The Grass Is Greener
As far as turf problems go, it was one no club ever wants to face.
Kooindah Waters, the 86th-ranked golf course in Australia and long regarded as one of the best-value rounds money can buy just an hour north of Sydney, felt the wrath of Mother Nature at the beginning of the year. Soaring temperatures, particularly at the start of February, resulted in turf loss on every green complex, ranging from 10 percent irreversible damage to more than 50 percent on the worst affected surfaces. Not helping the cause was the club using raw groundwater to irrigate the property, a method known for its high iron and salt content that makes it extremely difficult to manage irrigation requirements in such extreme heat.
“Our greens were G2 bent grass, which is now an older version of the grass and not readily available,” says Andrew Porter, Kooindah Waters Golf Club’s general manager. “So we decided the best way to recover, after seeking numerous expert opinions in the industry, was to over-sow the existing greens with a blend of A1/A4 bent grass seed.”
The reason for the switch made sense – the A1/A4 blend had a superior tolerance to salt and heat, along with similar colouration to the G2 cut, meaning the two varieties would blend well together. The initial process, completed in late February, was to verticut (a vertical mowing technique that removes thatch build-up in the lawn so turf can breathe easy and better absorb nutrients), solid tyne, seed and top dress the greens.
Porter said the “grow in” process was a delicate balancing act due to the fact he had to keep the course open for play during the entire ordeal to soften the hit to club revenue.
“Cutting was kept at 5mm and there was regular top dressing and watering to keep the seed alive,” he says. “We also switched to fresh water during this time, using firefighting tanks and pumps and hand-watering greens to ensure the best quality water was being utilised.”
But complicating an already arduous restoration process was the region’s wettest March on record, rendering the prevention of seed washing off the greens a near-impossible task. The club also had a battle on its hands with local wildlife, with hundreds of local wood ducks finding the freshly seeded greens very much to their liking.
“In the end we had no choice but to replace our three worst affected greens with temporary ones for two months during March and April,” Porter says.
Yet after all this, somehow Porter and his team turned their fortunes around. In four months the standard of the course has improved dramatically, quickly ending speculation within the industry the layout had lost its appeal. With additional staff brought in for the task, all turf surfaces are better presented and trimmed, bunker playability (there are a lot!) has improved out of sight and the many landscaped areas catch the eye once again. “New policies and procedures have also been developed to provide water management guidance over the summer months,” says Porter, reinforcing the club’s commitment to remain green for good.
But new-look turf isn’t the only good news to come out of the club US PGA Tour winners Craig Parry and Andre Stolz call home. Kooindah Waters’ owner, Harman Global, has made significant capital improvements over the past two years with the welcome addition of new cart paths, a new fleet of golf carts fitted with award-winning Visage GPS technology, the installation of new irrigation pumps, various drainage upgrades and the complete rebuild of the bunkers on the sixth hole. The entire project has been managed and overseen by Troon’s experienced director of agronomy, David Lunardelli, and Porter, who arrived at Kooindah Waters from previous roles within the Troon golf family.
“I’m amazed at how quick the recovery has been. Playing today you’d never know anything happened,” says Stolz, who is seen daily honing his skills on Kooindah’s fairways.
Rugby league legend Jamie Lyon [see story here] agrees. “Kooindah’s greens were always pure and they’re getting back to the good old days,” says the ambassador of the course designed in 2006 by Ross Watson and Parry. “You feel like you’re escaping it all when you’re up here. I love the short par 3s in particular because while they may look tame enough from the tee, they force you to play great short-iron shots to avoid trouble. Such challenges are why I keep coming back.”
Kooindah Waters is open for public play and membership and resort accommodation is readily available. “We encourage everyone to come and play Kooindah Waters to see just how well this club has recovered so quickly after a major setback,” Porter says.
Kooindah Waters Golf Club
40 Kooindah Blvd, Wyong NSW
(02) 4351 0700
Green fees: From $30 to $85