A Letter From Hamilton Golf Club Superintendent Grant Saunders

Hands up who saw this coming?
Certainly not me.
Its amazing how quickly things have changed. Instead of currently being on course, I’m at home writing this blog and helping my kids find bugs. We seem to have and abundance of praying mantis’s and blue ladybirds!

These little guys are everywhere at the moment

The reason I’m at home is due to the current level 4 nationwide government mandated lockdown as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our government has reacted to the situation by enforcing all those that aren’t considered “essential” to remain at home. On the list of essential services, greenkeeping isn’t to be found.

So, where does that place our course?
Many articles, public communications, news items etc are signalling this period allowing for no maintenance as the death knell for the game in this country. This may sound a bit over-dramatic, but I have seen at least one publication, by a supposedly world recognised body, that not mowing greens for a matter of weeks may result in the need for regrassing! Others are predicting wholesale destruction of greens and other surfaces as the result of disease.
This all sounds very ominous and the hyper connected world we exist in now means this message is spreading far and wide in record time.

It is true?
In a word, No! A lot of what is circulating in my view falls into the “fake news” category.

The 14th green, 10 days without mowing

Grass is remarkably resilient. It has been growing quite happily for millions of years without us here to do things to it on a daily basis and will continue to do so when we’re gone. If grass was reliant on human intervention, chemicals, water and such an intense regime, there wouldn’t be a single blade of grass to be found anywhere. Grasses level of adaptability and survival mechanisms as a result of natural selection are quite extraordinary.

What can we realistically expect?
Realistic is the key word here.
The greens and other turf areas are not going to up and die. They will grow a bit longer but certainly not up to your knees. When we can resume maintenance, we will have to progressively lower the height of cut back down to an acceptable level. Removing too much leaf tissue in one go can have negative outcomes and hinder the process. This does mean that initially, greens will putt differently from what you are used to. Steps will be taken to return conditions as fast as can be done safely without long term negative impact.

The greens are NOT going to look like this!

There may be some instances of disease. I don’t anticipate these to be even remotely catastrophic. We are in a time frame where humidity is mostly behind us but we still have some good warm temperatures to sustain recovery. Any disease that is encountered will be imminently more manageable than the disease pressure of the summer months. In anticipation of lockdown we did apply a preventative fungicide which should be effective for around 21 days. This combined with favourable climatic conditions should see us positioned  very well through this period. It may also surprise some people to learn that we actively allow some disease to progress unchecked at times. This gives us an opportunity to have the grasses build up some natural resistance and we can monitor the rate of infection. Its not beneficial to rush out and spray at the first minor signs of disease!

Browntop is much better at resisting disease

Things may dry out. We decommissioned the irrigation as part of the lockdown. Our system operates on constant pressure so any leaks or issues would not have been resolvable while we cant access the course. Our majority resource consent for pumping ceased at the end of March so we wouldn’t be applying large scale irrigation now anyhow. The weather has turned considerably now with cooler temperatures and more rain. Heavy dew will help as will the fact the grass will be using less water to grow. We ran the greens pretty dry back in January and February for tournaments and we were successfully able to recover areas that stressed out during that time while it was still summer!

Moisture meters allow us to confidently dry the profile out. This was mid January this year

All the hard work we have put in the past three years will help us through this. The efforts in reducing poa, organic matter reduction, sand topdressing, water reduction, less reliance on chemical inputs, less fertiliser etc. position our surfaces pretty well right now. They are much stronger and healthier now than previously which means they can withstand periods of stress much better.
We have a great team! This cant be overstated at this point in time and when we get the opportunity to resume caring for the course, I know that the guys will go about the task with great dedication and care. And that is an important distinction to make right now: it is a process that needs to be undertaken carefully! It will be measured and well planned with long term forecasting being a factor. We have had good dialogue with the New Zealand Sports Turf Institute  through this time and they are certainly supportive of our view about how things will play out.

What can you do?
So the main message here to you, the members, is please don’t panic! I understand that its easy to overthink the situation and maybe start to see problems where there aren’t actually any. We do welcome the feedback being provided from you on you’re walks across the course but please do appreciate that things will simply look different to what you are accustomed to seeing. This doesn’t necessarily means that the turf is experiencing problems or stress, it just means that you are seeing it in a stage that you wouldn’t normally.
Please, take advantage of the ability to post questions here or to reach out through other channels. Being able to hopefully ease your concerns will be good for everyone and put us on the best path to dealing with whats been dealt to us.
My email is [email protected] if you wish to contact me directly

Stay safe

The Maintenance Team

Hamilton Golf Club, New Zealand