Playing conditions at Royal Melbourne...
The Presidents Cup was a huge hit globally as Royal Melbourne showed the unique sandbelt style of golf that included extremely firm greens and approaches. The Internationals played inspired golf before succumbing to a comeback by the Americans, making for an intense final round and much talk about tour events coming back to the Melbourne Sandbelt.
Agronomically, RMGC was in top condition and ready to test the best professional golfers around the world. Social media was lighting up with threads on firm and fast, the work that goes into the course, and best management practices for your courses members. After working many tournaments around the world and seeing how those courses were set up, this was a unique course.
First off not many courses deal with three types of grasses on the short grass but RMGC has Bermudagrass fairways, fine fescue approaches, and Sutton bentgrass mix on greens. All of these have been selected for the proper reason and desired result by the agronomy team.
Bermudagrass will withstand the summer temperatures in Melbourne that can exceed 100°F and by choosing common Bermuda there is a natural look to the grass when compared to other varieties. Fescue and colonial bentgrass are used to achieve firm conditions while still being healthy as hand watering is used the majority of the time. Also these grasses allow for Poa annua control as selective herbicides can be used without harm to the desired grass.
The second way RMGC is unique is the sand that the course is built on. Being native to the area the sand is unlike any other, hence the name of the area is the Melbourne Sandbelt. This sand is very fine becoming a powder when dry, but with some water the sand can be used to rebuild bunker faces. Paul helped with a bunker rebuild earlier in the tournament and said it was almost hydrophobic at first before becoming mortar like. After drying the sand will stay hard, so hard indeed, that you can walk up the faces of bunkers and not even see footprints.
With that in mind it is very easy to see why firm conditions can be achieved here. Another great benefit to an abundance of sand means no drainage is needed as it drains naturally through the soil profile. When you see the natural look of the rough with grass, native plants, and sand this is very desired and that sand will allow for the course to continue evolving over time. Grass will fill in and die out but the sand that is exposed is still playable. This is a huge reason RMGC can achieve the look they desire. Most courses around the world can’t deal with bare ground as it becomes so hard or muddy it is ends unplayable.
Just by watching on TV you can see how beautiful and great Royal Melbourne is. Until walking the course and feeling the firmness beneath my feet I never knew how firm a course could get. The Clegg Impact Tester, or firmness reading, says a value of 130 Gravities (Gmax) is very firm for greens, but the firmness at RMGC was easily 130 Gmax and upwards of 180 Gmax at times. That is very firm for the average golfer. Staff bounce golf balls off the greens to test firmness usually to see if the result is what they want and where to go from there. A stimpmeter is not used, as they believe if the course is firm speed will follow.
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