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Science behind the surfaces

Friday 15, Nov 2019


ATM expert columnist John Neylan, who played a key role as an agronomic consultant for the Peninsula Kingswood redevelopment, outlines the lengthy and detailed research and investigation that went into ensuring the new greens provide an optimum playing surface.

The putting surfaces at the redeveloped Peninsula Kingswood Country Golf Club (PKCGC) are setting a very high standard and it is doubtful that any golfer that plays the courses even thinks about how they were achieved, let alone understand the numerous elements involved. They may associate the excellent surfaces with the new bentgrass variety chosen or the excellent greenkeeping practices of director of courses Glenn Stuart and his team, but are unlikely to understand the detail behind the greens construction process. 

The finished product the golfer experiences involves numerous basic elements including surface contouring, profile design, sand selection and bentgrass selection. While these elements are critical, there is also the maintenance practices including machinery, manpower, the skill of the greenkeeeping staff and understanding the performance characteristics of the profile and turf. If any aspect is deficient it is unlikely that the playing surfaces will achieve the expected high standard.

From my perspective the greens at PKCGC are a product of detailed research including the selection of the rootzone mix, designing the profile and selecting the bentgrass. It wasn’t a result of guess work or popular opinion, but a lot of work put into understanding the desired outcomes and then using the available science to make the most informed decisions. 

The overall objective at PKCGC was to develop greens that had the characteristics of the best of the Melbourne sandbelt golf course greens. That is, they were to be firm, dry and fast and not to be perched water table profiles. It also meant that the greens were going to challenge convention with several innovations.  This article reflects two components of the project and the detailed analysis and data collection associated with selecting the rootzone sand and deciding on the most appropriate creeping bentgrass cultivar.


Sand selection and the putting green profile

The requirement of putting surfaces has always been about being firm and reasonably fast. In the AGCSA’s 2012 benchmarking study, it was determined that the elite level clubs provided greens that were firmer, drier and smoother and were considered to be superior putting surfaces. The issue of surface firmness and how to achieve it has become a frequent discussion point in recent years. 

With the focus on surface hardness, the way greens are being constructed has been questioned and whether there should be a return to the finer sands and loamy sands that are the basis of the sandbelt greens. The AGCSA study mentioned demonstrated that a sandbelt green constructed using a fine loamy sand soil with a profile depth of several metres, consistently provided firmer surfaces throughout the year.


Sand research project

Based on my observations over many years, it was apparent that there was much that was not known regarding sand type, moisture retention and its relationship to stability and hardness. For this reason I commenced a research project that examined the influence of proportion of silt and clay, moisture retention, moisture release, particle shape and particle size distribution and their effects on surface hardness (reported in ATM 16.5).  This research had been well underway at the time the PKCGC project was in the planning phase and the results of the research became a key source of information in deciding on the sand selection.


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