The Zen of Grass

By: Vernon Thompson

The Pali Golf Course has just gotten a face lift that has long-time duffers scratching their heads and singing the praises of the City and County municipal golf course maintenance staff. “I have been golfing on the Pali course for 15 years and have never seen the greens look so good,” said Gordon Wong, as he wrapped up a day on the course. It’s a Zen thing. When Sean De Mello, the Pali golf course superintendent, talks about grass, it sounds like he’s talking about religion. “If we keep up our cultural practices, such as verti cutting, top dressing and aerating with scheduled fertility and fungicide applications; we will maintain a healthy stand of turf on our greens. In the world of golf courses, green is gold. That was not always the case at the Pali. Since it was designed in 1953 by Willard Wilkinson, this premier municipal course that lies in the bosom of the Koolau Mountains with a view of lush forests and the Pacific Ocean is plagued by inclement weather and lack of sun. Golfers learned to contend with weeds, barren patches, and clumps of grass. “If you are a bad golfer, it just didn’t matter that much,” said Wong, who is now worried word is spreading, and he will have to contend with more golfers dressed in funny pants and strange hats swarming the course.

The transformation of the Pali began six years ago with the asphalt cart paths being replaced with concrete then the irrigation system being replaced and finally broke ground last June when the City invested $460,000. It received the expertise from Logan Hamocan of Sports Turf Hawaii who was responsible to remove the existing turf and replace with Seashore Paspalum. Hamocan, who played the course as a kid, is proud of the work his company has performed. “We really appreciate the work of the City golf course maintenance staff because they are so knowledgeable and organized.”

Since the Pali course was developed back in the 1950s, new hybrid grasses have since been developed that tolerate the excessive conditions. Seashore Paspalum has become the miracle solution for golf courses in tough environmental locations that once used TifDwarf Bermuda turf. “We want to give our golfers a country club experience. This new grass is the first important step of making it a great experience for our golfers,” said De Mello.
De Mello expects many more golfers to choose the Pali course in the future. “With the way the economy is going, people are flocking to municipal golf courses. We want to make sure they have the best experience possible.”

Credit for this golf course transformation goes from top down. The Mayor even credits late Councilmember Barbara Marshall for keeping up the pressure to improve the course. Sidney Quintal, director of the Department of Enterprise Services, said this job could not have been done without the support of the Mayor and others who provided first rate equipment to get the job done.

“It is because of the dedication of these groundskeepers, starters, cart attendants and others who show up at 5 a.m. before T-time and make this place perfect,” added Leighton Wong, assistant golf system administrator, who also said: “If other city departments had not chipped in, this would have taken a longer period of time to complete. If we needed Biosolids compost, Department of Environmental Services arranged the delivery and pot holes were repaired by the Division of Road Maintenance, the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Honolulu Zoo also provided support in our efforts.

Scott Voeller, maintenance supervisor known from his University of Hawaii days as a premier linebacker, said this new grass requires special care. “We have to stay on top of this new grass to make sure it stays healthy. In another year it will be stronger, but we have to maintain our cultural practices.” He explained that Seashore Paspalum can adapt to close mowing for greens. The reason that this turf grass variety was selected is because of it’s adaptability to extreme environmental conditions and its low fertility and low water use requirements. It provides an excellent putting surface with proper care and maintenance.

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