Gulf Harbour Country Club director of golf Frazer Bond says there have been years of neglect of the fairways. Right, The difference between the top of the grass and the top of the sprinkler head shows the thickness of thatch. Photos, Jeremy Fourie
Poor turf maintenance has seen members of Gulf Harbour Country Club experience soggy fairways, plugged golf balls and ‘Course Closed’ signs over winter, but the club is taking steps to improve the condition of its fairways.
Last winter the condition of the fairways was responsible for closure of the course for around 60 days.
Remedial work is expected to cost a significant sum although the club’s director of golf, Frazer Bond, will not divulge even a ballpark figure.
“It’s a lot, not a little and it’s enough to make the problem go away,” Frazer says.
He says the fairways were neglected in the past because of financial limitations.
The current owner, GHCC 2016, took over in 2016. According to Frazer, the company has invested in things other than the fairways in the last two years, including infrastructure.
The course, which opened in 1997, is designed to have surface water move down the sloping fairways, towards low points where catch basins collect and discharge the water into the stormwater system. This relies on the grass surface being firm and without any significant build-up of thatch – a layer of organic matter that accumulates between the grass above and the soil below.
Frazer says long-serving members tell him that the course was, until a few years ago, always dry in winter, so the first step was to ask some specialists why this is no longer the case.
The resulting reports showed that due to insufficient and ineffective turf maintenance over the years, there is a thick layer of thatch under most of the fairways. Some of the sprinkler heads, which were flush with the grass around five years ago, now sit around 5cm below the grass level – a graphic indicator of the level of thatch build-up.
Further compounding the problem is the low surface water absorption rate of the predominantly clay soil.
In addition to advice from turf specialists, the club also spoke to previous superintendents Adam Jones, who managed the golf course grounds at the time of the World Cup of Golf in 1998, and Tony Jonas, who oversaw the course during the 2005 and 2006 New Zealand Opens at the club.
Based on these recommendations and conversations, the club developed a plan to remedy the soggy winter fairways. Central to the plan is scarification, the process of vertical cutting to remove and reduce the overall extent of the thatch layer. All fairways will be scarified in a checkerboard pattern and up to a depth of 20mm.
This approach, and also scarifying when the couch grass is in its peak growth stage, gives the fairways the best chance of recovery.
Before the onset of next winter, there will be a number of other works undertaken, including topdressing certain fairways with sand, unblocking or repairing catch basins that have been identified as problematic and mole-ploughing known wet areas.
The club will note how the course responds to the remedial work and if the signs are positive, the same process will be repeated the following summer.
The club expects the work will bring about a 40 percent improvement in the number of days over winter that the course is closed due to soggy fairways and unplayable conditions.