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Debate: Auckland’s wet weather & closed sports fields

Last month some readers started to vent their frustation on our site at the large number of sports grounds that were closing due to the wet weather, mainly around Auckland.

Some argued that winter in New Zealand will always be wet and muddy underfoot and therefore sportsgrounds should be better equipped to handle the rain, the mud and the feet.

Others say having a few weeks sport-free isn’t the end of the world if it prolongs the life of the field.

During the debates Dane Hawker, golf course superintendent at North Shore Golf Club, got in touch with  Dane told us he managed 10 staff and maintains a 27 hole golf course – it’s his job to manage all aspects of the turf.

So we asked him about why this year is worse and what we can do about it moving forward…

1)  In your view, is this winter worse than others?   “This winter is about the same as last winter but it has been alot wetter going in with 900mm falling in the first 6 months. We have also had more regualr rain which keeps on topping up the soil profile. At this time of year rain ET (known as “evapotranspiration” – a term used to describe the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from the Earth’s land surface to atmosphere) has been very low around 1mm so the water isnt been dried up”.

First 6 months

2) What’s the main problem with soggy conditions underfoot? Can’t the grass just grow back
“Once the profile is saturated the air spaces in the poors are taken up. The roots need air to grow and struggle when its waterlogged. Due to lack of sunlight and soil temperature the grass does not grow as well as it does in spring. The soil profile is the main issue and playing sports on the ground while it is wet can do serious damage to the soils and the grass. Once the grass is dead it is near possbile to get seed or grass to repair at this time of the year”.

3) Why don’t we use tougher grass in Auckland? Or is the strength of the grass not important?
“Most fields now use ryegrass which is probably the toughest grass around. It also has the longest growing period. I would say the grass is not as important as the soil profile hence why councils are trying to install more and more sand carpet based fields. These drain better and keep the surface drier. They are still prone to wear”.

Photo — Duck and her ducklings walk past a puddle at NSGC recently / Dane Hawker

4)  Should sports fields use fake grass, like they do overseas? 
“This is a great debate. FIFA now allows these generation 3 pitches see ( I am not so sure these are suitable to rugby do to grazes to players. College rifles in central Auckland have a couple of these fields. I have not heard how they are going.”

5)  Anything else you’d like to add? 
All turf areas are feeling the effects. Many golf courses in Auckland have been closed on certain days. The ground conditions have been very boggy. North Shore Golf Club has been doing extensive drainage work and is one of the first courses in NZ to install sand carpets on fairways to help keep the course open when it is wet.”

Dane says he started his turf apprenticeship in 1998 at Kerikeri Golf Club in the far north before moving to Auckland in 2002 working on North Shore Sports Fields doing Renovations Coring and Verti-draining soil profiles. In 2003 he moved to the North Shore Golf Course (NSGC) and took over as Superintendent in 2009.

Our thanks to Dane for answering all our questions and for better explaining how winter affects sports fields.

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Guest on 21/07/2011 10:03pm

In comment to question 4.
The new artificial pitches are awsome for soccer. In the summer I play 7-aside at College Rifles in Remuera and this winter was lucky enough to play on the new artificial pitch at Bill McKinlay Park in Pamnure. We were the 3rd game that day with a 4pm kickoff and there was a game at 6pm after us; it rained the whole day and when we were finished you would never have known there had been games played on it. Imagine what the poorly drained boggy pitches that our “proactive” (not) council are in charge of would have looked like if the same amount of games had happened on their fields?!!!

Zelda Wynn on 21/07/2011 9:15pm

for your explanations and link. I have an interest in the use of plastic intertwined with the rye grasses to form tough pitches like they are doing for Eden Park. Fifa grounds do not have the high impact of Rugby players grazing or burning themselves on the surface that has been prepared with stalks of grass twined around plastic.

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