Last September, after an intensive 16-month redevelopment, Killara Golf Club in Sydney reopened its new-look course to an eager membership. Course superintendent Ryan Fury looks back at the all-consuming project, some of its many innovative aspects and the lessons learned along the way.
What seems like an age ago – early May 2018 to be precise – Killara Golf Club in Sydney broke ground on the biggest project undertaken in its 120-year history. The new course has been open now since last September and has so far been well received by the membership. It has made a massive difference to how the golfers play the course and how the course staff maintain the new playing surfaces.
As I wrote about in ATM Volume 20.6 (November-December 2018), the club wanted to upgrade the course and its facilities to meet modern demands in time for its 125th anniversary in 2024. The project has seen the redesign and reconstruction of all greens and surrounds, bunkers and more than three quarters of all teeing areas.
Improving the playing surfaces, in terms of their condition, playability and ongoing maintenance requirements, was one of the key drivers of the project. Dealing with old Poa greens over the summers leading up to the redevelopment had become a constant battle and we really struggled to keep them alive during the warmer months.
A greens reconstruction project was an on/off for several years at the club and we had done more than enough research in that time to determine what would and wouldn’t work for our course which, like others on the north shore of Sydney, has a lot of shade issues and heavy soils. After starting the initial planning process, that quickly expanded to include several tees and fairway bunkers as well.
Once the board decided to do the works, things moved very quickly. Course architect Harley Kruse was appointed, while products, equipment, consultants and contractors were all sourced and locked in. It was decided by the club not to hire a large construction company to complete the works. We were confident we could manage the project, similar to how an ‘owner builder’ would build a house.
Six members of the Killara course staff were seconded to make up part of the construction team, while we also had some excellent former employees who returned for the project, one specialising in irrigation and the other in earthmoving, both very valuable skill sets for what we were about to undertake.
One of the first (and best) things the club did was engage John Neylan as our agronomist/consultant. John provided some solid advice, wrote the construction specifications, presented at several member information nights and made several site visits throughout the work. The fact that not one question was asked about our grass varieties or sand selection decisions was amazing, especially considering we were using new products that hadn’t been used widespread in the industry before. Following John’s appointment, the rest of the team followed – Miles Rachivich (Links Construction) was on the job for its entirety, main shaper Peter Waddell and support shapers Lindsay and Luke from Atlas Golf.
The new Killara greens were built to USGA specifications in regards to drainage installation, gravel and sand depths, however, the sand we used was borderline USGA spec due to a higher percentage of finer particles. This was done to provide a firmer surface moving forward. The sand was selected in conjunction with John Neylan after his extensive research and the club’s needs. The sand was supplied by Vermont Sands and was a special blend from Eulonga quarry near Gundagai in rural NSW.
After trialling several bentgrasses and mixes over a five-year period and after trialling against Sydney’s standard (A1/A4), Pure Distinction bentgrass was chosen after it proved superior in all facets of our trial work. The Pure Distinction is performing well now. We had a little bit of pythium break through after a large rain event at the end of summer and this autumn we plan to be more aggressive with their management after taking a conservative approach during their first six months in play.
Like any other clay-based course, we had major issues with bunker washouts during rain events. Over time, we changed the sand out of the bunkers and added new drainage, but that didn’t last long – one downpour and the new sand was contaminated.
Over the past five years we have trialled all of the liners available and it was decided that capillary concrete was the best product for Killara. All new bunkers have capillary concrete installed on the faces and the bases. We also installed a 450mm x 450mm pit in each bunker that we can locate and access all the internal drainage of the bunker.
Most of the architect’s vision for the bunkering was based on the Melbourne Sandbelt style with visible sand splashes and sharp edges. This look was going to be hard to achieve in the clay, but after some research into a possible solution, I found a product out of the UK – EcoBunker – which had been used to replace revetted bunkers in the UK.
Luckily the architect also liked to possibilities this product could have in making our bunkering really stand out. As it turned out, Ellerston Golf had started using the product in some of its bunkers, so we made the trip to visit Rod Hinwood to check it out and soon discovered it would be a perfect fit for us. The bunkering is a real standout feature of the new works.
As part of any greens construction the surrounds will be impacted and together with the new greens and bunkers, we generally had quite large areas of ground open. Tying these new areas into the existing works required some considerable work around the greens. We were lucky enough to generate a lot of topsoil during the process so very little was brought onto the course. We installed a considerable amount of drainage into the surrounds, but not enough. We continue to add drainage to this day and realistically will be adding drainage for the entire winter.
Knowing these works were coming eventually, we had been trialling different grasses for use on the new surrounds and possibly tees. Harley wanted short grass wherever possible around the greens and with shade a major factor at Killara we started investigating some different options.
A new zoysia variety (Zeon) was gaining traction in other parts of the world and as it turned out the foundation farm for this grass had some product left over. I was able to get 100m² to trial about three years ago before it had become commercially available in Australia.
This grass has been a gamechanger for Killara. The shade and wear tolerance was unbelievable in the trial work where we had it in full winter shade with high wear areas; it got through all seasons and tests with flying colours. Having trialled what has since been renamed Sir Grange zoysia for over 18 months, with the members walking over and playing off the surface, no questions were asked at any of the member information nights about our choice to go with this grass – quite staggering really.
I have said many times to my general manager that the club will want this grass everywhere within a few years and I feel this grass will boom in the next five years, especially for sites with a lot of shade and high traffic.
With the greens and surrounds scope of works increasing, it made sense to include tees as well with the construction of the new greens. The design of several surrounds and tees flowed together seamlessly and the decision was made to also use Sir Grange zoysia on the tees in addition to the surrounds. On our trial tee it performed extremely well and therefore the recommendation to use it on the tees was, in the end, an easy decision.
As with the project of this nature, there are many things that must come together over the duration for it to be a success. With the project now behind us and the course crew focussing on the ongoing maintenance of the new playing surfaces, the past six months have given me some time to reflect on the magnitude of such a project and what did and didn’t work. It was definitely a mix of the ‘good bad and ugly’ and here are some of them…
Read more about the good, the bad, and the ugly of it all in the full article HERE.
This article was originally published in Volume 22.2 of the Australian Turfgrass Management Journal. Photos: Killara Golf Club. To subscribe to the journal CLICK HERE.