On course: Rolling back the years

Getting a first-hand feel of the greens are (from left) Chai, Choy and Tan.

THERE are only a handful of Malaysian golf courses that are right up there with the best in the region and because of this, they come under some serious scrutiny – be it the tract itself or the facilities.

Saujana Golf & Country Club is one of them, with particular attention paid to its Palm course. And like most layouts that undergo a makeover because of “wear and tear” or simply a revamp to modernise its image, the Cobra, as it is often referred to, came in for some stick following its transition from Tifdwarf grass greens to Ultradwarf Tifeagle.

Indeed, at the 2017 Maybank Championship the newly turfed greens was said to be “too grainy” which led the club’s management to undertake further work on the putting surfaces that went on beyond the 2018 Maybank Championship.

But when that was completed and the Palm Course re-opened in November 2018, in time for the 2019 Maybank Championship, things were looking up rather nicely.

A string of compliments followed and the greens held up at the US$3mil European and Asian Tour co-sanctioned tournament. Equally importantly, the tournament organisers and club members gave it the nod.

Now, as things stand, the Palm course is again being touted as among the best in South-East Asia.

It is interesting to note the recent comments of Tan Poh Chye, a club member since 1986.

He said, “I feel the greens are now consistent and the speed better compared to how they were not so long ago.

“The greens are definitely coming back to their best. They are challenging and have regained reputation, so much so, that players want to return for another shot at them, ” he added.

Playing partner Chai Chee Seng echoed those sentiments, and added that on a scale of 1-to-10, he ranked the greens at 8.5.

Choy Thiam Hwa, a Saujana Resort board member, shared some insight into what the revamp entailed and why in the long-term it was necessary for the club to refurbish the greens.

“We remember, in the past, especially in the 1980s, the sight of one of Malaysia’s leading players back then, M. Ramayah’s ball kept rolling back on the 12th green – which was then a brutal green.

“Also, in one of the (nine) Malaysian Opens the club has

hosted, we had Scotsman Colin Montgomerie cursing as he putted off the 5th green. The slope from back to front was really severe.

“At that time, the course was deemed as not very fair. And even when we opened in 1986, the greens were tricky.

“Since then many improvements have been made to the layout and the greens to give players a fair shake, even if it is generally said to be tough.

“The key here is that it is challenging but also fair. If you play with a strategy you can still come back with a decent score. And personally, I like the way the course is playing now, ” said Choy.

Course superintendent Mohd Razif Dahalan is the man behind the drive to keep the standards up.

He said after the decision to instal Tifeagle was made, the focus shifted to strengthening the grass’s character, with a view to ensuring adequate sunlight, aerations and a number of other salient points.

“This was important. We constantly had to monitor any changes to the grass and its environment. And, we had to become familiar with the grass’ capabilities, including cutting it shorter than other grass, ” Mohd Razif explained.“We know it is a foreign imported grass but once it begins to adapt itself to the local environment it becomes easier for us from the maintenance point of view.

“And through the proper application of nutrients we find that it becomes stronger, ” said Mohd Razif.

Once ranked as the “Sixth Most Difficult Course” in the world by CNN, the Palm course might yet again reach those dizzy heights and return to the glory days.

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