25 Nov 2015

For international visitors, it’s one of the curiosities of golf on the Melbourne Sandbelt. You get to pull trolleys, as they are often known overseas, right across the greens. Foreigners rarely fail to notice or admire the policy, and the very sensible agronomic reasons for the apparent practice. By pulling buggies across greens, rather than around the sides, you minimise damage to edges and spread wear across the green complex. That’s the theory anyway and it always seemed a win-win.
 
Strangely, on the Sandbelt in recent times the practice has been phased out at certain clubs. The trend started pre-President’s Cup at Royal Melbourne when, in the months leading up to the event, members and guests were forced to detour around both the Suttons Mix greens and the Fescue surrounds to prevent Poa Annua infestation into the surfaces. The club, quite reasonably, wanted to ensure the world saw it at its best during the President’s Cup, and few would argue they didn’t achieve their goal.
 
What was surprising was that the policy evolved from a temporary measure to now a permanent practice. For golfers pulling buggies, and that’s a decent percentage of people, it means a significant distance added to the round as they detour the greens as well as surrounds that are often 10-15m wide.
 
Royal Melbourne isn’t the only Sandbelt club to have stopped the practice of walking pull buggies across greens. Metropolitan, Kingston Heath, Yarra Yarra and Woodlands also prevent members and guests doing the same thing. It begs the very obvious question, why?
 
The main agronomic argument seems to be twofold, that tyres carry seed heads and can spread unsuitable grasses like Poa into the precious Bentgrass greens and also that removing them reduces wear on an already stressed plant. The argument against the policy is that the agronomic benefits are negligible and the impact on members significant.
 
Woodlands General Manager Richard Tullberg confirms that the primary reason for enacting the ban at his club was to minimise Poa infiltration and reduce the “impact of compaction and wear” on the greens. Woodlands have the smallest greens on the Sandbelt and the second point is more critical there because, as Tullberg notes, “most golfers take the quickest route to get around the course and with our small greens, the turf was being compromised”. Other clubs feel the same, and that by eliminating buggies across greens you prevent wilting in the warmer months and therefore over watering. Yarra Yarra’s greens are apparently as firm as they have been in years, thanks largely to the recently implemented policy.
 
Interestingly, both Commonwealth and Huntingdale have trailed a ban on buggies across greens, but reverted to the age-old policy of carte blanche because of member resistance. Huntingdale General Manager Stewart Fenton said their six-month trial found the impact from buggies on green surfaces to be “minimal at worse case” and they reverted back to buggies across in order to reduce wear areas in and around the greens. Woodlands have also had to deal with tracks forming around their greens as a result of the ban.
 
Nearby, the Victoria Golf Club has regularly discussed a similar trial but General Manager Peter Stackpole confirmed they are strongly against the practice for two main reasons. Firstly, says Stackpole “We think it has a significant impact on the enjoyment of the game – walking around rather than direct, and secondly, we don’t think that as we have Poa prevalent in our greens, it would be of significant benefit.”
 
Few would declare Victoria’s greens to be the purest in Melbourne, but few clubs provide a better year-round putting surface. The club clearly values the opinions of its members and understands the impact course rules can have on golfer enjoyment. Unquestionably there is an undercurrent of discontent among members of other Sandbelt clubs, who feel the buggy ban both inconveniences golfers and adds to the time taken to play.
 
There are no simple answers when it comes to buggies across greens, as clubs clearly have differing views and differing data on the success or otherwise of a ban. What is clear is that the simple practice of walking directly across a green to either your ball or an exit near the next tee is one of the simple charms of Sandbelt golf. It would be a shame to see it disappear altogether. For course superintendents and club managers, therefore, it may be a matter of juggling whether a near perfect putting surface is preferable to a near perfect golf experience.
 
Darius Oliver

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