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From Australia: You Get Less for Murder

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Close-up of pure MacKenzie Bentgrass with no surface organic layer due to light frequent dusting.

I’m in Australia speaking at the 2012 Australian Turfgrass Conference.I was collected at the Sydney Airport after 22 hours of flight time from Syracuse, NY by Mark Couchman, past president of the Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association. Immediately we began our jaunt around Sydney and our first visit to New South Wales Golf Club (ranked #35 best golf course in the world by Golf Magazine)  and Superintendent Gary Dempsey.

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With Gary Dempsey at the par 3 Sixth, "Most Photographed Hole in Australia"

Like a kid in a candy store I bounced out of the car, grabbed my knife and camera and wandered the shop floor. I came across a cool spray hawk innovation using golf buggy wheels and extended boom, and a sod cutter adapted to take very thin slices of Mackenzie bentgrass sod from his nurseries for his new creeping bentgrass greens. Gary’s office was lined with pictures of US courses, including his tournament volunteering pics. My favorite was a signed certificate and picture of Gary shaking hands with President Bill Clinton. Gary is certainly an Australian treasure and quite a character.

On the drive into the course I noted the National Park signs as we headed up to the clubhouse. This golf course is nestled within the Botany Bay National Park in an area called La Perouse (named for a French Navigator who landed here) and likely where Captain James Cook, the explorer credited with discovering Australia, made first land. In fact, there is a fresh-watering hole on the course known to be where he collected his fresh drinking water.

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A view down the 5th hole to the western peninsula where Capt. Cook entered the Bay

I could ramble on about the history — in fact, the club has a book — but suffice is to say it felt like a combination of St. Andrews, Cypress Point, and Bandon Dunes all in one course. The famous par three sixth hole requires a shot over the bay to a tiered sloping green. This is a shot-maker’s course and if the wind blows… heck, even the pro’s whined and walked off a few years ago during the Australian Open.

From a turf perspective they are Bermudagrass (coochgrass) fairways, tees, and rough, and converted to MacKenzie creeping bentgrass greens in August of 2011. All but two were seeded. The two sodded greens were by the sea, making seed establishment tricky. Less than one year later they are pure and firm and by all measures an enormous success.

…it felt like a combination of St. Andrews, Cypress Point, and Bandon Dunes all in one course.”

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Modified spray hawk reduces time to hand spray greens

Gary is a no bullshit kind of guy,straighforward, thoughtful, not afraid to ruffle feathers. When I asked him how long he’d been at NSW, he said simply, “23 yrs, Frank. You get less than that for murder”.

Ah the paradox of life in the golf turf business… love and hate at the same time. I can’t wait to return here someday with my clubs and from here meet the next Aussie.


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