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Posts Tagged ‘landscape’

Of workers that work.

Posted by mynormas on August 8, 2018

Whether we like it or not, golf courses need to reduce workers. The new reality is that employing foreigners will be a luxury more than the norm in the near future. Malaysia – and I mean both government and us – must commit to reduce the number of foreign workers in Malaysia. Let’s face it; as members of the public drive by the 150-acre golf courses or sit in the comfortable clubhouses, most won’t be convinced that working in a golf club belong in the three-D (Dirty, Dangerous and Difficult) category.

The only ‘D’ that prevents us from hiring better workers is ‘Demeaning’. I mean, I have gone to many golf courses’ maintenance facilities, seen their deplorable condition and talked to many superintendents, managers and even owners and to too many of them; golf course workers only cut grass.

We hire a worker, we get another worker to teach him/her how to start/move a machine and we want him/her to stay for 20 years operating the same machine. Go ahead, stop a worker at work on your course and ask him how long he has work there and what he knows. I have met a worker who has worked almost 20 years and all she knows is raking bunkers and sweeping leaves. Go ahead and ask him/her the name of the grass on the course or if you happen to meet some one spraying; ask him/her what is in the spray tank. They know nothing because we don’t think much of them or what they do and we teach them nothing.

Yeah. We demean our workers; by getting the cheapest possible. We demean the work that they do by looking down on them, limiting their knowledge and their advancement. We demean our Superintendents by not hiring the best, by not increasing their knowledge, their pay and not giving them opportunities to do so; by not training a second tier of supervisors able to take over the Superintendent’s job so that they are not irreplaceable. But in the same breath; many Superintendents demean themselves too; by not giving or being the best, by not increasing their own knowldege, not looking for opportunities to better themselves and by not training their own replacements so that they are promotable.

Push yourself

I can talk some more about the hiring of local workers but I worry that we miss the real issue here; about reducing the need for a large crew altogether.

And to be clear; I talk from experience, I once reduced the number of field staff from 42 to 18 and was still voted the “Best Maintained Course in Malaysia” in 1999/2000.

Belanja minum?

Derma untuk belanja saya dan memberi lebih tenaga supaya lebih kreatif!

5.00RM

So I say, let’s reduce the need for staff regardless of local or foreign. The question is, how can we lower the number of staff required to maintain a golf course? Well, here are some of my suggestions:

