What ails RSGC?

Kashmir valley’s immensely beautiful, attractive and scenic but controversial tourist destination and golf infrastructure, the Royal Springs golf Coursewas brainchild of former chief minister Dr. Farooq Abdulah. This dream project of Dr. Farooq materialized only after facing several administrative and legal impediments and environmental activism. From the day first of it’s launch the project had to face all sorts of opposition, but it was Farooq Abdullah’s dedication towards the golf which made this prestigious project come through. It is really a jewel in the crown of tourist destinations of India. It can not earn direct revenue for the state  and country but can prove to be pivotal in boosting the income generation potential of tourist industry. All critics of this project had changed their view after its completion and commissioning. But the luster and sheen of this once beautiful course did not last long due to negligence, corruption and favoritism. This course is craving for proper care and management at the moment it is in shambles and is almost dying now.

Alvin Furber, director Robert Trent Jones-ll International (world renowned golf course designers) the architect of this marvelous piece of art, landscaping and scenic design would have never anticipated such scenic natural environment to be his subject before taking this assignment. He had to put in little efforts on the artistry front, but had done a lot in scientific aspects, both science and artistry when put in action in tandem and combination can provide a course possessing both scenic beauty and interest; the prerequisites of a good golf course.  Any one who visits the site of this marvelous course gets mesmerized at the first sight of this enchanting place, extending as undulating footspurs of the Zabarwan range and descending onto the shores of Dal Lake.

This 18 hole around 6500 meters course of aesthetic delight and golfing pleasure is 72 par and spread over an area of nearly 300 acres, consisting of rolling hills, native forests, vast vegetation, marsh, artificial lakes and orchards of exotic fruits. The flora and fauna over here is not only abundant but diverse as well.  The fairways of this course are covered with turf consisting of tufted Kentucky Blue and Rye grasses the roughs on the periphery are laid with Fescues, and the greens are laid with creeping Bent grass. All these grasses are cool weather grasses and thrive on temperatures below 22 degree Celsius and provide lush green velvet like turf surface, ideal for good golfing.

. What made this once beautiful healthy golf course sick and defunct is a matter of great concern?

Several factors are responsible for overall deterioration of Royal Springs golf course (RSGC). These are irregularities in construction; lack of well-versed and experienced human resource, lack of professionalism; bad management; favoritism and above all corruption.

But here I will confine my self to only scientific and technical problems faced by the golf course. The major part of golf courses consists of lush green turf comprising of different varieties of grasses cultivated in well drained, fertile and good structured soil. This golf course has been designed and laid on the foothills of undulating Zabarvan hills prone to erosion, and at places carved out of mountainous portions of Zarbawan. The major part of its soil has been redone after removing the rocky crust. Soil being the medium for thriving and surveillance of turf has always to be adequately thick (deep) with good structure and texture, rich in organic matter and nutrients. The soil cover (subsoil and topsoil) in fair ways and roughs should have not been less than 18 inches (450 mm). The soil here is not only less in thickness, but also at places the rocks are exposed due to erosion of extremely thin layer of soil. When aerators are run over the fairways, even the 4-inch long tines can not penetrate into the soil at places, due to rocks and boulders beneath. I am sure the designer would have recommended enough topsoil cover as per the norms, but people at the helm of affairs at the time of construction have played the trick. The quality of earth used for topsoil is not good at some places in the course. At certain places clays have been used as topsoil, which is most undesirable soil for establishing fine turf as drainage is impeded and weeds and worms are encouraged in such soils. High levels of compaction are seen all over the course due to undesirable soil conditions leading to unhealthy turf. Minimum of 4 inches (100mm) deep scarification of topsoil was required for removing all stones down to one inch (25mm) size for proper seedbed preparation for turf grasses, but the same has not been adhered to strictly at the time of laying. Regular soil analysis was require to determine soil nutrient levels, various other element levels and pH (acidity or alkalinity) levels of the soil. The soil test results were required for proper interpretation for assessing necessary soil treatments for regulating pH of the soil, set up fertilizer programs and as a guide to the type of turf management to be adopted. But unfortunately no testing is being done at all and all treatments are done randomly and with a conception of hit and trial. Topdressing, leveling which are regular operations for active grow-in maintenance program of a fine turf are not carried regularly and sincerely thus leading to deteriorated, infested and infected turf. Cultural practices like aeration, dethaching at intervals minimizes pest attack increases water retention capacity of soil and helps in development of sward, but these practices have been completely dropped from the package of practices of Royal spring turf management program.

