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November 2012

Golf Courses and Turfgrass on the "Miniature Continent" of Gran Canaria

panorama from Pico Bandama

I visited Gran Canaria and its seven golf courses this week, choosing this island in particular because of its many microclimates and consequently the chance to study a variety of grasses in different environmental conditions.

Location (in blue) of the 7 golf facilities on Gran Canaria

 I also have friends (*see below) on this island, which made it an even more appealing place to visit. The north side of the island sees more clouds, and the south side of the island has more sunshine, and in general, it is a rather dry island. At the airport, near Telde in the East, the average annual rainfall is 134 mm. Contrast this with Bangkok, where grasses, many of them the same as at Gran Canaria, grow in a climate with almost 1,500 mm average annual rainfall. In fact, at Bangkok, there are six months of the year, each of the months from May through October, that have average rainfall more than the 134 mm annual average at Telde.

putting green irrigation

That lack of rainfall makes irrigation crucial to the performance of any turfgrass as a sporting surface at Gran Canaria, and because almost all of the courses are irrigated with treated wastewater, which is rather high in salinity, careful attention to water quality is just as important as water quantity, as is choosing the grass species that can tolerate such salinity. 

At the seven golf clubs on the island, there are nine courses. Salobre is 36 holes, and Anfi Tauro has a short course. The grass breakdown is this. On greens, four courses are creeping bentgrass, four are seashore paspalum, and one is bermuda. Through the green, one course is kikuyugrass, four are bermuda, and four are seashore paspalum.

There is some Poa annua growing, mixed in with bentgrass on some greens, and as a weed in some fairways. I also saw some perennial ryegrass, although it was not thriving. And there was Stenotaphrum secundatum (St. Augustingrass in the USA, buffalograss in Australia) growing well in a few parks, but I did not see it on any golf courses.

Cynodon dactylon in dry soil

At Real Club de Golf de Las Palmas, some unirrigated picon areas between tees and fairways have drought-tolerant bermudagrass growing in these dry conditions. The tees and fairways, which receive irrigation, are covered with kikuyugrass. A collection of photos are posted at Flickr (and below) where you can see the grasses and the golf courses of this diverse island.

*Alejandro Rodriguez Nagy, who arranged the schedule this week and introduced me to the greenkeepers at each course; Daniel Carretero, who played on the golf team at the University of Portland (my hometown) and worked at Augusta National GC where I met him during the 2011 Masters Tournament; and Oscar Sanchez, who I caddied for at Waverley CC when he played in the 1993 USGA Junior Amateur Championship.

Overseeded (or not) Fairways in Japan


Habu CC 15th hole

Twelve years ago, I was the superintendent at Habu CC in Chiba prefecture, and the course looked superb in late November after the ryegrass we planted to the bermudagrass fairways had grown for about seven weeks. 
Habu CC 12th hole

By the end of the month, the noshiba (Zoysia japonica) rough was completely dormant, and the perennial ryegrass that had been planted to tees and fairways was still growing well in the autumn weather.

Habu CC 9th hole

Overseeding is actually rare in Japan, with probably less than 1% of the courses in the country overseeding fairways during the winter, even though warm-season grasses are dormant in most of Japan for six months of the year. There are various reasons for not overseeding, the main one being that korai (Zoysia matrella) is the primary grass used on fairways in Japan, korai does not have a history of performing well when it is overseeded, and there are colorants that are used on korai tees and fairways that produce an attractive playing surface during the dormant period. 

Applying colorant to a korai tee in Hyogo-ken

18th hole at Hanna CC in Osaka, korai tee and fairway with colorant applied

Thai GCSA Meeting: Managing Organic Matter in Sand Rootzones

Vintage_meetingToday 110 people attended the Thai GCSA meeting at The Vintage Club near Bangkok. I gave a presentation on Putting Green Management and Putting Green Performance. This dealt with the main reason for poor performance of sand-based putting greens – the accumulation of too much organic matter.

The presentation slides can be downloaded here.

In my talk, I first mentioned the three main problems we have with turfgrass surfaces that are wet and soft because of too much organic matter in the soil.

  1. Mowing cannot be done properly and low mowing heights are impossible to obtain without scalping the turf.
  2. Ballmarks are excessively large and general playability of the course is not at an optimum.
  3. The probability of fungal diseases is increased.

