Q & A with Guy Wallace (Boronia Bowls Greenskeeper)

Guy’s History

Q. How many years have you now been at Boronia Bowls Club and what’s your role here?

A. This is my 27th Year now at Boronia Bowls Club. My role at the Club is to maintain the greens to a competition standard all year round and maintain the grounds.

Q. This kind of role is fairly specialised, isn’t it?  It’s not just about mowing and rolling the green?

A.  It’s a highly specialised position, not even golf greens are of this kind of standard.  Our greens are cut at 1mm during the summer season and 2mm during the winter. Golf greens are cut at about 3mm.  We also roll about 10 times more than a golf green. This dries them out to the point of stress on the grass itself (in a safe way of course).

You must be very specialised in this position to know what and when to put on the surface in terms of fungicides and fertilisers. This then gets the best out of the grass under these conditions.

It really is a fine art to know how to allow the grass to grow, let alone survive under such stress which that grass is built for.

Q.  What’s your history in this field and what education was involved?

A.  I started my apprenticeship in Warrnambool at an early age at a club which had 4 grass greens.  We had 3 full time staff and a mechanic on site at the time.  We kept those greens at such a high standard, it gave me a great grounding as to what was needed to upkeep some of the best greens in the area, if not Victoria at that stage.  

When I finished my apprenticeship, I moved to Melbourne and worked for a contractor that looked after 17 clubs.  My boss at that time thought it was a good idea to do my Advanced Certificate, so I went back to school for 2 years where we learnt a lot more about grass.  I went to school with guys that are now in charge of Royal Melbourne Golf Club, MCG & all the premier sporting venues in Victoria and Australia.  So, I really learnt with the best many of whom I’m still friends with.

During a recent conversation with a mate, we both made comment to each other that we were amazed at how we each other do our jobs and how we couldn’t swap jobs.  The guys at the MCG looked after the MCC greens for a while and wondered “How could you do this job full time, it’s stressful”.

Grass Specifics

Q.  What’s the difference between the old bent grass and tifdwarf?

A.  When I first started, all the greens were bent grass and as the summers got warmer and drier, we realised we had to look at alternatives.  After only 5 years, we’d find that bent grass would reach the end of its lifetime and you’d have to resurface it.  The other problem was that it got spongy and muddy, and we couldn’t allow play on it over winter.

With Tifdwarf, you get a good 4-5 months of growing weather, and if you stay on top of it by scarifying and cutting it slightly higher, it will last and hold during the winter periods allowing play.  The lifespan of a Tifdwarf green is around 25-30 years.  The process is easier as well as you don’t have to completely rip up and re-lay it, it’s a matter of taking the top off it, laser level it and the grass will grow back like new.

Q.  Why does Tifdwarf brown off, not grow and go “dormant” during the cooler months?

A.  The soil temperatures here, as opposed to QLD and NSW are a lot cooler.  Last week we measured the temperature at 11.8 degrees under the surface.  It’s the same as what happens to grass in America in the snowy areas.  The snow covers the grasses and puts them to sleep because grass knows that if it grows in such cold conditions, it will damage itself.

Q.  Why during winter do we alternate greens instead of having both open all the time?

A.  It basically comes down to wear and tear which is more prevalent because of the dormant grass.  The one reason we’ve been playing East/West during winter is because we don’t tend to play that way a lot during the summer season and because that direction is in full sun where possible during winter.

Current Moisture Damage On Green 2 Up The North End

The northern end of both greens gets shaded by the sheds a lot and therefore don’t dry out when we do get rain.  With that you get a lot of algae and problems down that end.  The grass is already in a weak state and if it was played on, it would cause problems with the grass and get quite muddy.  This in term harms the growth coming into the summer season which is almost impossible to bring back once the hot weather hits.

We alternate the greens by running one close to its limits, then change play to the other green which has had time to freshen up as much as possible.  This allows both greens to be ready for the start of the season which is more desirable than shutting them both down for 4 months.  If that was the case, it would take a lot of work to get them ready for the season as the soil would unpack itself and result in a very slow summer green.

The biggest advantage for the club is that the bowlers have a chance to bowl throughout the winter and won’t be too rusty once the season proper begins which is great for the club.

Standard of the Greens

Q.  The greens seem to be quicker this winter than normal, is this going to continue going into the season?

A.  Yes.  We’ve got a new rolling program now, with thanks to Matt Clark who’s been able to help me out a lot in terms of time spent rolling them.  With the top side being in Division 2, we really should have the greens faster than what they have been.  It’s good that we’re going to raise the bar a little bit and raise the standard of the greens to match those in the northern areas without stressing the greens too much.  

Also, with the tournaments we have coming up this year, we really want to show case what we have here at Boronia and that excites me and reinvigorates me which is great.  If we can get the greens running at 15 secs – 15 ½ seconds that would be great and match the likes of Mooroolbark and Mitcham who seem to host everything. 

We’re also going to look at matching the speed of the greens for Thursday practice with those of Saturday, that’s a huge advantage to the club in terms of home games.  