  1. Mechanise. Walk-behinds need more manpower. The thing is, most golf courses ‘cheat’; it should take six walk-behinds to equal two triplex mowers (the goal should be to finish mowing in front of the first flight i.e. 9.00 a.m) but many golf courses get by with using two or four walk-behinds. But seriously, get a good triplex mower, finish mowing at 9.00 a.m, backlap for 10 minutes, take a 20 minute break and by 9.30 your operator can start to mow fairways or rough already. Or, use six walk-behinds and provide each one with a transport so they too finish at 9.00 a.m. and then operate other machines. That is just one example ya, you can also find ways to minimise the use of brush-cutters.
  2. Slow down growth. Use plant growth regulators (PGR) to slow down the growth of the grass. What it does is it shortens the internodes and makes the grass grow shorter.
    Benefits: It has a side effect of creating denser stands of turf. You can cut down up to 30% of your mowing needs.
    Disadvantages: you need to apply regularly to reap the benefits and this has cost but if done correctly the benefits outweigh the costs.pgr-primo-comparison
  3. Some architecutur… architektural… some design changes. The kind that will help you reduce workers. It is best if you do it from the beginning but perhaps you can reduce your dependence on future workers by using the current workers in redesigning your course. Some examples; have less steep slopes, reduce quantity of bunkers (or at least, don’t lah have the high-faced KLGCC type of bunkers). I never can understand the need for these kind of high maintenance bunkers. Ya, ya, ya, the new textile mat you put on the bunker face holds the sand and less need for maintenance. The comparison is between two high-faced bunkers; one with the mat and one without. I challenge you to compare maintenance cost of one high-faced bunkers with the mat and one bunker with low sand face or a ‘turf bunker’.bunker mats
  4. Upskill or multiskilled. Train your existing workers or workers you want to keep so that they know more or can do more. Why have three workers that can only operate the ubiquitous brush-cutter, knapsack sprayer and scisssors when you can have one who can operate a ride-on mower, a hedge trimmer and a boom sprayer even if you have to pay two person’s salary for that one guy/girl. No one worker can do only one job “Everyone can do everything” was a motto I had when I reduced the staff number on my 18 holes from 42 labourers to 18 professionals in the 1990s. Training also reassure your staff that you are thinking about their future and will help you in retaining the good ones.the only thing worse than training
  5. Be creepy. For steep slopes that can’t be mown with a machine, use creepers like Wedelias or Arachis pinto or perhaps even Weeping Lovegrass or maybe leaving it ‘naturalised’ i.e. unmaintained but managed (I have a no-creeper, no-small-trees policy in these ‘wild’ areas).
    Benefits: do it right and you give more color to a simple slope. You can save a lot of manpower here. This is where the need for foreign workers is highest.
    For some deep rough, you can ‘naturalise’ it by leaving it wild but managing it by, once or twice a year, sending workers to slash small trees, wild creepers etc.
  6. Don’t do weeding. Well, I mean not totally don’t do, but don’t have four extra workers to do manual weeding every day. We keep comparing ourselves with our Indonesian and Thai neighbours that have ‘so many workers’ to do weeding but we don’t compare ourselves with American or Australian courses that don’t do weeding. Yeah. They use sprayers with selective herbicides.Weed spray vs manual
  7. Plant less trees. I know, it sounds contrarian right? The thing is, trees create shade that forces grass to extend their leaves upward to look for more sunlight, creating more mowing needs. More trees will also reduce opportunities to mechanise your mowing thereby increasing your worker population. Plus, the roots of some trees (Khaya and Raintree anyone?) grow out of the soil and will damage mower blades, walkways, paths, even roads. If you need a lot of trees, remember how big they become five or ten years later and plant so that the canopies of the trees are just touching each other.
    Benefits: you can save up to 50% of the staff dedicated to manual mowing of that area, if you implement mechanization (not doable with a lot of trees).
    Disadvantages: in the beginning, your golf course is going to look empty when the trees are young. Resist the temptation to fill in the gaps! When the trees grow older, they need more space.

    problem-with-trees

    The problem with trees especially when too many.

  8. Avoid urea. Actually, refrain from using too much nitrogen fertilising on your grass. Malaysian groundskeepers love using urea on their turfgrass because it gives them instant green-up. Of course it does, it contains 46% nitrogen! And nothing else!
    I’m not saying you don’t fertilise, I’m just saying don’t use straight fertiliser with only one nutrient; example Urea!
    Nitrogen fertilising gives surge growth that you have to mow aggresively. In fact, ask your superintendent about MLSN the new trend in fertilising turf (hint: the ‘M’ is for minimum)
  9. Use shrubs to reduce mowing or in places where grass is difficult to grow; for example under big trees or near building or small kerbs. We can use Rhoeo discolor or Iris or Spider Lilies or many others.

    base-of-tree-no-mow

    Alternatives to grass when in areas that have to use hand-mow.

  10. Rotate your poison. If you use herbicide to kill the grass at your border fence, kerbs or even drains in the name of saving manpower; avoid weed succession by using different kind of herbicides.

The list is of course longer but I hope you get it.

With the ringgit as it is now, it is expensive to buy turfgrass machinery. So now we are stuck with too expensive to use manpower and also too expensive to use machinery. What’s going to become of Malaysian golf courses eventually?

If you need help with planning any of the above; please do give me a call or fill up the form below (don’t worry, it won’t show up here).

Maintaining this Website. Sumbangan.

Saya menyumbang ilmu secara ikhlas melalui laman web ini. Tetapi pengendalian laman web ini perlukan wang. Setiap tahun USD99 (lebihkurang RM400). Sedikit sumbangan anda amat membantu. Anda mendapat manafaat dari laman web ini? Sumbangan bermula dari $10. Jangan lupa ‘Like’ artikel ini; ‘Follow’ laman web ini dan klik mana mana iklan di page ini. This website is maintained and managed with my own money. I’ve done my best to not allow advertisement on this site thus far so that I can be independent. I’m going to start to ask for donations and see if I can get enough to sustain it that way. Donations start from $10.

