22 Jul 2016

Green Grass

From Country Life, 9:38 pm on 22 July 2016

Golf is to one of the highest participation sports in the New Zealand, with an estimated 7 million rounds of golf played each year.

Dave Sulley is one of the small group of dedicated people who make sure that the country's nearly 400 golf courses stay open - and golfers get to play their rounds.

Dave is greenkeeper at Te Marua Golf Course on the outskirts of Wellington. He has been at the course for 25 years and loves his job and the lifestyle.

"It's so varied.  You're a builder, drainlayer, plumber and often all of those in one day."

Dave sees the course as his farm. 

Te Marua is about 70ha of well-manicured turf bordered by trees but Dave's job managing the course is quite different from livestock farming.

Ask a farmer what to do - and then do the opposite - is the old adage for green keepers.

Dave doesn't want the vigorous grass growth that farmers are after to feed their livestock.  "The more the grass grows on a golf course the more it needs cutting."   He doesn't have the budget at Te Marua to fertilise his grass as much as a farmer does but nor does he want to.

Where sheep and cattle farmers want nutritious grass cultivars like rye grass, Dave wants older, slow growing, drought tolerant varieties like brown top that will survive a dry summer and come back to life with the rains.

Clover is something that most farmers value as an excellent feed and a fixer of nitrogen in the soil. Dave says clover is a pest on a golf course because the flowers look like golf balls and can confuse the players.

The greens are the pride and joy for greenkeepers and where each green keeper's reputation is at stake. "It's all about how well your greens put, and how true they are," says Dave.

A lot of his time and effort goes into making sure each green is in as good a shape as possible.  Each one is cut to height of 3mm, year round.  One of the big challenges is keeping the surface of the green aerated so the surface stays free draining and free of pests and diseases.

Despite working at the course five days a week and spending most of his Sunday mornings mowing the greens, Dave still loves the work.  "I almost know what I'm doing here.  The course is my baby I love it here and don't' want to leave."