Q.  Does that mean the back green will be closed shortly and the front green reopened?

A.  Yes.  The back green is looking like it’s nearing the end of its run. With this in mind, we’ll start to get the front green ready for play.  By the end of the month, we would like everyone used to playing on the front green.

Q.  Will we still be playing East/West?

A.  It will be East/West until the start of Pennant Practice.  With all the Pennant Practice games starting in September and going North/South, it will get a pounding. We want to preserve those ends until then as much as possible because the grass is still dormant, although it’s showing signs of life again.

Q.  We have some big tournaments this year which will showcase the club.  As mentioned earlier, this is part of your speeding up the greens.  Are you looking forward to it?

A.  It’s something you strive for.  As a Greenskeeper, like any style of work, you want to be able to show what you can do. It also gives you something to aim for.  It really gives you something to be proud of, something to try to achieve.  But I can’t do it alone, I will need some help in terms of the grounds because I will be concentrating on the greens.  Any help will be greatly appreciated around those times.  We really need to showcase the club and get everything as perfect as we can.

Q.  What are the holes in the green and when will they close up because they are causing “tracks” in the green.

The holes currently in the green

A.  Those holes are created by a Vertidrain machine.  Most clubs in Melbourne are doing that in winter so the greens can dry out.  It’s a problem where the greens aren’t used as much but the algae can take over because you’re rolling a damper soil and grass.  We had the hole drilled at 12mm which gives the grass and soil a chance to breath over winter time.  It’s a necessary evil unfortunately.  It’s going to be with us until mid September once the grass really comes to life.  In saying that, we’re seeing signs of the grass growing now which is encouraging.  We also don’t know how North/South is going to roll but I expect it to be 10 times better than East/West.

Q.  Will the Greens need to be closed from time to time if you put certain fertiliser or fungicide on them?

A.  Yes, if people can be mindful of the “Greens Closed” signs and obey their directions.  If I have by chance sprayed the greens which need a day or two to settle, just make sure you adhere to the signs.  Some of the spray is poisonous to people so we only close them after spraying for the safety of members.

I do alternate the greens with any type of spray to always keep at least one green open.

New Technology

Q.  A new weather station was installed.  What does this do for you?

A.  I’ve got an app on my phone now which tells me exactly the amount of rain for the day, week, month etc.. With the Scoresby weather station 5-10km away and with us being on the foothills of the Dandenongs, our weather varies between the two as reported.  This gives us precise readings from the club itself.  Sometimes Scoresby can report rain or a really hot day, with the Weather Station at the club, I can tell exactly what has happened.

Q.  What are the green things poking out of the grass at the moment?

The Moisture Sensors

A.  They are the new Moisture Sensors and Matt and I have been playing around with them over winter.  It’s a new innovative tool which allows me to work out the moisture in the green.  It will give me a better understanding during the playing season. As the green dries out, I’ll be able to tell how far I can push them in terms of stress levels.  I have the watering system linked to the club remotely, so I can see all the sensors and know exactly how much water to put on the greens. 

With the cost of water these days, it takes the guess work out of it. It brings in an almost exact science in terms of the water use.  Previously it was all guess work.  This is good for the club in terms of money, but also good for the greens in terms of what it needs without causing either minimal or maximum levels of wear. 

Q.  Why do you get a green on a particular rink playing wide on one side, narrow on the other.  Yet, move two rinks up and it can be completely different?

A.  It’s one of those unknown things, grass is a living, moving, breathing organism.  Even a green that has been laser levelled is going to do strange things. On another day, it could do another thing altogether.  It’s almost like a cricket pitch where one end you’re going to get bounce and spin, yet the other end gives you a standard line and height.

A green also has different drainage rates in different parts of the green.  Certain patches could be wetter than others. Therefore these patches hold a line for a metre, yet others are dryer and will cut harder.

I believe that there will be plans in place this year to get feedback on any areas or rinks that aren’t playing true. I can then work towards fixing those areas based on the reports.

Members Matter

Q.  Wear and tear is important on the greens.  What’s the best advice you can give our members to help you?

A.  If people can practice on different rinks, that would be the greatest help.  Most people come down to practice and identify the middle rinks (3-5).  If they could be aware of that and practice on 1-2, or 6-7 that would make a HUGE difference.  Also, practice on the pegs during the week except for Thursday’s, that also would be great.

Q.  From time to time, you ask the members to be careful of certain things to do and not to do.  How do you know if they are being adhered to?

A.  In reality, I don’t.  People standing in the ditches I can tell as I see shoe marks in the sand.  I only report on things that are necessary to keep the greens up to a certain standard.

With that standard lifting this year, I would encourage the members to be aware of people doing the incorrect thing.  At the end of the day, it is the members club, and we should all take pride in the greens and grounds and should therefore be mindful of doing the right thing by everyone.

Q.  Thanks Guy for this inciteful information.

A.  No problem.  I hope this answers many of the questions that are asked on a regular basis.  I will be doing a monthly greens report going forward through one of the email addresses. This will be done to keep members up to date with the state of the greens.

I’m really excited with the upcoming season and wish the best for all sides involved.  I’ll be trying to do my part in making it one of the most exciting years for the Boronia Bowls Club.