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September 2013

What are the best grasses for links golf?

I'm often asked about grasses that will look like fine fescue, or will produce the playability characteristics of fine fescue, in a tropical or subtropical climate in Asia. I've written about this in the January 2013 issue of Golf Course Architecture in an article entitled Achieving the warm season links. And I am motivated to write about this again, because the grasses that are usually chosen for new courses or renovation projects in South China, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, tend to be species that cannot produce those playability characteristics, or, if the grass is to produce the desired surface, it can only be accomplished with high maintenance expenses.

There is a general consensus that fine fescue produces an ideal playing surface for links courses in climates to which these species are adapted. We can find these fescue grasses growing wild in various places, including in rocks beside the sea.

Fine fescue at Heimaey in Iceland

I find it useful to study which grasses grow wild in a particular area, and to study what type of environment the various grasses are growing in. Fine fescues are stress tolerators, meaning they will live in areas of high stress and low intensity disturbance. Without going into extensive discussion of plant biology, the defining characteristics of stress tolerators are just what one wants in a turfgrass to produce links surfaces.

Fine fescue growing in an environment of high stress and minimal disturbance at Hafnarfjörður, Iceland

When we go to tropical Southeast Asia, we find one grass growing in environments analogous to those in which we find the stress tolerating fine fescue growing in cool climates. This grass is manilagrass (Zoysia matrella).

Manilagrass growing in an environment of high stress and minimal disturbance at Ishigaki, Japan

Manilagrass is a stress tolerator, with the same desirable characteristics for links surfaces as those found in fine fescue: slow growth rates, long-lived leaves, low nutrient requirements, and superior shade tolerance. In short, manilagrass is the fine fescue of the tropics. 

Manilagrass growing in rocks beside the ocean at Ishigaki, Japan

Even though manilagrass is the grass most similar to fine fescue in its survival strategy, when it comes to new golf courses in South China or Southeast Asia, manilagrass is rarely used. Rather, seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) or bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.) are the most common grasses planted.

To read more about this topic, see:

Correcting a common misapprehension about seashore paspalum

Grass selection for golf greens and fairways in Asia

Asian Turfgrass Climate Charts, a website with information related to climate and its influence on turfgrass selection and turfgrass performance

Grime's Evidence for the Existence of Three Primary Strategies in Plants and Its Relevance to Ecological and Evolutionary Theory

Grime's Plant Strategies and Vegetation Processes

Universal adaptive strategy theory

Why manilagrass (Zoysia matrella) is the best choice for links-style golfing surfaces in East and Southeast Asia

Manilagrass photo gallery

Turfgrass Notes from Iceland

IcelandI was at Iceland last week to speak with the Icelandic Green- and Groundskeepers Association about turfgrass nutrient requirements. This is a quick summary report of interesting things I noted on this trip, along with a gallery of annotated photos I've posted to Flickr. You can read more about the seminar and download the presentation slides and handout here.

  • The association were most hospitable, allowing me to visit 11 golf courses on this trip, along with other botanical expeditions to geysers, waterfalls, ocean cliffs, volcanic craters, and lawns.
  • There are 70 golf courses in Iceland. The population is 320,000. Many people are surprised that there are so many courses. 
  • The courses here are at 63 to 66° N. The temperature, however, is moderated by the Gulf Stream. It is relatively cool, but not exceedingly cold, and fine fescue (Festuca rubra) thrives here.


Lots of fine fescue and other grasses growing at majestic Gullfoss
  • For a look at how temperatures in Reykjavik may influence turf growth and nitrogen requirement, see this document which includes figures and charts about growth potential of Reykjavik in comparison to other world cities. In summary, Reykjavik has a short growing season.
  • In mown, irrigated, and fertilized turf, Poa annua can grow well also. Turfgrass managers in Iceland are trying to encourage the growth of Festuca and discourage the growth of Poa.
  • Because most of the courses are near the ocean, salt spray can be a problem in discoloring and reducing the growth rate of the grass. Geysir GC, 63 km from the sea, is the most inland course in the country.
  • Keilir GC golf course manager and Green- and Groundskeeper Association board member Bjarni Þór Hannesson is a member of the critically acclaimed band Worm is Green. They've toured in China, Eastern Europe, and the United States, and I recommend going to a show if they are ever in your area. 
  • Iceland and its grasses and golf courses are fascinating. Do visit if you ever have a chance. It is a convenient stop when traveling between the United States and Europe. 

