I visited Korea for a few days last week and am excited to write about it. Why? It was my first visit to Korea, and it is not often that I have a chance to write about my first impressions of a place. I visited five golf clubs around Seoul, comprising 126 holes (seven 18-hole equivalents), gave a seminar about bentgrass management during summer, and met with turfgrass researchers, golf course architects, and golf course superintendents.
It was colder than I had expected, but not cold enough that golf courses close for a substantial part of the winter. It was cold enough that creeping bentgrass greens, even ones that are covered each night, were still effectively dormant during the 3rd week of March. I did not realize how cold it gets in Seoul. The average temperature during December, January, and February is below 0°C, and in March the average temperature is only 4.5°C.
What grasses are used? Greens are creeping bentgrass. Fairways and roughs are predominantly planted to Zoysia japonica, although a smaller percentage of courses have kentucky bluegrass fairways, and perhaps some tall fescue in the rough. Tees are kentucky bluegrass or Zoysia japonica.
Traffic on the dormant grasses or slowly-growing grasses is a major issue, and the courses I visited were taking special precautions to protect the high-traffic areas as much as possible.
And the courses were busy! At the 27-hole facility where I gave the seminar, there were 400 rounds the day I visited. Golf courses in Korea have been busy, with average rounds a decade ago of about 90,000 per 18 holes per year. With so many courses being built, those round numbers are going down, and are now expected to be about 65,000 per 18 holes per year. I saw a newspaper clipping listing the 36 clubs that are scheduled to open this year, with a total of 810 holes, or 45 18-hole equivalents.
I visited the Samsung Everland Turfgrass & Environment Research Institute, listened to a presentation from the scientists there about the work that they do, spoke a bit about some of the work I have been doing recently, and visited a golf course with their team to assess the turf and soil conditions.
Korea is a difficult place to produce good turf conditions because of the cold winters with heavy traffic on dormant grasses, then hot summers with low light and high humidity. I was impressed with the grass conditions I saw, considering these significant challenges, and I look forward to my next visit when I can learn more about the techniques greenkeepers in Korea are using to produce such fine playing surfaces.