Al Hamra Golf Club is under repair
Al Hamra Golf Club is under repair with sanded greens and scarified fairways Image Credit: Mar Rix/Gulf News

How many times have you turned up at a golf course and found to your utter dismay that they have had to treat the sodding greens and nobody bothered to tell you?

This actually happened to me last week on visiting Al Hamra Golf Club in Ras Al Khaimah.

To be honest with you, the member we were playing with had tipped me off the day before, so I had a full 24 hours to get over the devastating news prior to driving from Dubai.

The hour journey was spent debating with my wife (and playing partner — very handy off 18) how we would modify our putting on sanded greens and what was going to be our strategy from scarified fairways — sad right?

Sure enough, the greens viewable from the drive into the clubhouse were indeed covered in something other than grass and the fairways looked sorry for themselves, but hey, good to be there and keep the old swing going.

I’m not talking here about the golfing experience that day, needless to say, no course records were made.

The interesting event, was in my member friend informing me that the club’s management had issued a presentation to all members (and guests) explaining what was happening and why — brilliant.

20210615 Aeration
Image Credit: Al Hamra Golf Club

‘Why Golf Course Renovation is Essential’ is an excellent example of member engagement, produced by Dindy Macatlang, Course Superintendent and provides a simple yet effective explanation of the work that is going on and why.

Dindy deals with the following questions:

  • Why do we need to renovate aggressively on the greens?
  • What is thatch?
  • What is the problem with thatch build up?
  • What are the three main principles behind renovation?
  • What are the benefits on completion?

Renovation is essential to reduce thatch. The constant year-round pressure of feet, machinery and golf carts on the surfaces (turf and soil) will compromise the conditions. It is important that the grass is given the chance to recover, and soils have the structure repaired and compaction relieved.

Greens renovation usually comprises of the following activities:

  • Aggressive scarification
  • Aeration or compaction relief treatment at greater depth
  • Amendment applications
  • Topdressing

So, a good renovation taking in most of the points above should protect and improve the turf health and playing conditions.

However, like visiting the dentist there can be a little bit of pain involved in the benefits to be reaped later, that pain representing itself in a mildly disrupted putting surface for a few weeks which benefits a long-term health of the turf.

Let’s take a look at what is really going on.

Thatch can be troublesome
Image Credit: Al HAmra Golf Club

What is thatch?

Thatch is defined as the living and non-living material located between green turf grass leaves and the underlying soil. Excessive thatch and organic matter is a primary stress on the greens. It causes greens to remain saturated in the upper root zone, reducing oxygen uptake and encouraging root decline. Over time, thatch can become very dense and problematic.

What is the problem with thatch build up?

Because thatch forms between the grass layer and the soil, it can prevent essential water and nutrients from reaching the soil. This makes the grass weak and easily damaged since the roots will tend to grow into the shallow thatch and not penetrate deeper into the soil below. Excessive thatch can result in deterioration of the turf quality and cause problems like decreased movement of oxygen, decreased saturated hydraulic conductivity and increase water retention.

Al Hamra Golf Club is under repair
Scarification is the mechanical removal of the surface thatch Image Credit: Al HAmra Golf Club

Three main principles behind renovation

1. Removal of thatch (scarification)

Scarification is the mechanical removal of the surface thatch.

It is a fast and efficient way to remove thatch and dead/organic matter from the turf.

Removing thatch and other organic matter will enhance the turf encouraging healthy growth and a denser sward.

Coring is the physical removal of cores in turf from a playing surface. It allows the compacted turf to expand and air and moisture to be more easily absorbed.

It also helps address the problem of thatch. Coring also removes accumulated fibre in the grass root zone. It allows for the exchange of a poor soil for a better one through top dressing. That’s why the greens are normally covered in sandy top dressing immediately after they’re cored.

2. Amendment application

Gypsum — has been used to reduce soil compaction, improve soil structure, increase air movement, and prevent reduce water run-off. It also helps push salts through the soil profile.

Granular seaweed — Improves the structure of the soil, helping moisture and nutrient retention. Aids plant recovery after periods of high stress.

3. Topdressing

Topdressing allows us to apply new sand into the grass canopy aiding level, firmness and root development.

Other benefits include: Improved smoothness, thatch dilution, improved turf recovery and improved root zone

Scarification allows grass to take deeper roots
Image Credit: Al HAmra Golf Club

In a nutshell

All of which — to allow you to get on with your game — means the following is all going on behind the scenes:

  • Minimised fungal disease
  • New growth
  • Optimisation of fertilisers
  • Decompaction of soil profile
  • Increased air and light circulation
  • Increased drainage capabilities
  • Smoother playing surface
  • Optimum playing conditions

So next time you see a sign saying greens under repair, just consider what is actually going on. Who can complain about that?

Congratulations to Dindy and the team at Al Hamra Golf Club. A great communications job.