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Making greens

Posted by mynormas on November 26, 2013


The end of the year is upon us, and there will be many golf courses who are now working on the budget for next year. If the current trend continues, quite a few courses will be (or at least they SHOULD be) renovating their greens. There are a few construction methods for greens and I’d like to share my experience here.

The first cut is the deepest...

The first cut is the deepest…

Firstly, why do I call it ‘construction’ when at the same time, it is about renovations? Well for one, you need to understand the current (or perhaps you would call it ‘previous’) method of construction of your existing green. Because some clubs want to cut corners or are happy with the current design on the greens that all they want to do is to take a few inches off the top and mix in a new root-zone and just plant new grass. Two, some clubs may want to relocate their newly renovated greens slightly nearer to the lake or bunker. Three, some clubs may want to enlarge their existing greens. Or, four, you’re someone who’s curious about greens constructions. Heck, you’ve read this far already; might as well just read all the way through right? At least you’ll have an idea what the Course Superintendents and Club Managers are talking about.

By the way; a caveat; this is not an instruction of a ‘how-to’ build greens manual or suggestions of any kind. Its just a sharing of my experience. Your Superintendent will know the details or you could do your own research at USGA’s site; or you could give me a call O3-5I3I OO66.

“The green is the ‘heart’ of the golf course” said my club manager in 1993, the late Dato’ Benson Lim. The green is the most important part of the golf course. On a price per square foot, it is the most expensive to maintain and the most expensive to construct.

20 years ago, the early part of my golf course maintenance career was spent on a golf course that was still under construction by a Japanese firm. This was one of the first golf courses they build and for most people who supervised them – I included – this was our first golf course too. So you can imagine the pride I felt when I was told, and subsequently read in the marketing brochures that our green was constructed to “USGA standard”.

Imagine my surprise when not many people who work there – including the architect – could tell me exactly what a USGA specification green is. Imagine my bigger surprise when other clubs’ marketing brochures also touted their green as USGA standard specification! Of course the biggest surprise was whenever I brought up the subject of USGA specifications; my peers were vague and changed the subject. Me? I didn’t even know who or what USGA is.

So I did a bit of digging around and found that there are four main types of golf course construction; USGA, California, hybrid of USGA and California, and push-up green. Of course there are many other names, but basically there are about the same things, for example push-up greens are also called as ‘native soil greens’; especially since some people have this thought of a bra whenever the word ‘push-up’ is mentioned. And oh, by the way; USGA is the United States Golf association who, through their ‘Green Section’ does the research and development about stuff on the golf course.

We’ll talk about the other types of construction later. Right now let’s get back to what we shall term loosely as USGA greens, or as some of my foreign staff would say: “Oosgar grins”.

USGA specification for greens was developed way back in the 1960s with one amendment in the 1990s. Yeah it was that long ago. It was basically up to 18 inches deep with several layers of material, each layers has its own specification designed to – not just percolate water – but also to retain water at the same time. The sizes of sand for each layer was calculated and calibrated to not move water, until more water flowed down from the layer above. Genius and confusing for most people; no wonder nobody could explain the concept to me.

This is how a green profile should NOT look like... see the layering?

If your greens’ profile look like this; time to renovate.

It has also been described as ‘inverted water filter’, but very different from my expensive ionizing, hydrogenated, sulfinated, carborated, pH corrected, perforated water filter that only my maid knows how to use, it is about the filters of old where you can see a layer of gravel on top, underneath it is a layer of coarse sand, below it is a layer of slightly smaller diameter sand and below it finally a layer of fine white sand at the bottommost. The theory is that when you pour water from the top, dirt will be trapped in the layers of gravel and sand to give you clean water underneath the filter. Turn the whole filter upside down, and you get the general concept of the USGA green – simplified, of course.

To understand things better I paid a visit to a soil science professor in a local university and told him about how we planted grass. “WHAT!” he said; “Impossible! You can’t plant on sand!” “But Prof, we’ve been doing it for the past 40 years!” said the 20-something-year-old Assistant Golf Course Superintendent to the 50-something-year-old Soil Science Professor.

“But you cannot plant on sand!” he said, standing up. I stood up too; other than the fact that he was raining saliva on me, I was kinda worried just in case he had an axe or pitchfork around just for this occasion; some young upstart spewing out soil science blasphemies.

Well, turns out the good Professor was half-right and I was wrong; you see, the topmost layer is not made up of just pure sand. It is actually a layer called the ‘root-zone’ and it also consists of other organic or synthetic materials that help to retain nutrients and water. I’m sure if I told him that he would understand.

I don’t remember who the Professor was and I don’t think I met him again after that. Maybe that was a good thing too; I’m getting to be a bit too old for these kinds of shock meetings. Imagine my surprise (do you get a déjà vu feeling when you read that? Why am I continually surprised?) when in the next few years, greens constructed not according to USGA standards were doing better than greens following the USGA standard in the same golf course. Remind me to tell you about it. Keep your eyes on this space for the next article soon.

By the way, you could also check out my renovation pictures on Slideshare or look at other websites for more info. And yes, this article came out in a magazine called The Clubhouse about two years ago. It was written by me too and I am a regular contributor. It is also a free magazine you can pick up from your own club so do – you know – pick one up.

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