Case Studies

Philippines club has faith in native grasses

Wack Wack use their native grasses to complete renovation.

Raised greens aid drainage at Wack Wack  
21st December 2012
Managing for healthy grass,Designing your course

Wack Wack Golf & Country Club is located in the heart of Metro Manila and is one of the oldest golf clubs in the Philippines, originally founded by William J Shaw in 1930. The club is a regular host of the Philippine Open tournament and was the site of the 1977 World Cup, won by the Spanish team of Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, with Gary Player having the best score as an individual.

The club wished to solve the drainage issues in the fairways while ensuring that the course would be in good playing condition for as much of the year as possible.

Wack Wack’s classic East Course is laid out on clay soil and during the rainy season at Manila the fairways would hold the moisture. The club decided to undertake a renovation to improve drainage, install a more efficient irrigation system, rebuild all the bunkers, and generally upgrade the course. The club wished to solve the drainage issues in the fairways while ensuring that the course would be in good playing condition for as much of the year as possible. There was also a desire to keep the requirement for fertiliser, pesticides and irrigation water to an absolute minimum, both for environmental and economic reasons.

Staying true to the turf
A renovation of the East Course was conducted in 2009 and 2010, closing 9 holes at a time to conduct the renovation works that included a new irrigation system, modifications to the fairway surface drainage, installation of more subsurface drainage, and a rebuild of all the bunkers. The green surfaces of a fine-textured native zoysia (Zoysia spp) were not modified during the renovation, and the fairways were planted to the same stand of native carpetgrass (Axonopus compressus) after the renovation was completed.

This style of renovation is notable in that native grasses were used and the fairways were not sandcapped. It is common in many renovations in Southeast Asia to plant the course with imported seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) or hybrid bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon x C. transvaalensis). The imported species of grass are more susceptible to diseases, insect damage, and weed invasion than are the native grasses and, therefore, seashore paspalum and bermudagrass require more inputs of fertiliser, pesticides, mowing, and irrigation in order to produce the desired playing surfaces. When taken out of their native environments and planted on golf courses in Southeast Asia, bermudagrass and seashore paspalum become inherently high-maintenance grasses. The thoughtful decision at Wack Wack to use the native grasses maintains the club’s heritage and is an ideal fit for the heavily forested site.

Extensive drainage works have improved fairways

Loyalty pays!
The native zoysia and carpetgrass used on the East Course are adapted to the growing environment of the Philippines, able to tolerate heavy shade from the club’s stately trees, the heavy rains of the long rainy season, and the parched conditions of Manila’s hot summers. As native species, these grasses essentially grow on their own, and require fewer inputs than do grasses such as bermudagrass or seashore paspalum. Fertiliser requirements are less than half of that required by bermudagrass or seashore paspalum. On the carpetgrass fairways and roughs, pesticides are not required. On the greens, occasional fungicide applications are required to treat leaf diseases during the rainy season.

The use of these grasses allows the maintenance team to focus on surface preparation: mowing, rolling, grooming, spiking. These hardy grasses are relatively free of the weeds, insects, and fungal diseases that are so prone to infest the more commonly used bermudagrass and seashore paspalum.

Furthermore, planting the fairways onto the native soil allows for further reductions in water use and fertiliser use because of the soil’s inherent ability to hold plant-available water and nutrients. The long-term result is that the playing surfaces tend to be firmer than if they were built on sand. The reason for this is that an artificial sand rootzone holds very little water or essential nutrients; for the grass to grow in sand, more fertiliser and water must be supplied. Not only is this more expensive (without even considering the cost of the sand), but it develops a layer of organic material at the top of the sand layer which, over time, leads to softer playing conditions. 

At Wack Wack, surface drainage was enhanced during the renovation, additional subsurface drainage was installed, and regular fairway topdressing with sand will be practiced to sustain the firm playing surfaces that the club desires.

The club is able to make use of effluent water from the adjoining urban areas for its irrigation supply and has planted native grasses that require less irrigation water and less fertiliser than would other species. These decisions have all translated into very desirable annual cost savings for Wack Wack in terms of management of the golf course, presenting an excellent example of the economic benefits of adopting sustainable management practices.

Wack Wack provides green space in urban Manila  

From an environmental perspective, and with tightening international controls on chemical use, a reduction in applications of fertiliser and pesticides has also been a very sensible move to make for ensuring future security of operations.

Through working to improve drainage, while also encouraging resilient native turfgrass species, the club has been able to produce a sward that grows and performs well with minimal maintenance other than surface preparation such as mowing, rolling, and grooming. This approach has helped to keep the course available for play, in good condition, for as much of year as possible. Furthermore, a local character to the site has been maintained and the course forms an important area of green space in the otherwise highly developed area of Metro Manila.

Better drainage and the right choice of grass gets the most out of maintenance

The decisions made at Wack Wack are a good example of the far reaching impacts that come from thoughtful turfgrass species selection. Through taking an atypical approach for Southeast Asia, and encouraging native zoysia and broadleaf carpetgrass, as opposed to the common route of imported seashore paspalum and bermudagrass, the benefits to the club have been considerable. Aside from the direct financial savings from reduced management costs, environmental compatibility has been enhanced, playing performance improved and local character maintained.