BRG Golf Course Maintenance Staff Rise to the Challenge

In the first instalment of a two-part article, Mark Donohue, Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, Rain Bird, and a Board Member with the Asian Golf Industry Federation, reflects on the work that went into preparing the Nicklaus Course at BRG Danang Golf Resort for Vietnam’s first international professional event for seven years.

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Daily preparatory work on the greens had to be completed by 6.30 am.

Danang, Vietnam: Just over two months prior to China’s Chen Guxin winning the Asian Development Tour’s inaugural BRG Open Golf Championship, the wheels were set in motion to create the spectacular course conditions enjoyed by the entire field. 

Orchestrating this effort at the Nicklaus Design course at BRG Danang Golf Resort was Jon Wall, BRG’s Courses Superintendent, Manager GCM (Golf Course Maintenance staff).

Long after the galleries had left and the signboards were removed, Wall discussed his schedule of course preparation.

For some, 60 days notice to prepare for a televised event would be an intimidating proposition, to say the least. Yet Wall embraced the news with the confidence of knowing that his team had the resources to execute. 

Under normal operation, he is the only foreign worker based on site at BRG Danang. His GCM department has a local staff of more than 100, covering 36 holes, landscape, nurseries, cart fleet, Sheraton Grand Hotel and residential areas. 

For additional support he was able to utilise the skills of BRG professionals: Mark Reeves, Division Director; Gavin Reid, Director of Maintenance and Golf Course Construction; Evans Mahoney, Deputy Division Director; and Heath Glasby, Courses Manager BRG Kings Island.

Events Company Vietnam Golf Services was brought in to install camera towers, tee signs and advertising boards. They also handled volunteers, marshals and crowd control. Ropes were used to ensure that spectators understood where they could not go, both for safety and disturbance of play.

Given the short time to prepare, Wall chose a route of ‘refinement’ of course conditions. The Asian Tour requested heights of cut for turf areas be within acceptable ranges – for example, roughs over 60 mm, and green speeds in the region of nine feet to 11 feet on the Stimpmeter. 

Easy to accomplish as all areas outside greens had been cored and scarified at the beginning of the summer, while greens had received a deep solid tine to nine inches.

The Paspalum greens are only two years old, so did not require coring. Greens height of cut had been 1.8 mm since June and did not need adjusting.

Greens maintained their existing fertility programmes, only receiving additional iron to mask appearance of ‘Fairy Ring’ on a few greens. Growth regulators were used in higher quantities to ensure greens daily clipping volumes were in the region of 6-10g/m2.

Fairways, tees and roughs all received granular NPK in the weeks leading up to the event to ensure consistent green colour, though not excessively where firmness of the surfaces would be lost to excessive top growth.

Staff received delivery of a sideways greens roller with initial training for safe and proper use on the Nursery Greens, then moving on to the putting green and finally the golf course. 

With many greens edges directly above the water it was important staff had the roller under full control! Once accomplished, greens were rolled daily to improve firmness, smoothness and to create a finer leaf blade. 

They also verti-cut greens with triplex units on a more aggressive schedule in the lead up to the event. This was always at a depth between -2 mm and -4 mm.  The team uses out front brushes on greens mowers on a daily basis, whilst all greens top-dressing is brushed in by hand to limit vehicular traffic on the greens.

Wall’s experience and education gave him the confidence to know that there is little chance of losing control of green speed on Paspalum, especially with all preparatory works being completed prior to 6.30 am.

Stimpmeter readings were taken each morning after double cutting and each roll thereafter to ensure consistency. For day one of competition, greens were running at 10 feet 6 inches. This increased by two inches each day, with greens at 10 feet 10 inches for the final day. 

Following play daily, they also received either an additional cut or roll. Given the slope and undulation of the greens on the Nicklaus Course, this was sufficient. Players praised the consistency and smoothness of the greens.

Mr Minh, Superintendent of the Nicklaus Course, was able to maintain his normal nightly scheduled irrigation, though with reduced quantities compared to daily ET to ensure surfaces were kept firm. With aprons and tees at 8 mm, and a fairway cut height of 11 mm, the turf began to show signs of wilt towards the end of each afternoon; easily remedied with minimal amounts of water. 

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Tees and aprons were cut each morning and fairways each evening following the conclusion of play. Having floodlights was a huge help to both morning and evening preparations.

Minh and his colleague Nhat (Superintendent at the BRG Danang Golf Resort’s Norman Course) had the added responsibility of keeping the 18 holes on the Norman layout open and in pristine condition. Tournament aside, members and guests needed somewhere to play while the Nicklaus Course was occupied.

Given the free draining native sand soils present, there was concern about all areas making it through play each day without becoming overly dry. However, through the summer the staff had conditioned greens surfaces to where they are accustomed to only receiving water once per day.

During morning and evening preparations all surfaces were measured with a moisture meter to ensure soil moisture was within target ranges. Generally, in summer the course will lose 1% moisture per hour: meaning a green at 24% moisture at 5 am will be 12% by 5 pm. This remained true through the competition.

Being in Central Vietnam, there is always the threat of summer storms or an early wet season. Additional pumps were hired as an insurance, in case of a flooding storm rolling through in the lead up to the event. Fortunately no such calamity occurred, permitting staff to lower lake levels in order to help with trimming of all lake edges. 

They then pumped water back in, bringing the water level up to full to ensure best presentation and a clean look.

*In tomorrow’s second and concluding instalment, Mark Donohue offers an optimistic outlook for the golf turf management business in Vietnam.

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