Quantitative assessment of two Melbourne golf courses

Please note, for privacy reasons we are unable to name the golf courses.

STRI Australia routinely conducts quantitative assessments of golf courses with the purpose of giving the golf club a complete understanding of the current condition and any issues that may be impacting the course. A major benefit of undertaking a quantitative assessment is that it’s not opinion based, and the course superintendent, committee and golfers cannot dispute or dismiss the data.

There are a range of assessments that can be undertaken depending on the golf club’s requirements including performance testing of the greens and the measurement of various agronomic factors.

Let’s take a look at two golf courses in Melbourne, Victoria to show how such an assessment can not only highlight issues on the course but help explain any concerns that the club or golfers may rightly or wrongly have.

Golf course one
The putting greens at this golf club range from the original, nearly 100-year-old, push-up greens to those built during the last 20 years. There had been concerns raised by members that the greens were soft, inconsistent, held water after rain and always had disease in them.
The predominant grass type in the greens was Wintergrass (Poa annua). Poa greens can be challenging to maintain in Melbourne with summertime stresses, such as heat, moisture & humidity to contend with, and difficult to control diseases.
Golf course one
Putting green performance was assessed using the STRI Trueness Meter Programme. On all greens we measured:
  • Firmness
  • Smoothness
  • Trueness
  • Green speed
  • Moisture content
We then compared the results against target performance levels and across all the greens to assess consistency. The testing showed fast green speeds and good smoothness and trueness, however, there was some variability across the greens; high moisture levels and low firmness.
Golf course one
The organic matter content in the greens was excessive and this was causing high surface moisture retention resulting in soft putting surfaces as well as increasing the risk for disease and dry patch to develop.
The majority of roots were growing in the thatch rather than into the underlying rootzone material, which was increasing the likelihood of the greens becoming prone to heat and moisture stress and to disease. The soil nutrient analysis showed that all major nutrients were at very low to near deficient levels and needed to be raised to support turf growth.
This assessment supported the concerns of the golfers and provided reasons why the greens performed as they did. Recommendations were provided with respect to reducing thatch levels, raising soil fertility, and promoting root growth in order to improve turf health, green firmness and help reduce the incidence of disease.
Poa annua putting greens
Couch Grass Decline in the fairways
Golf course two
The fairways at this golf course were a mix of native couch (Cynodon dactylon) and Santa Ana hybrid couch (Cynodon transvaalensis x Cynodon dactylon). There were large areas on several fairways with irregular shaped thinning to bare patches of up to 1-2m in diameter. These patches were a major concern to the golf club as they had been present for a couple of years, were unsightly, were providing poor lies and the members were starting to complain about them.
Assessment of the fairways revealed that thatch levels were excessive and impeding water movement into the profile and affecting surface quality. Root depth, health and density were poor with the majority of roots dark brown to black in colour and growing in the thatch
Golf course two
Soil nutrient levels were generally low and nematode counts were well below treatment threshold levels. Microscopic examination of plugs from the patches identified Couch Grass Decline (Gaeumannomyces graminis var graminis); a root disease caused by an ectotrophic root infecting (ERI) fungus. Affected patches tend not to repair quickly and continue to spread throughout the year, often enlarging to 4m or more in diameter. The infected patches die back over time and any new growth may also become infected and die back. Any stress (climatic, agronomic or physical) placed on the turf can promote or intensify the disease.
This disease is difficult to control and fungicides are more effective when applied preventatively
Golf course two
A preventative program had not been considered by the golf club due to the high cost involved. In this situation a cultural program was developed to minimise stresses and improve plant health by raising soil nutrient levels and reducing thatch levels. A recommendation was also made to remove and re-sod any disease affected areas on the golf course that had high visual impact.
These two case studies show the benefits of conducting quantitative agronomic assessments to identify issues that may be impacting the golf course. Once a full picture is obtained, a program can be developed to address issues taking into account the golf club’s desired outcomes and any budgetary requirements.