relative humidity of 71%. That makes for a heat index in the shade of 37.6° C (99.7° F) on average every day in August.

Hand_water_tanksha 2. So with such hot temperatures, we would need to have good irrigation systems, right? But golf courses in Japan have irrigation systems that are inadequate for the needs of the grass. There are essentially no quick couplers, so hand-watering, if done at all, is usually done by applying water from portable 1000 L tanks. This is not very effective but when there are no quick couplers, one doesn't have many other options. Most courses don't have fairway irrigation at all, and even the courses with the best irrigation systems are likely to have just a single-row system. Supplying water to the grass during the summer is one of the most difficult tasks to manage for golf course superintendents in Japan. 


3. The hot summer months when the bentgrass struggles to survive and when irrigation water is applied however it can be are also the times when the Zoysia matrella (korai) fairways and Zoysia japonica (noshiba) roughs are growing at their fastest rate, requiring more frequent mowing. With the need for handwatering and also the need for more frequent mowing during the summers, it is especially challenging then, at Japan, to have relatively small crew sizes. Most courses have only ten to fifteeen people working on course maintenance. It is a real struggle to complete all the necessary work.

I remember dealing with all of these challenges when I worked at Habu CC ten years ago. After visiting so many golf courses this summer, I see these same three challenges for golf course superintendents still exisit. During the turf science seminars I give in the winter, the most popular topics include management of soil moisture, managing creeping bentgrass during the summer, and management of ultradwarf bermudagrass. Each of those topics is in some way related to the three points identified above as the reason why Japan is one of the most difficult places to be a golf course superintendent.


A Report From the 2011 Golf Course Maintenance Management Conference

I've participated in many turfgrass seminars and conferences in the Philippines, and last week's Golf Course Maintenance Management Conference was the best so far. With 130 attendees, the conference room at The Orchard Golf and Country Club was filled to hear the presentations from Roberto "Boy" Escaño about drainage, from Siam CC's Sittichai Dusadeeporn about tournament preparation, and from Buddy Resurrecion on rules, maintenance, and marking the course. I also spoke about warm-season grasses and their adaptation to the Philippines climate, utilizing this chart to demonstrate some unique aspects of the climate in Southeast Asia that lead to better performance for Zoysia and Axonopus species compared with bermudagrass or seashore paspalum.

Wilson_agif_welcome The conference was organized by the Philippine Turfgrass Association in cooperation with the Federation of Golf Clubs Philippines and the Asian Golf Industry Federation (AGIF). Delegates included golf course superintendents, managers, and owners, along with others who work in the turfgrass and golf industries. The panel discussion covered a range of topics including how to optimize turfgrass performance in shade, what steps can be taken to publicize and promote golf in the Philippines, and how to encourange more people, and especially young people, to play the game.

A cocktail party at the close of the first day's sessions, sponsored by Hunter Industries, gave the conference delegates a chance to discuss many of these turfgrass and golf course management issues in more detail.

The second day of the conference saw field sessions on spraying and sprayer calibration, on aerification and organic matter management in the soil, and a practical seminar on marking the course, with special attention given to water hazards, lateral water hazards, and out-of-bounds. After lunch, the conference closed, with many delegates playing a round of golf on the Palmer Course at The Orchard, and others opting for a tour of the course, the golf course maintenance facility, and some of the innovative water harvesting and cleaning programs implemented at The Orchard.


World Cities Plotted by Climatological Normals, August


This bubble chart shows 46 world cities plotted by average temperature, sunshine, and precipitation in August. We see the continuing trend for cities in Asia to have more rain and less sunshine than cities where similar grasses are grown in the Americas or Europe. Bangalore, Bangkok, Mumbai, and Kolkata all have relatively low sunlight during this month. And transition zone cities like Shanghai, Osaka, and Tokyo are mixed right in with the tropical locations of Singapore, Colombo, and Sanya, but the transition zone cities are managing creeping bentgrass, for the most part, on putting greens.

Hong Kong averages 189 hours of sunshine in August. Compared with other cities plotted on this chart, that is rather average, in fact even a low amount of sun. But for Hong Kong, this is one of the sunniest months of the year. Only July, with 214 sunshine hours on average, and October, with 192 hours, will have more. With these charts we see that the consistently low sunlight hours in many parts of Asia means that although there is similarity in temperature throughout the year with other warm-season areas, the actual growing environment is completely different — there is no overlap in the combination of temperature and sunshine in any month of the year.

See below, in the motion chart showing these data over the course of twelve months. We plot the track of Hong Kong and Miami through one year and they describe/explore completely different zones of temperature-sunshine combinations. We can use some of the same grasses in these areas, but the management practices need to be adjusted to fit the local environment.