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Posted in Fields, Golf Course, Golf Course Superintendents, Landscape, Maintenance, Padang Golf | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Less Workers

Posted by mynormas on January 20, 2017

The cost of hiring foreign workers is rising in Malaysia and will continue to rise. In 2018, employers will have to pay levy for the workers through the Employers Mandatory Committment or EMC that will come into force after it was postponed from 2017. As far as turfgrass maintenance in golf course, football fields, parks, lawn, roadside and wherever else goes, I would have liked to say “Now is the time to look for local workers with specialised training and/or interest” but from experience, such advice aren’t taken well by employers and many will have their side of the story regarding employing local workers too. Even if it didn’t happen to them, they know who it happened to, or at least they know who can tell you who it happened too or maybe, they remember someone telling them the story.

So I say, let’s reduce the need for staff regardless of local or foreign. The question is, how can we lower the number of staff required to maintain a football field, golf course, parks or even lawns? Well, here are some of my suggestions:

  1. Use artificial grass. You probably are thinking about the football field sized area with plastic turf but I am also pointing out that 75mm strip of grass between your kerb and the drain that you have to send a worker with a brushcutter to cut. Or that small area between your Ixora shrub and the kerb. Or that 300mm wide but 50 meter long between lamp-posts. Artificial grass needs no mowing and very little maintenance. There are of course pros and cons for using artificial grass on playing fields but they matter little to the areas I mentioned.
    Benefits:it will look neater and prettier. Depending on how much of your area is planted with this small areas, you may cut down from 0 to 10% of your existing staff.
    Disadvantages, these small pieces of plastic turf can be difficult to install.

    p_20170118_103721_1_p

    Wouldn’t this look much better with green coloured grass, even if it’s artificial grass?

  2. Plant less trees. I know, it sounds contrarian right? The thing is, trees create shade that forces grass to extend their leaves upward to look for more sunlight, creating more mowing needs. More trees will also reduce opportunities to mechanise your mowing thereby increasing your worker population. Plus, the roots of some trees (Khaya and Raintree anyone?) grow out of the soil and will damage mower blades, walkways, paths, even roads. If you need a lot of trees, remember how big they become five or ten years later and plant so that the canopies of the trees are just touching each other.
    Benefits: for large areas like golf course rough or parks, up to 50% of the staff dedicated to that area, if you implement mechanization.
    Disadvantages: in the beginning, your golf course or park is going to look empty when the trees are young. Resist the temptation to fill in the gaps! When the trees grow older, they need more space.

    problem-with-trees

    The problem with trees especially when too many.

  3. Be creepy. For steep slopes that can’t be mown with a machine, use creepers like Wedelias or Arachis pinto. Or perhaps even Weeping Lovegrass or even leaving it unmaintained but managed (I have a no creeper, volunteer oil palm or small trees policy in these ‘wild’ areas).
    Benefits: do it right and you give more color to a simple slope. You can save a lot of manpower here. This is where the need for foreign workers is highest.
    Disadvantages: more, well rumours of more snakes (honest, that’s what a worker told me though he admits he never saw one). Also, once a year, will still need to do some upkeep work on it.
  4. Slow down. Use plant growth regulators to slow down the growth of the grass. What it does is it shortens the internodes and makes the grass grow shorter.
    Benefits: It has a side effect of creating denser stands of turf. You can cut down up to 30% of your mowing needs.
    Disadvantages: you need to apply regularly to reap the benefits and this has cost even if the benefits outweigh the costs.pgr-primo-comparison
  5. Avoid urea. Actually, refrain from using too much nitrogen fertilising on your grass. Malaysian groundskeepers love using urea on their turfgrass because it gives them instant green-up. Of course it does, it contains 46% nitrogen! And nothing else! It’s like taking lots of vitamin C and no other vitamins. You’ll get diarrhoea but at least you have good skin. Ok, may be that’s not such a good example.
    Benefit of not applying too much nitrogen: you don’t weaken your turfgrass yet assume that you are helping it grow with ‘fertiliser’. Why don’t you try not eating anything else except oranges; see how healthy you can be.
    Disadvantages: less green colour on the grass.
    I’m not saying you don’t fertilise, I’m just saying don’t use straight fertiliser with only one nutrient; example Urea!
    Nitrogen fertilising gives surge growth that you have to mow aggresively.
  6. Some architecutur… architectural… some design changes. The kind that will help you reduce workers. It is best if you do it from the beginning but perhaps you can spend 2017 to reduce your dependence on workers by using the workers in redesigning your field. Some examples, have less steep slopes, for golf courses, don’t have so many bunkers, reduce small areas that need to be hand-mown; instead of having three 1-metre wide dividers with small trees at your parking lot, have one 2.5-metre wide divider with big trees for shade and use paint or concrete dividers for the rest.
  7. Mechanise. Use ride-on mowers instead of knapsack or push mowers or walk-behinds. On golf course greens, walk-behinds need more manpower. You can get around this by training all operators on walk-behinds so that they mow greens in the morning for two hours then they go to their normal jobs. It takes about 2-8 man-days to mow a football field with a push-mower but only four man-hours with a ride-on. Instead of using a few knapsack or handsprayers, consider using a calibrated boom sprayer.
  8. Use shrubs to reduce mowing or in places where grass is difficult to grow; for example under big trees or near building or small kerbs. We can use Rhoeo discolor or Iris or Spider Lilies or many others.