A Method for Estimating Turfgrass Nutrient Requirements: a report from the Icelandic Greenkeepers Association meeting

This week I spoke at a meeting of the Icelandic Green- and Groundskeepers Association at beautiful Keilir Golf Club in Hafnarfjörður

KeilirI described a 5 step method for estimating turfgrass nutrient requirements. Accurate estimates of turfgrass nutrient requirements ensure that turf is supplied with enough of each element that it requires, so that the turf can perform at a high level. At the same time, this process ensures that the growth rate of the turf is controlled, and that excessive fertilizer applications are avoided.

The 5 steps, which are explained in detail in the presentation slides and accompanying 4 page handout, involve these core priniciples:

  1. The elemental content of fertilized turfgrass leaves is relatively constant
  2. The amount of nitrogen used by the grass controls growth and uptake of the other nutrients
  3. A temperature-based growth potential can predict how much nitrogen the grass will use
  4. The MLSN (minimum level for sustinable nutrition) guidelines ensure that soil nutrient levels remain high enough to produce excellent turf conditions
  5. By considering the previous points, mathematically, the minimum nutrient requirement can be determined


20130927_iceland_handoutSlides from this presentation, entitled A Method for Estimating Turfgrass Nutrient Requirements, are available for download as a 2.8 MB pdf file. 

The 4 page handout (86 kb, pdf) to accompany the presentation provides additional explanations and references, along with links to more information on this important topic.

Nutrient requirements and turfgrass growth potential are closely linked to soil nutrient guidelines. At the seminar, I mentioned the Global Soil Survey, a new citizen science initiative that enlists turfgrass managers from around the world in the development and refinement of new soil nutritional guidelines.  

2013 Indian Golf Union Greenkeeper Education Programme

2013_igu_greenkeeper_programme.pdf (1 page)The Indian Golf Union (IGU) have announced the schedule for their 2013 Greenkeeper Education Programme. The course will be conducted at:

  • Mysore, South Zone, 18 to 22 November
  • Ahmedabad, West Zone, 25 to 29 November
  • Delhi, North Zone, 2 to 6 December
  • Jamshedpur, East Zone, 9 to 13 December

The theme of this year's programme is Solving Turfgrass Problems and Optimizing Playing Conditions. In addition to the new material in this year's educational sessions, content from the 2011 and 2012 sessions will be briefly reviewed. For more details and registration information for the 2013 programme, download the fact sheet.

This report provides photos, videos, and a summary of last year's programme.

The greenkeeper education programme is a service of the IGU designed to improve the playing conditions of golf courses in India. This programme is supported by The R&A, and the educational sessions are led by Micah Woods from the Asian Turfgrass Center, with specialized training also provided by experts from member companies of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.

Global Soil Survey discussion on TurfChat episode 33

The Global Soil Survey was the topic of this week's TurfChat. Watch the video to hear Larry Stowell and I, along with host John Kaminski and the other participants, explain this exciting new project. 

GSS-1-1This citizen science research project will have a big and positive effect on the way we think about and practice turfgrass fertilization. This builds on the minimum levels for sustainable nutrition (MLSN) guidelines that we introduced in 2012, now giving the opportunity for turfgrass managers from around the world to participate in this ongoing and exciting research project.

The Global Soil Survey is designed to produce and refine a new set of soil nutritional guidelines for turfgrass. These guidelines are developed to identify the lowest nutrient levels needed to support the desired levels of turf quality and playability. The MLSN guidelines are already being used at hundreds of golf courses to great success. With the Global Soil Survey, these guidelines will get even better.

Monthly Turfgrass Roundup (August 2013)

Tools-korai-keyaIn case you missed them, these articles and links from August are likely to be of interest to turfgrass managers in Asia:

ATC and PACE Turf introduced the Global Soil Survey for Sustainable Turf, a new citizen science initiative developed to generate new and improved nutritional guidelines for turf.

My presentation on Minimum Nutrient Requirements for Putting Green Turf, given as part of the Philippine Turfgrass Forum 2013, in available for viewing in its entirety in this video, or for download of the presentation slides or supplemental presentation handout.

