by Harvey Silverman – Pellucid Corporation
Hunter Ranch Golf Course in Paso Robles, CA is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It was described by Golf Magazine in 1995 as… ”a true rarity: An affordable, high-quality, daily fee layout without a brand-name designer label.” Built with an Australian flair with hints of Alister MacKenzie, a picture of its clubhouse graces the flash presentation on the Pellucid website. The only thing the property is missing…is rain.
How bad is the current drought situation? In 1994/1995, Hunter Ranch received 31” of rain – hellooo grow in. Its historic average annual rainfall is over 14 inches. In the 2012/2013 season, it received 7 inches. This season, through the end of June, just 2 inches. They’ve never suffered two consecutive years of below average rainfall, let alone three if you include 2011/2012’s 10 inches.
As you might expect, the turf suffered, particularly the fairways. Without getting too scientific, the severe lack of rainfall and subsequent irrigation cutbacks exacerbated turf deterioration caused by compaction, lack of soil percolation, and infestation of other native grass types. The greens were fine, but slowly the course was losing its reputation as a top-end public destination facility because of the unsightly and increasingly unplayable fairways.
“Originally the course was planted with perennial rye grass fairways and roughs with bentgrass greens, tees, and aprons, reports GCSAA superintendent Jason Pautsch. “Over time the fairways became a mix of common Bermuda, poa annua, perennial rye and bentgrass, making maintenance programs difficult with different fertility and water requirements for each of these turfs. Part of the problem with the current turf is the lack of salt tolerance. With having 7 inches of rain in 2012/3 and less than 2 inches in 2013/4 the accumulation of salts in the root zone was very high due to no natural leaching. Moreover, when irrigation water is high in sodium, the ability to leach the salts from the soil is nearly impossible given so much sodium moving through the profile.”
John Carson, VP and General Manager and a Pellucid Sharper Edge Marketing client, considered several choices. “We’re open 12 months a year, and as a daily fee course any long-term disruption in play was not acceptable. This eliminated choices that required stripping and resodding or stripping and sprigging in a new turf type. I had heard of Greenway Golf’s overplanting process, and chose this as it was far less disruptive, and less expensive also.”
Greenway Golf is a golf course maintenance and management company based in Alameda, CA, and is headed by industry veterans George Kelley, Ken Campbell, and “turf agronomist” Marc Logan, originally from Australia. It is from there that Marc brought over a unique turf overplanting machine, the only one in use today in the U.S., shown below.
This machine carves slits in the existing turf on six-inch centers while simultaneously shredding and sowing into the top two inches of soil whichever warm-weather turf was chosen for the project. It can do one to two fairways a day which can be reopened and played on the next day after it has been cleaned. Below shows a Hunter Ranch fairway as work is in progress, and the same area less than two weeks later:
Hunter Ranch selected a hybrid Bermuda called Santa Ana. By overplanting the hybrid Bermuda there will eventually be a mono stand in the fairways which will enable Pautsch to tailor the fertility and watering to the requirements of the new grass. All of the old turf will be choked out by the aggressive growing Bermuda grass, which will be much more salt, drought, and traffic tolerant than the current cool season grasses in the fairways. After two full growing seasons the hybrid will have taken over the fairways creating some of the best fairways in the area.
Greenway’s COO Ken Campbell told us, “We primarily focus on serving Greenway’s management clients but are beginning to expand the service to include the occasional ad hoc project, such as Hunter Ranch. Any course has to go through its decision-making process, but when they see what we can do for $4500-$5,500 per acre (prices vary by acreage, type of sod, labor assistance and course topography), we’re inevitably asked how soon we can get there.”
Greenway recommends closing one hole at a time and reopening it the next day. Hunter Ranch chose, for several reasons, to close nine holes at a time so golf went on, but at a far lower volume than normal. Thus, there was a loss in revenue that was expected. In fact, Greenway’s guidance prepared Carson and Pautsch for all possibilities, and there were no surprises.
Carson sums it up, “The only real fix for our course was to re-grass all the fairways and Greenway’s overplanter machine turned out to be the logical solution. Our customers are happy, and so are we. Check back in a year or so and we’ll send another picture.”