    base-of-tree-no-mow

    Alternatives to grass when in areas that have to use hand-mow.

  9. Upskill or multiskilled. Train your existing workers or workers you want to keep so that they know more or can do more. Why have three workers that can only operate the ubiquitous brush-cutter, knapsack sprayer and scisssors when you can have one who can operate a ride-on mower, a hedge trimmer and a boom sprayer even if you have to pay two person’s salary for that one guy/girl. No one worker can do only one job “Everyone can do everything” was a motto I had when I reduced the staff number on my 18 holes from 42 labourers to 18 professionals in the 1990s.
  10. Rotate your poison. If you use herbicide to kill the grass at your border fence, kerbs or even drains in the name of saving manpower; avoid weed succession by using different kind of herbicides.

The list is of course a lot more but I guess you get it. I just wish the government would play ball and help out with the turfgrass mower tax and such. I mean, the government can earn a lot more when tourists come here to play golf than on the tax money from the sale of turfgrass equipment. In fact, I think the government would do well to subsidise or somehow reward any employer that can show the purchases they are going to make can reduce the number of workers by a certain percentage.

With the ringgit as it is now, it is expensive to buy turfgrass machinery. So now we are stuck with too expensive to use manpower and also too expensive to use machinery. What’s going to become of Malaysian golf courses eventually?

If you need help with planning any of the above; please do not hesitate to give me a call.

Thank you.

Posted in Fields, Golf Course, Landscape, Padang, Padang Bola, Padang Golf | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wetting agent

Posted by mynormas on March 18, 2014

Sometimes I forget that some people do take things literally.

Once, after a lengthy explanation about the role of soil wetting agents and still not getting through, I made a remark that how it works is not unlike how detergent works in removing oil when we wash dishes, in fact, I said think of wetting agents as expensive detergents.

Many months later, on my monthly visit, I saw the greens having this splotches of dead grass. They suspiciously look like poisoned grass (remember this website is for the layman) with the leaves still intact but brown in colour. “What happened?” I asked. “Nothing really” said the supervisor, “these blotches just happened”.

“What did you apply?” I said

“Nothing!” he said, starting to sound defensive “I put out wetting agent on the dry spots like you said”

“You did? You watered them in?”

“Of course I did”

“You use the same rate?”

“No, the supplier gave a different rate because we used a different wetting agent”

“Uh. What brand did you use?” I was starting to be a little more worried for the other greens now.

“No brand, I tried to get the best price I could and the supplier told me to take this one because it is the cheapest he had”

“How cheap?” I asked suspiciously.

“It was the cheapest, the supplier said it was as good as detergent. I remembered you said that wetting agent was detergent, so I bought it”

And that was what happened to the greens. Of course, the following day, during the compuslory briefing the Boss, I blamed it on the hot and dry weather.

wetting agent over dose

Note that the damage was specific. The grass beside it had no signs or symptoms whatsoever.

Some weird spraying action going on here...

Some weird spraying action going on here…

Fortunately, the greens survived and recovered about two weeks later. For the better. So perhaps, it did work as a wetting agent anyway. Not that I’ll be doing that again. Nope.

Posted in Golf Course, Golf Course Superintendents, Greens | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
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