Greens and Grounds

Many of our members have expressed interest in the decision making process behind the maintenance techniques and implementation of projects on the golf course; some even offer advice and constructive criticism. While reporting on the detailed month to month program of maintenance would be of little interest to most, we believe the time is right to develop a periodical to keep you informed on key issues affecting the condition of our course. As the first in this program, this missive is rather long as I have to address a number of member queries which have built up over time, I do envisage they will be shorter in the future.
1The Bunkers: Why are our bunkers white?

It never ceases to amaze me how vehemently two golfers can disagree on what makes for a good course. But then, golf course design is subjective and what is “great” to one person may not be so for another. When it comes to bunkers our opinions are charged with even more emotion, and very few players seem to agree on what constitutes a good bunker. Typically, good players, who often have more “pull” at a club, like the bunkers firmer than average players. The moment they soften-up and you get semi-plugged or plugged lies, all hell breaks loose. The answer to consistently firm bunker surfaces lies in regimented and costly maintenance programs including purpose built bunker sprinkler systems

to keep the sand well irrigated especially during the dry winter months.

There has also been some criticism of the decision to stay true to the original design theme of “sand down” faces and not “grass down” faces. Firstly, the placement and visibility of bunkers varies according to the topography and style of course design. Most modern courses are designed to ensure that all hazards are visible, this helps define the strategy of each hole; without visible hazards you may as well play at night. The most memorable golf holes are ones where you can see everything unfold in front of you. The designer wants the golfer to see the entire hole or landing area when preparing to hit a shot so they can make an informed decision on how to play it. In terms of our sand down faces it is important to remember that we set-out to refurbish our existing bunkers and not to re-design and re-build them in more strategic positions. The bunkers were renovated in their existing locations taking into account the original (sand down) design theme, the topography of the surrounds and how they were situated in relation to the greens. The main focus was on improving the drainage and enlarging the playing surface in-order to simplify the maintenance.

I have been asked numerous questions about the design, and type of sand since the refurbishment was completed. I would like to share the most common with you:

Q. Who decided on the type and depth of the bunker sand?

A. The sand used is the recommended specification of the USPGA and complementary to the sand used in the construction of greens. The sand granules are at a size which facilitates good surface water drainage, which is essential, but does mean it dries out quickly. During construction the sand is laid at a depth of 150mm, and then compacted to 100mm, which is considered the ideal depth for drainage, playing and maintenance. Two things affect the depth and firmness of the surface: 1. How wet the sand is 2. How often the sand is compacted

During the wet summer months we usually get more than enough rain water in the bunkers to keep them consistently firm. When we experience extreme temperatures, and during the dry winter period the sand dries out quickly resulting in a softer, fluffy surface. We don’t have a specialised bunker irrigation system so rely on a process of watering by hand which is resource intensive and not highly effective during extended dry spells. Equipment plays an important role and the SandPro bunker rake is used to compact the surface. When it is out of action, the bunkers are raked by hand; a process which further promotes drying out and softening of the surface sand. We have ordered a second SandPro bunker rake so we will be able to increase the frequency of compacting process. However, the bad news, no matter how often we compact in winter, the bunkers will get softer. The sand depth in each bunker is checked every three months.

Q. Why did we choose white sand? (My favourite)

A. With the exception of some coastal courses which use beach sand, all bunker sand is white and gradually turns brown or dirty as it gets contaminated by pollution and indigenous soils which are washed in by rain storms. Just imagine Augusta with brown bunker sand!

Q. Why did we choose “sand down” faces instead of “grass down”?

A. Apart from staying within the original design theme, we simply didn’t have the budget to re-build the bunkers into positions which made sense of the “grass down” option. At the same time more rounded capes and steeper grass faces require mowing by hand or with string cutters as the sidewinder mowers cannot access these steep angled sides. With close to 60 bunkers to maintain, the by-hand option would have added considerably to our maintenance costs with arguably little benefit.

