Pitchcare had the pleasure of meeting two hard working Greenkeepers at the established Pakuranga Country club. The 18 hole course is situated in Auckland's quiet eastern suburbs. It's proud to include itself as one of the top five courses in the Auckland area, and that's no mean feat! Wendy Horneman is 2IC at the course. Kelly Hibbert is a former 2IC at Pakuranga and now part time Greenkeeper and proud Mum.
Pakuranga is a busy and popular members and public Golf Course. The stats testify to this. In May 2009 alone there were 4000 rounds of golf played and around 70,000 rounds are played annually. This ensures the team of turf managers are kept extremely busy maintaining the well used course. The club has 1108 members and was established in 1969. At $65 a round, Golfers get their money's worth on a course that is continually developing its holes.
The surrounding area of the course was farmland until 1990. There has been extensive development to the course and country club since then with new housing developments sprouting up around it.
Most of the members are in the 40 plus age bracket. Kelly mentions that the junior ladies members are doing well in tournaments, but don't tend to play at the club, using it occasionally for practice.
There is four full time staff at the course. Peter Boyd is Superintendent at the club and President of the New Zealand Golf Course Superintendent's Association (NZGCSA). They have a couple of other part time Greenkeepers who help out at weekends and competition days. There is also a trainee Greenkeeper who comes in during school holidays. Wendy explains it's difficult to find and retain qualified staff. They tend to take on staff, who may be filling in time before going off to do something else such as travelling- a rite of passage for any young Aussie or Kiwi. The shortage of qualified turf managers currently seems to be the trend in Australasia. Greenkeeping has been added to the list of needed professions, enabling extra points to be earned in an application to immigrate down under.
Kelly did her apprenticeship at Matarangi Golf Course, and was there for 6 years, Kelly qualified as one of the top apprentices for her year. She started as 3rd in charge and progressed onto 2IC at Pakaraunga. Since the birth of her son Kelly currently works 2 days a week at the course.
Wendy has worked at Pakuranga for over 6 years. She completed her apprenticeship in 2008. After 3 years at Pakuranga, Wendy left to play cricket in Holland. Wendy is an accomplished cricketer with 13 years experience under her belt and plays for the Auckland state side. Despite the restraints it places on her time she loves the sport. Her trip to Holland saw Wendy do a stint at the Koninklijke Haagsche Golf and Country club Golf for 6 months. She returned to Pakuranga refreshed to work to for another year, taking on the role of 2IC after Kelly's departure. Kelly's guidance in showing her the ropes ensured Wendy had no qualms about taking on the new job.
Daily routine in summer sees the course cut most days; they use the greens roller up to three times a week. The fairways and surrounds are cut three times a week and tees twice a week. No rough is left uncut, and the 46 bunkers are machine raked every day. The work schedule every day is busy. Wednesday is particularly hectic being men's day. The weekend has competition days and ladies day is on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Constant job variation at the course keeps everyone on their toes ensuring all staff do a bit of everything. That includes trainees who will be rostered on to cut greens or rake bunkers. This system seems to work well in teaching new recruits, and doesn't give anyone the chance to moan they're only assigned the unpopular jobs. Wendy remembers mowing greens after just a couple of days of starting on the course. It may have been a jump in the deep end, but nevertheless a great way to learn. But as Kelly quips they may push for the new starters to go onto the greens mower so more staff can work at the weekend!
The course is maintained to a very high standard. Tournaments mean going up a small notch with more mowing for immaculate presentation. Their only headache occurs if the weather decides to bucket down making things a bit swampy. It can be cold and windy in the region with rain right into the New Year. Aah rain-we could with some of that rainy NZ climate here in Australia! Wendy recalls the 2008 NZ Junior Women's Amateur Tournament. The team put in hard work a week before in preparation cruised through the event without a hitch, the course came up trumps.
The busiest time on the course for maintenance is between December and March and most of that work is hand watering. Spraying programs don't change through the year.
March and October is renovation time the course has an intensive preventative fungicide throughout the summer. Keeping budgets in mind they do try and stretch the applications out during the cooler months. The greens are 100% Poa Annua. The rough is a mixture of Rye, Poa and Kikuyu. The soil structure consists of "lovely boggy Clay" as Wendy describes it.
Some of the greens meet USGCA specs. 90% of the tees are "push up", with good drainage. The main problem is getting around to them in winter, not helped by that "boggy" soil. The course has areas of swampland at the bottom and can prove a nightmare for the guys on mowers. The greens have a sand profile around the walk on walk off areas. Cutting height for greens in winter ranges between 3 ½ -4mms dependent on the conditions on the greens. Wendy has found from experience keeping the heights just that bit higher causes less overall stress on the turf.
The greens are currently cut with a ride on mower. Staff and time constraints making hand cutting impractical due to the tight schedule; 18 holes need to be cut by 8.30am every morning. The greens are verti cut every 4-6 weeks in the summer, as long as conditions aren't too hot. In winter the greens are given a light dusting with sand every 3-4 weeks and are then brushed.
