What you need to know:
- Karanja says one can very easily drop a shot or more at the par three-13th because of the water and wind effect
- Karanja says to maintain a golf course to the required international standards, a club does not just need enough water and machinery, but also a motivated and experienced team
- Karanja, an agronomist from Egerton University in Njoro, who became the green keeper at Muthaiga in 2020, says not all the clubs in the country appoint qualified green keepers
The main focus on Kenya’s sporting scene next week shifts to the Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi where the par 71 course will, once again, host the Magical Kenya Open Golf Tournament, a round of the DP World Tour Series.
The Open, which of late has been shifting between the two giant clubs of Muthaiga and Karen Country Club because of their international standard facilities, marks its 56th year, having started in 1967, then organised privately by one John Sparling.
Most of the players drawn from different countries are expected from Sunday for Monday’s registration and to at least have a feel of the course.
This year, the course may be playing short or easy owing to lack of rains, unless the weather changes between now at the tee off next Thursday.
Muthaiga’s green keeper Francis Karanja will be very much in focus in the coming days.
He says all is good, although he has been praying and wishing that it rains to just cool off the ground.
“If the weather continues like this, the course will play easy. We have, however, prepared the course well despite the harsh weather and lack of rain to grow enough rough,’’ Karanja told Nation Sport in a pre-tournament interview recently.
He says most of the short holes (par threes) will be tough, especially hole 13, the par four-sixth and eighth. “Another challenging hole will be the par four-15th in my opinion,” he added.
Karanja says one can very easily drop a shot or more at the par three-13th because of the water and wind effect.
The par four-sixth is likely to be long and with the rough around the green, one has to make sure his approach short is safely on the green, he further advises. On the other hand, the eighth hole has trees on the right and is a fairly long par four.
Attention to the course
At the back nine, the hole the players will need to pay attention to is the par four-15th as the fairway slopes into the water on the right, and so it will depend on where one send his driver.
The greens will obviously be fair, probably in the first two rounds and very quick in the final two rounds. So it will be the player, or players, who pay close attention to the course who will have the last laugh on the final day next Sunday.
“The European Tour officials were around on Wednesday doing the marking of the course and they were happy with the condition and that we ready. We keep our routine now and hope we get some rain,” the Muthaiga green keeper adds.
But what does it take to prepare a course for such an event like the Magical Kenya Open? Karanja says to maintain a golf course to the required international standards, a club does not just need enough water and machinery, but also a motivated and experienced team.
The team of course workers is usually led by a green keeper and, in some clubs, the team will include the course manager.
Karanja is the green keeper at Muthaiga Golf Club which for many years has been the home of the Kenya Open, now known as Magical Kenya Open, save for some few years when the event was staged at Karen Country Club.
He says a golf course has several areas that require different operations and activities to keep the course in good, playable condition and to allow golfers enjoy their game and the inherent challenge it carries.
Karanja, an agronomist from Egerton University in Njoro, who became the green keeper at Muthaiga in 2020, says not all the clubs in the country appoint qualified green keepers.
“In fact, in some clubs, the green keeper is elected along with the rest of the club officials annually and sometimes he or she may not have the necessary knowledge of green-keeping,’’ he says and adds: “A green keeping association was established recently in Nairobi, and it is hoped to bring in some sense of professionalism.”
Karanja, also a member of Muthaiga Golf Club and golfer since 2003, gives the key areas of the course as the putting green area, aprons and approaches, teeing area, fairways, bunkers, and penalty areas. The putting green should be true, consistent firm and dry.
They should deliver the effects of ball spin on well struck shots and provide an acceptable and sustainable speed.
He says a good green keeping team must maintain a general schedule. “Water is obviously an important ingredient, but it has to be supported by the necessary equipment, for fairways, and green maintenance.
“Spiking, for example has to be done in every 21 to 30 days to aid in aeration and related benefits, as well as hollow tinning/coring. This relieves compaction, creates robust roots and disease management.”
Karanja says usually Muthaiga starts preparation of the course for an event like the Magical Kenya Open several months before the competition.
This is done in collaboration with the European Tour’s agronomist who will usually give instructions on how he would like the course to be prepared for the Open.
There are a lot of challenges experienced in most the golf courses, including disease and pests which are usually tackled on a need basis, as is the weed management.
Karanja says the club could have enough water to maintain the course, but water management and irrigation is important in order to maintain good moisture content levels to support the growth and not to kill the greens.
Fairway closely mowed
Routine moisture measurement is critical.
Karanja further explains that the teeing area should be level, firm and dry with adequate recovery capacity, to provide freedom for swing, making it presentable and aligned with the fairway.
On the other hand, the fairway is the closely mowed area to provide an attractive appearance, complementing the natural and man-made features. It should be dry, firm and provide consistent acceptable lies.
The ball should sit on top of the turf.
While preparing for major events like the Magical Kenya Open, proper marking of the penalty areas — as per the rules of golf — is very important and a necessity to assist in proper execution of the game of golf.
The course team have a responsibility they are up to date with these clear markings.
This is done in conjunction with the relevant golf committees and qualified referees. Investment in proper machinery and equipment for maintenance of a golf course is key to maintaining a world class golf course.
However, these items are capital intensive and require heavy capex allocation and a long-term plan of continuous investment and procurement.
“We also need a robust machine maintenance and training programme to get optimal output. Our monthly budget is between two to four million shillings,” says Karanja who has a team of 24 people including the course manager.
Normally, most golf course teams work during odd hours from around 4am to 8am and later from 4pm to 6pm. This is to allow for golfers to enjoy the course during the day and minimize interruptions of play.
Karen Country Club green keeper Amos Gathua, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and 19 years’ experience in green-keeping says to maintain a pristine course, you need a motivated team, experienced crew members, good fleet of machinery, sound green keeping programmes, and a good network of green keepers in Kenya and abroad.
Gathua says greens can last up to 30 years with good green keeping practices.
Most courses change their greens in less than 20 years due to other reason like changing the grass variety and changing the design to give different challenges to the golfers.