Golf club accidentally poisons greens with double-dose of fungicide

Golfers at one of New Zealand’s oldest courses faced an unwanted handicap after club members accidentally poisoned several greens as they tried to kill a fungus that was destroying the grass.

Senior members hoped to save the damaged greens at the course in Christchurch’s Hagley Park, but instead finished them off when they inadvertently used a double-dose of a fungicide.

Hagley Golf Club vice president Alan Timu said the unfortunate incident was the culmination of several events that occurred during a four-month gap between greenkeepers.

Previous greenkeeper Daniel Tiffen left his role in April and Timu took on an oversight role, supported by the club executive and members, until a new greenkeeper started.

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Not long after Tiffen’s departure, the quickly-spreading dollar spot fungus appeared in the greens, quickly killing grass.

On the advice of a specialist, a plan was put together to spread fungicide on the greens.

But after little improvement two weeks later, a second dose was sprayed – which was twice as strong.

A golfer plays on the third hole at Hagley Golf Club.  On the left is the original green, on the right the temporary green.  The greens of holes 1 to 6, 11 and 15 were accidentally destroyed when club members got maintenance work wrong.

KAI SCHWOERER/Stuff

A golfer plays on the third hole at Hagley Golf Club. On the left is the original green, on the right the temporary green. The greens of holes 1 to 6, 11 and 15 were accidentally destroyed when club members got maintenance work wrong.

Timu said it was also possible there had been some herbicide in the large spray tank that had not been cleaned properly.

Within two weeks the greens had turned yellow, and it was clear something had gone wrong.

Another two weeks later and the grass was dying completely on several of the greens, Timu said.

“It was the culmination of both, really – a bit of bad luck having an over-strength fungicide and some residual poisons in there as well.”

Club professional Matt McDowell, president Joe Tonner, vice president Alan Timu and greenkeeper Scott Schoormans, from left, at Hagley Golf Club.  They hope the course will look immaculate by spring.

KAI SCHWOERER/Stuff

Club professional Matt McDowell, president Joe Tonner, vice president Alan Timu and greenkeeper Scott Schoormans, from left, at Hagley Golf Club. They hope the course will look immaculate by spring.

The area most affected was largely in the bottom half of the course.

Temporary greens have since been laid, and seven greens are being completely restored.

The temporary greens were operating at about 60% of the usual standard and the course rating had been adjusted to maintain accurate handicap scoring, Timu said.

He emphasized that no one was to blame.

“The problem occurred when we didn’t have a greenkeeper and were making decisions by committee.”

A greenkeeper working at Hagley Golf Club.  The original green is in the background, the temporary green in the front.

KAI SCHWOERER/Stuff

A greenkeeper working at Hagley Golf Club. The original green is in the background, the temporary green in the front.

Timu said it did not appear to affect the popularity of the golf course, which currently has about 400 paid members, the highest number ever.

He put his boost in popularity down to the appointment of club professional Matt McDowell about 18 months earlier.

It is not the first time the club has had problems with its course.

In March last year it had large anti-mandate messages scoured into two fairways and a tee with weedkiller.

Former greenkeeper Daniel Tiffen kneels in front of anti-mandate graffiti sprayed in grass killer at the course last March.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Stuff

Former greenkeeper Daniel Tiffen kneels in front of anti-mandate graffiti sprayed in grass killer at the course last March.

The golf club leases the grounds from the Christchurch City Council and runs the course as a non-profit, community golf course.

It was family-oriented, Timu said, and the club encouraged children and first-timers to play.

“It’s a very friendly golf club. At our club competition everyone plays together. There’s no cliques or anything like that.”

Members understood the position the club was in and the process it was undergoing, he said.

“If there’s a good side to the story, we’re going to have brand-new greens come winter.”

Sheldon Blyth plays on the third hole at Hagley Golf Club.  The course is popular in Christchurch, sitting in the middle of north Hagley Park.

KAI SCHWOERER/Stuff

Sheldon Blyth plays on the third hole at Hagley Golf Club. The course is popular in Christchurch, sitting in the middle of north Hagley Park.

New greenkeeper Scott Schoormans has since put a recovery plan in place involving re-seeding the affected greens.

One had already been completely successful and by spring they should be looking better than ever, Timu said.

“It’s the second-oldest golf club in New Zealand and we’re having our 150th celebrations in November, so we want the golf course to be immaculate by then.”

He estimated the restoration would cost about $20,000, but that was offset by the regular maintenance costs that wouldn’t be required while reseeding was under way.

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