I shared some data collected over the past year that shows an increase in soil moisture in a sand rootzone will usually lead to softer surfaces. We looked at a clip from a classic video of water movement in soils, to see what happens as water moves from a relatively fine-textured (sand + organic matter) layer down to a coarse-textured (sand without organic matter) layer, and then we discussed the four ways in which we can manage soil organic matter. Of these, I think the first two are the most important.

  1. Manage the growth rate of the grass to avoid excessive accumulation of organic matter, allowing the grass to grow at a rate sufficient to recover from traffic damage, but no faster.
  2. Apply sand topdressing to dilute the organic matter as it is produced. As a general rule, plan to apply at least 0.012 m3 sand/m2/year.
  3. Verticut (vertical mowing down to the soil surface) and scarify (vertical mowing that goes below the soil surface) to remove organic matter.
  4. Core aerify to remove organic matter, keeping in mind that tine size and tine spacing should be carefully considered to optimize the organic matter removal at each time of aerification. This will minimize disruption to golfers.

Vintage_meeting2I would like to thank the TGCSA for inviting me to speak today and for all the superintendents who attended. I spoke at a TGCSA seminar at The Vintage Club when I was just starting with the Asian Turfgrass Center in 2006, and it was fun to be back six years later, with about twice as many people in the room, to be presenting about things that we have learned, based on research conducted here in Thailand and in other parts of Asia.

For more information, see these documents:

A Report on Putting Green Performance Characteristics (Woods, 2012, Asian Turfgrass Center)

Aeration and Topdressing for the 21st Century (Hartwiger and O'Brien, 2003, Green Section Record)

Cultivating to Manage Organic Matter in Sand-based Putting Greens (Landreth et al., 2007, USGA TERO)

Turfgrass Mystery: can you identify the grass on this putting green?


This is a warm-season (C4) grass that performs well on putting greens in the tropics. Click the image above to see a larger view. The photo was taken on a putting green in Asia just 1° north of the equator.

I've seen it as a fairway or lawn grass, but as a putting green turf, I've only seen this use in Asia. It seems to perform best with relatively minimal maintenance and does well in areas with relatively high cloud cover and rainfall (it is not a Cynodon species) where bermudagrass struggles. It also grows well in some relatively cool, because of high altitude, areas near the equator. It should probably be used on more golf courses.

Can you identify this grass? 

Here's another photo. It looks almost like creeping bentgrass, doesn't it?


The answer is serangoon grass (Digitaria didactyla), also known as blue couch.

After a discussion on Twitter with many people guessing that this was Zoysia matrella or Zoysia pacifica, due to it performing so well in areas with lots of cloud cover, the correct answer was provided at almost the same time by HK Golfer Magazine,

and then by Albert Bancroft.

We find serangoon grass greens in Singapore, and in Malaysia, and they generally perform very well. I've also seen this grass thriving on the greens of the famous Nuwara Eliya Golf Club (below) high in the mountains of Sri Lanka, at Bangalore, and at the organically-managed Kodaikanal Golf Club in Tamil Nadu.


Científico Jefe: a note on cool job titles, translation, and some upcoming seminars

I used to call myself the Research Director of the Asian Turfgrass Center. Then I decided that Chief Scientist would be a fun (or a more rakish?) job title, and I am glad that I did, because Científico Jefe has a nice ring to it. At the invitation of La Asociación Española de Greenkeepers, I'll be speaking at the 34 Congreso Anual de Greenkeepers (Spanish Greenkeepers Congress) in Madrid at the end of this month on the topic of Nutrición y Requerimientos reales para greenes en España (Nutrient Requirements for Putting Greens in Spain).

I'm also giving a seminar for the Thai GCSA on 13 November. The topic on that day is putting green performance and will go into some detail about soil moisture, surface hardness, and how the organic matter in sand rootzones can be managed to optimize surface conditions. That seminar will be translated into Thai.

Ueno-micahIn February, I'll be giving seminars at Tokyo and Japan about ultradwarf bermudagrass management and in India about techniques that can be used to improve course conditions. Then in March at Thailand I will be teaching about turfgrass nutrient requirements, and I'll also be providing an online seminar (webcast) about seashore paspalum for GCSAA.

That is a lot to prepare for, on various topics, and we will see materials translated into Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. I'll share these slides and handouts as much as possible once they are available. 

For a list of upcoming seminars and conferences that may be of interest to those who work in the turf industry in Asia, see the ATC Calendar. I keep that calendar updated with relevant industry and educational events and although I'm not speaking at all of these events, I will be at some of them.