2The Greens: I can see the Dollar Spot, but who took the Dollars?
Keeping our aging greens in good condition is very challenging and requires constant intervention through fertilisers, fungicides and physical treatments like verti-cutting and hollow-tyning. There are a few common and easily identifiable diseases which all greens are prone to, and the one which was raised at the last AGM is Dollar Spot. Dollar Spot (Sclerotinia homoeocarpa); Dollar Spot is a common disease of the grass foliage which affects mainly the greens. It is active between 15-30C when there is high humidity or dew. It looks like light tan lesions or bleached spots on the surface of the greens and is most common in wet conditions where there are low nitrogen levels and little air movement. It is spread easily by the greens mower which sometimes results in long lines of affected areas on a green. Since the banning of heavy metal-based fungicides the industry has struggled to find a treatment which works fast. The new fungicides are effective, but require regular follow-up treatments and as a result take longer to control the disease. At the same time fertilisers need to be added to help the leaf recover and grow which in-turn means slower green speeds until the treatment is complete and successful. With the colder conditions of winter setting-in the Dollar Spot should go away until late spring. While the diagnosis of disease can usually only happen when the problem is visible, we do regular soil analysis to check on the health of the plant at root level, and to monitor the amounts of available fertiliser.
Soil fertility and plant nutrition are complex subjects which is why Golf Data have an expert Agronomist on their staff. Core samples are taken from our greens and fairways on a regular basis and analysed by an independent laboratory. The fertility of the soil is checked and corrective action is taken if and where necessary. It is not uncommon to find different levels of residual fertiliser on the greens of the front nine to those on the back nine due to the differences in the underlying soil structures and water content, which may explain why their appearance is sometimes different. Over and above this maintenance plan Golf Data has been experimenting with “cocktails” of fertilisers designed to improve the condition and growth of the Bent grass species while under nourishing the POA-Annua strains. This has had very positive effects on containing the spread of the POA Annua to date.
4Drainage and water damage: Don’t pay the Ferryman until you get to the other side!
The traditional drainage problems we experience on the 3rd fairway worsened considerably over the last two summer seasons extending the entire length of the fairway, spilling over to the 7th and 4th holes. We employed the services of a consulting geotechnical engineer, Dr Michael Pavlakis to investigate the problem and recommend solutions. Dr Pavlakis did a thorough investigation which included; • Analysis of historical site maps to rule out disused drainage pipes and breakages in the water mains • Drilling of trial holes/ditches at key locations to establish underground soil types and conditions • Analysis of core soil samples and the water It was established that the water seepage was being created by three contributing factors; 1. The excessive and heavy rainfall which was ponding for appreciable lengths of time in areas on and around the fairway; the bowl shape of the affected areas caused the percolation of surface water into the subsoil. 2. Fast ground water seepage due to the presence of boulders and rubble (probably as a result of the Motorway construction), and the presence of highly permeable alluvial clays. 3. The rising level of underground water throughout the Johannesburg area. Dr Pavlakis recommended remedial action which incorporated the construction of a series of deep cut-off drains together with a network of surface drains feeding into sumps situated in natural lows. This was to be complemented by the re-landscaping of the entire area to provide adequate surface gradients to ensure the speedy disposal of storm water. Unfortunately the early onset of summer rains prevented the implementation of these recommendations and we compromised by introducing a few emergency surface drains. The project will be revisited this winter.
5Storm water damage: What’s with the new Pot bunker on the 2nd fairway?
A considerable sink hole has formed at the 50 m mark on the 2nd fairway which we expect is a result of the break in the sewage system some months back. As the problem is related to the sewage and sluit system we are reliant on the municipal authorities to effect repairs. Bruce is in daily contact with the relevant people and things are moving as fast as the local authorities tend to move. To access the potential for further sink holes developing, Bruce has briefed a consulting engineer to do a thorough analysis of the area.
6Water Attenuation Project
The concept of re-establishing key segments of the sluit back into a natural river system was approved by all local interested parties and the relevant authorities’ immediately. The next phase of detailing the engineering specifications, ecological impact assessment studies and asking for tenders to implement the project went without a hitch. With nine out of the required ten green lights shining, the project came to a dramatic and unexpected halt when the paper work got caught-up in a bottle-neck at the water licencing department; a rubber stamping process at the end of an extensive process. A huge amount of effort and resources (formal and informal pleading, begging, threatening) has had no impact on greasing the wheels and we remain in the hands of the water licencing department. There is some light at the end of the tunnel (thanks mostly to an extra-ordinary effort from Dave Hirsch and the experts at ARUP) and it is possible that the restoration of the section between the 11th and 14th holes could start in July, but we will keep you posted. When we do get the final go-ahead, details of the scope of work together with the technical drawings will be posted in the Club House so you can re-acquaint yourselves with the project. It has also been agreed that Sean Quinn of Golf Data Design Group, who has been involved on our behalf during the planning phase, be appointed to look after our (golf course) interests during the construction phase.
7New Equipment
This week we took delivery of a range of new equipment; • Two new Toro 3000 greens mowers • Two new Toro 5010 fairway mowers • A new SandPro Bunker rake • Two new utility vehicles.
8The speed of our greens: What is the Stimpmeter and how does it work?
The Stimpmeter is a 36-inch long, aluminium tool used to make a standard measurement of the relative speed and uniformity of their greens. It's very low-tech, essentially just a small metal ramp that is angled down to a flat part of a putting green. At one end is a ball release notch that is designed so that a golf ball will always be released and start to roll when the Stimpmeter is raised to an angle of approximately 20 degrees to horizontal. The basic steps to measure green speed start by rolling three golf balls in one direction on a level area of the green. The three distances are measured and averaged. This step is repeated along the same line, but in the opposite direction. The distances obtained in steps one and two are averaged, resulting in the Stimpmeter reading for the green. The faster the green, the longer the distance the balls roll. A reading of 8 - 9 feet is considered a medium to fast speed for day-to-day play. It is a helpful management tool for the golf course but it is not intended for course-to course comparisons by golfers.