Spring renovations see their coring machine run over the green with 5/8 inch tines. The green is then top dressed with greens sand. If areas are particularly thatchy or have dead turf de thatching cassettes are used. The past two years Pakuranga has seen success running the Graden over greens for Autumn Renovations. Wendy observing they have seen good recovery and increased resilience for the grass in the winter months. The tees get cored once a year and the greens are also verti drained at a deeper depth twice a year.
Watering during the summer is done through the mains supply every night during a dry spell. The Club's bore supply is not useable due to the high content of boran present, it can rise to18ppm when the recommended is 3ppm.The Rainbird Irrigation system is computerized and is used on tees and greens, with limited fairway watering. The team keeps an eye on things with visual assessment and trys to keep to hand watering in the day. There's separate programs for the sand and push up greens. Wendy believing "Watch and see" and monitoring weather conditions are the rules for watering. They tend to keep the greens on the dryer side rather than over water.
There is a "Master Plan" for the course. The program for the future sees all the greens hopefully meeting USGCA specifications. A possible future project involves flooding the gully at the sixth green, and making it into a semi- island tee and green. Upgrading the irrigation system, making tee sizes bigger, and generally adapting the course for the increased amount of traffic it gets every year is all on the cards for the next two years.
Anthracnose can be problematic on the course, which is all but eliminated for now. Dollar spot can be an issue on the surrounds, but they've managed to get on top of that. There's a comprehensive fertiliser program consisting of granular and folia feed. The team found rolling greens instead of constant cutting has been an effective preventative measure in disease management.
The course had a spot of bother with what started off as a mystery disease. Pakuranga and one other golf club were the only courses to get Rolf's disease in Auckland. However it cropped up in several other courses at later dates. It's a thatch collapse disease, and has been doing the rounds of New Zealand bowls greens for years. It started as a patch at Pakuranga three years ago and encroached further into the grass at an alarming rate. Wendy recalls they originally thought it to be brown patch and treated it with the wrong fungicide. Once the temperatures cooled down it receded much to the team's relief.
They get a fair bit of black beetle on the course. Insecticide use at Pakuranga is minimal. Bestseller, a quick acting synthetic pyrethroid is applied to the greens four times a year. Worm control will be an issue for the team with the banning of Endosulfan, this is not aided by Auckland's heavy clay based soils and the average rainfall of 1200mms, making Auckland soils a veritable haven for the little blighters!
The team has used a couple of different products to try and manage the problem, Brimstone 90 (sulphur) and Carbendazim. They have worked fairly well; Carbendazim was effective for around four weeks. The sulphur based product needs to be down for around a year to see results. The course had a pretty worm free winter last year and they may have been residue Endosulfan in the soil so this winter will be the real test for the new products.
When Kelly started her training, there was only one other woman that she knew of in the NZ turf industry, Ingrid Van Steenbergen who is now Superintendent at Napier Golf club. Kelly and Wendy were the only women on their training courses. Kelly's first boss had been a superintendent in Australia so had no qualms with working with women. He had worked with several in the past and knew they were capable of the work.
Kelly's dad was a bowls player. She remembers seeing how the greens were maintained and thinking "I'd like to do that". The draw of the great outdoors and not wanting to be stuck behind a desk were big factors in her career choice. Kelly remembers going to the field and open days and being the only female on block release for training. Being the only women trainee she remembers thinking "Golf courses could be pretty intimidating" but sitting down and having a couple of beers with the other blokes and with a few laughs, the camaraderie would take over. It didn't matter she was the only girl.
When she started out in the industry Kelly remembers hearing "I like her, but I'd never employ Kelly" when asked why they'd offer a lame excuse along the lines of the inconvenience of having to have a separate toilet area!
However, both Wendy and Kelly are reluctant to get up on the soap box about being part of a tiny number of women in a male dominated industry. They see themselves as part of a team and that's it. They've never encountered hostility or problems because of their sex in the workplace. Wendy laughs saying herself and Kelly can have some "good conversations" with the lads at work. It all seems to make for a healthy balance, and perhaps a neater workplace. Wendy observes the boys are less likely to be slobs and keep the staff room area a little tidier with women around!
The two have worked that bit harder to prove they can do what is a physically demanding job. Both hope to see more women join the turf industry. Their advice for any young women contemplating a career as a Greenkeeper? "Give it a go and put in 100%". Wendy and Kelly are content with their current roles. Both love the outdoors and the practical side of their jobs and aren't ready to relinquish that to take on a more office based Superintendent job just yet!
Pitchcare Oceania thanks them for their time and wishes them the best of luck in their future projects.
Quick Stats Pakuranga Golf and Country Club
- Summer heights sit around 3mms for the greens
- Fairways 14mms-16mm
- Surrounds sit around 16mm
- The rough varies but can sit at 25mms.
- Tees are to a height of 10mms and collars are 8mms.
- Winter heights form greens sit at arpund 3.5 -4mm
- Greens are verti cut every 4-6 weeks in Summer
- All 46 bunkers are machine raked daily
- Greens are 100% Poa Annua
- Most greens meet UGCSA specs.
- Rough is a mixture of Rye, Poa and Kikuyu
- Watering done from mains supply as high boran content in bore supply
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