From the same turfgrass forum, hosted by University of the Philippines Los Baños, watch my presentation on Five Easy Ways to Improve Turfgrass Performance, or download the presentation slides in PDF format.

The Malaysia International Golf Symposium is coming up on October 21 to 23. Full details on the comprehensive educational program and networking events of the symposium, along with registration forms, are available from the Malaysian Golf Association.

Does extra potassium fertilizer improve bermudagrass performance when soil sodium is high? The short answer is no. Read more here.

Brian Whitlark wrote about Championship Green Speed in a fascinating USGA Southwest Region update.

Superintendent Andrew McDaniel of Keya Golf Club was interviewed in this pre-tournament profile before the Vana H Cup KBC Augusta tournament on the Japan Golf Tour. 

The KBC Augusta tournament is unique in that it is the only regular event on the Japan men's tour played on korai (Zoysia matrella, or manilagrass) greens. This video, using a Greenstester set 10 feet from the hole, shows how smooth the ball rolls on korai greens under tournament conditions.

An interesting turf mystery showed bermudagrass invading a korai green, and some different growth characteristics of the two species.

For more about turfgrass management in Asia, browse the many articles available for download on the ATC Turfgrass Information page, subscribe to this blog by e-mail or with an RSS reader - I use Feedly, or follow @asianturfgrass on Twitter. Link and article roundups from previous months can be seen here.

Notes from a Japanese Pro Tournament: korai greens, data, and rain

Last week I spent six days at Keya GC in Fukuoka for the Vana H Cup KBC Augusta 2013 tournament on the Japan Golf Tour. Why this tournament? There were two main reasons.

First, Keya's golf course superintendent is Andrew McDaniel, who was featured in this impressive video interview on KBC television, and who I first worked with in 2001 when I was a superintendent in Japan. I wanted to participate and help out in course preparation as much as I could.

Second, Keya GC has korai (Zoysia matrella, manilagrass) greens, and I wanted to study the ball roll on these greens under tournament conditions. This tournament is unique. It is the only tournament on the Japan Golf Tour played on korai greens.

Close-up of korai putting surface at Keya GC during the Vana H Cup KBC Augusta 2013 tournament

Each morning on selected greens, I collected a suite of data: soil and surface temperature, soil moisture content and surface hardness, and green speed.

Clegg impact soil tester, TDR-300 soil moisture meter, stimpmeter, and soil and surface thermometers used to collect performance and environmental data from putting greens

I also used a Greenstester to measure the reliability of the putting surfaces by conducting the Holing Out Test. The roll on these greens was very reliable. This video shows superintendent Andrew McDaniel on the 18th green conducting the Holing Out Test with the Greenstester set a distance of 10 feet from the hole.

In the afternoons, I mowed fairways. I should note that there was excellent support from vendors, with extra mowing equipment provided by Shibaura, and tournament support reel grinding provided by Bernhard Grinders.

The fairways and tees at Keya GC are also korai (manilagrass), and the roughs are noshiba (Zoysia japonica). 

Bunker_flood_keyaThis had been a dry summer in Fukuoka, and there were only 2 days with appreciable rain from July 7 to August 23. Then, the weekend before the tournament, it rained nonstop. I take these data (the course's weather station recorded even more rain) from the Maebaru weather station 7 km from the golf course. Saturday before the tournament there was 102.5 mm of rain. On Sunday it rained even more, 112 mm. That is more than 8 inches of rain in two days. It continued raining on Monday morning but the practice rounds were able to begin at 11:00. 

The rain wasn't over, however, as tropical storm Kong-Rey passed right over Fukuoka on Friday night. So there was an additional 200+ mm of rain that fell on the course, flooding bunkers and covering greens and fairways with standing water.

It was an amazing amount of rain. From Saturday, 24 August, until Sunday, 1 September, 389 mm (15.3 inches) of rain fell at Maebaru. The course weather station, Andrew informs me, collected 480 mm (18.9 inches) of rain over this same period. At Fukuoka City, there were 501 mm (19.7 inches)!

Play was halted Friday morning and resumed again midday Saturday. The grounds crew at Keya repaired bunkers and got the course ready for play in exemplary fashion, and even with a steady rain on the final day, the tournament, shortened to 54 holes, was completed. This was an extraordinary week of rainfall, and an extraordinary week of effort by the course maintenance team at Keya Golf Club.