Case Studies

Vietnamese course chooses the right grass

Sustainable, firm, links-like surfaces achieved at Laguna Lăng using warm season grasses.

The 10th hole at Laguna Lăng Cô  

Laguna Lăng Cô Golf Course is nestled between the Bach Ma National Park and South China Sea on Vietnam’s Central Coast. The golf course is an hour’s drive from the Da Nang metropolis to the South and the Ancient Vietnamese Capital of Hue to the North.

The Sir Nick Faldo designed golf course is routed through varied terrain including jungle, rice paddy fields, wetland and streams, sand and blow out areas and terrain dominated by large rock boulders. The golf course is laid out on sand and where earthmoving was required sand from site was mined and used as fill material.

Sustainable course

The architects wanted a golf course that needed to be sustainable

The lead Golf Architect on the project, Paul Jansen, reported that it was most welcoming being able to work on a site with such character and variety.

At the outset the intention was to create a golf course with certain links-like characteristics - although not to create a links golf course. In particular the desire was to create conditions that would allow the ball to run. The existing sand base would help achieve this (to an extent) but without a suitable grass species the likelihood of creating “hard and fast conditions” would have been difficult.

In addition to this the architects wanted a golf course that would “stand the test of time” and thus it needed to be sustainable and environmentally friendly moving forward. To this end, they were very fortunate to work in such a wonderful setting surrounded by such natural beauty, and this influenced their decision to embrace and use the local grasses and flora as much as was possible. If they were able to do this then the course would merge seamlessly into the surrounds and take on a real sense of place all whilst remaining sustainable.

The choice of grass species to use for the tees, fairways and rough areas was a contentious one.  At the start of the project, the use of Evergreen bermuda was discussed as a possible option. Evergreen bermuda would establish quickly (this being somewhat necessary given the tight construction schedule) and it had already been tried and tested at the Danang Golf Club - about an hour drive from Laguna Lăng Cô. The Montgomerie Links, the other golf course in close proximity, had wall to wall seashore paspalum. Both these options were examined but it was felt that neither were ideal solutions. In those climatic conditions the main challenge with bermuda is that it tends to get invaded by weeds if an active growth rate is not maintained. Since the grass would have to be cut low to create the desired playing conditions, this would be a very real problem. In the case of paspalum it performs better than bermuda when cut low, but at a low cut it too gets infested with weeds as well as diseases and insects. In summary, both bermuda and paspalum would require more water, pesticides and fertilisers to maintain growth.  These greater inputs  would produce more organic matter which would need to be controlled through additional maintenance in order to have any chance of creating a firm surface. 

Zoysia sprig
Zoysia sprig preparation

Manilagrass (Zoysia matrella) thrives in the climatic conditions prevalent throughout South East Asia. This was clear on route to site where it would grow indiscriminately alongside the road or on the dunes fronting the ocean. This was particularly encouraging, given how extreme the seasons are in that part of the world. If a grass was able to adapt and thrive in both extreme heat and wet, without much if any maintenance, then it had to be considered.

Another key point for consideration was that if a “local” grass was used then there would be the potential to maintain it to meet the design intent without actually damaging the grass. In a sense, it could be starved of water and cut “close” to create the conditions so desired, without actually worrying about the grass dying. This of course would lead to other added benefits including a savings on water, pesticides, fertilisers and manpower.

The one concern was its slow establishment but it would have been foolhardy and irresponsible choosing a grass based on its establishment time when that grass met all the design goals – and more.

Choosing manilagrass for the tees, fairways and rough areas was the right choice in so many ways.

By creating “hard and fast” play surfaces it was possible to utilise the existing contours to add strategic interest. Now golfers need to plot their way around the golf course using the “humps and bumps” to their advantage. Golfers have embraced the need to play a greater variety of shots, both through the air and on the ground, and use their imagination as much as possible.

 

Players perspective
Laguna Lăng Cô Hole 9 from a player’s perspective

The golf course opened to high praise and has subsequently been rated “Best New Course Asia Pacific" at the Asian Golf Awards 2013. At the opening Sir Nick Faldo, and those that played the golf course, commented how much the ball ran to go with the links-like feel of the playing surfaces. People continue to comment how well the course melds into the surrounds and how fast the play surfaces remain.

 

Summary
The choice of grass for a new golf course is one of the most important decisions on any golf project. The cost to maintain it will run into millions of dollars over the years as greenstaff look to create play conditions that please both the golfer and Architect. At Laguna Lăng Cô a native grass called manilagrass was chosen – a grass that grows well in the conditions, requiring minimal inputs, and one that has produced a very high quality play surface.