Disease and pest control needs a vigilant course management staff, who is well versed with the behavior of the causal organism and habit and habitat of the pests. The regular and daily inspection of course is must for devising proper disease and pest management regime, but unfortunately the little staff available is busy in developing contacts for boosting the prospects of their career instead of inspection and proper management. Ultimately they adopt reactive instead of proactive approach and start spraying chemicals blindly with out any substantial results. This leads severe damage to the turf paving way for further infections and attacks ultimately culminating into colossal damage to course.

The fertilizer requirements of different parts of the golf course vary and this must be recognized in management practices. The requirement of fertilizer content is also governed by the soil test and frequency of mowing (cuts) The designers in their maintenance guide lines have clearly conveyed the fertilizer regime for the course with a note regarding change / variation in fertilizer specifications after proper soil testing and analyzing the same. Instead of having regular soil tests for soil fertility the authorities here keep on adding a particular grade of sustained release NPK mixture for reason best known to them and the particular supplier. This random application of fertilizer has changed the chemical and nutritive composition of soil leading to toxicity. Imbalance in vital nutrients had encouraged moss growth on the sand based greens and encouraged disease attacks and made their causal organism to thrive.

The ‘RSGC’ golf course is fitted with state of the art computerized irrigation system (pop-up sprinkler system) which is managed as per the moisture content requirement of the turf and was linked to a satellite system with facilities like gauging moisture content in the atmosphere and other weather related data. Unfortunately the satellite portion has been disconnected and instead of computer control, the system in run manually. This criminal negligence has lead to complete mismanagement of water. The water management is the most important aspect of turf management particularly in golf courses. As Robert Trent Jones- ll. International the designers of the course in their maintenance guidelines have mentioned, “ it is easier to add water to dry turf than it is to remove it from water logged turf ”. During my short tenure as course superintendent at RSGC I tried to give large emphasis on water management for control of diseases, algae and moss, minimizing degree of compaction and ultimately healthy turf. This concept of mine was mockingly given the name, ‘watal management’ by one of the less knowledgeable souls at ‘RSGC’, how shocking! She used to get a pat for it from the people at the helm of affairs. Improper water management has provided congenial and favorable atmosphere for thriving diseases, moss and algae at ‘RSGC’.

The golf course at the moment is facing two major problems viz., severe grub attack in the fairways and roughs and moss and algae invasion on greens and other parts of the course.

The grub (larval stage of several species of beetles) menace has started consolidating since last two seasons and has now crossed the threshold levels effecting enormous damage to the turf. A sustained strategy was required for its control and management. The grub leads to turf damage in two ways, one is by feeding on the roots of the grass and severing its contact with soil, thus damaging the turf and another is by inviting predating birds and animals who ruin the fineness of the turf. The dense and wild vegetation and forests in the vicinity and within the golf course and presence of large number of badly managed fruit trees in and around golf course have escalated the grub menace by acting as secondary host for the pest. Further the random and untimely use of chemical pest control measures with out proper knowledge has lead to enormous increase in grub population and ultimate damage to the turf. The pest (grub) can only be managed by adopting and using many ways for integrated pest management like, monitoring behavior of pest regularly and closely, and resorting to chemical, biological and mechanical control measures simultaneously at proper time with complete knowledge back up.

Mosses are non-parasitic, primitive green plants that have fine, branched, threadlike stems with tiny leaves. They reproduce by means of wind-blown spores. Mosses typically form a thick, green mat on the soil surface. They produce their own food and do not kill grass plants but rather fill in the spaces in the turf where grass is not growing. Mosses ruin the fine surface of greens required for good putting.

Though moss likes the wet conditions, the single factor most controlling moss is low mowing height. Moss exploits an ecological niche on a green that cannot be populated by creeping bentgrass. Wet conditions caused by over watering rather poor water management, heavy soils, infrequent aerification, under-fertilization, and heavy traffic gives moss a competitive advantage over the grasses. There are no effective chemical controls currently available for moss. The best method to control moss is to shift the environment back to favor grass. Raising the mowing height, increasing fertilization, and frequent aerification and top-dressing to help dry out the area are the best strategies for controlling moss.

Algae are unicellular or multi-cellular, threadlike green plants that can form a dense coating or scum over the soil surface. This scum forms a tough black crust on the soil when it becomes dry, and acts as a barrier to water movement into the soil. Algal scum can be found on soils that are waterlogged and compacted, especially during sunny, warm and humid conditions. Only proper water management and use of scientifically clean water to the turf can solve Algal problem.

This write up is based on my long experience in turf management and floriculture; as course superintendent at ‘RSGC’; at Gulmarg golf course while reviving it; and while observing behavior of turf on the different courses as regular golfer for last several years.

For feedback CLICK HERE