Getting it right this time

The greens at SGCC get a makeover again…after 3 years

By SHIV DAS

It’s never ending work, keeping a golf course in superb condition, even for ordinary play. What more, if it happens to be a championship course that bubbles over with the excitement of major professional and amateur tournaments.

The Saujana Golf and Country Club (SGCC), for instance, with its championship Palm Course, has hosted the Malaysian Open nine times, the Eisenhower Cup, a men’s world amateur team championship, the Espirito Santo Trophy — the women’s equivalent for amateurs — in 2002, The Open International Qualifying Asia (three times), Queen Sirikit Cup, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Ladies Team Championship and Kosaido Malaysian Ladies Open (three times).

In the past two years it’s been the Maybank Championship, courtesy of a challenging course and everything else that makes SGCC a venue of repute.

The greens are the focal point, as tournaments are largely won, or lost, on them.

“Drive for show, putt for dough” is a time-worn saying.

So, it’s understandable when GM SA Nathan says enthusiastically, “Can you see the grass growing?” as we stood on the threshold of the 18th green just outside the Golfer’s Terrace. He cautioned about getting too close, as chemicals had been applied.

The grass is under black sheet netting. Yes, there’s visible green underneath and course superintendent Mohd Razip Dahalan takes over to explain the intricacies involved in the Palm Course’s greens makeover.

The netting is to prevent erosion and keep moisture in for the “stolon” that’s been planted. Stolon is stem and roots, all cleaned up, of the TifEagle grass that’s found favour for use on the greens. It’s imported from America, but has been “domiciled” for the past three years on the greens following the first re-turfing carried out.

Nathan had written to SGCC’s 2,000 members in April saying the exercise was necessary after key weaknesses, that had led to the hiccup, had been identified. Incessant rain and lack of prolonged periods of sunlight necessary for healthy growth of grass had caused the situation last year. Severe compaction at the root zone had also contributed to poor, uneven growth reflected in unsightly green, yellowish patchiness.

The situation couldn’t have arisen at a worse time — just before the Maybank Championship last year. Scrambled solutions didn’t quite work.

Damage control was all that could be done. This time around, of the many options considered, removal and replacement of the top six inches of the root zone with the desired sand profile, plus re-turfing with healthy TifEagle stolons, were seen as the answer.

Trust has been placed on course architect Ronald Fream, no stranger to this part of the world, who was brought in to advise and assist. Not one for anything less than perfection,

SGCC chairman Tan Sri Razali Abdul Rahman ordered the complete revamp of all 18 greens, bearing in mind the next Maybank Champion- ship is slated for January 2019.

Back to Mohd Razip, the man under pressure to deliver. But with years of experience behind him he seems undaunted. He gives his take, saying:

“The greens are having their six inches at the top replaced with pure river sand, with granules of a certain recommended size. The six inches of sand is on two inches of soil fortified by nutrients. Once that’s done, a plate roller presses the stolon into the mix.”

It’s tender loving care all the way, with daily inspections. Razali himself heads the task force entrusted with the job. There’s reputation at stake.

Instead of importing the grass fresh from the US, healthy existing specimens are being propagated on temporary greens that act as nurseries. The good thing is that it’s grass that has acclimatised to the local environment and taken on a hardiness that can be relied on.

Ensuring proper drainage is key to counteract effects of too much rain. It’s adequate sand structure that will now take care of that. “No problem even if we have a high of 60mm of rain at any one time,” adds Mohd Razip confidently.

The course was closed in April for work to be completed in five months. Indeed, the first mowing can be carried out after three months of planting for ordinary play, but with the Maybank Championship in mind, a six-or seven-month wait is being held as the better option to ensure proper maturity.