Walter Knoche steps onto the splotchy putting green on a recent balmy afternoon to set up his shot.
Underneath his feet near the fourth hole at the Granada Golf Course, swaths of bare earth scar the green grass. He comes here to play twice a week, and the past few months have been rough on five of the course’s nine holes.
“It’s deteriorating,” he’d said.
A combination of disease and weather likely ravaged the 16-year-old greens, and the city now plans to replace the grass this year.
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A U.S. Golf Association Association report commissioned by the city found that multiple causes likely wore the greens down this past winter.
“Turf-grass diseases were problematic on a number of golf course putting greens in South Florida this past winter,” wrote Todd Lowe, a senior agronomist with the association’s green section. “Mild temperatures and overcast weather encourages disease outbreaks and these conditions were certainly prevalent this year. The severity of turf decline suggests that multiple factors might have occurred, but diseases may have been at work as well.”
Carmen Olazabal, Coral Gables assistant city manager, said the city will put the project out to bid soon. When work begins, the course will stay open with temporary greens and green fees will be cut in half.
Current green fees range from $11 to $37.
She said the greens have not been replaced since 1998, and the $110,000 cost will come out of the $420,000 the city has already budgeted for course improvements.
“It’s basically right around the time to do it,” she said.
The course costs about $740,000 to maintain each year. Most of that money comes from fees paid by golfers.
Greens do get weaker and more susceptible to disease with age. Besides a fungus and use of herbicide to kill weeds, Granada’s greens had to deal with small parasites called nematodes late last summer. The city used pesticides to kill the critters then, so the USGA report said more tests would be needed to see if they have remained a problem.
Jason Kruse, an assistant professor of environmental horticulture at the University of Florida, said nematodes are largely unpreventable problem in Florida because they favor sandy soils. When there’s a large infestation, it can be very difficult to deal with.
“To be bluntly honest with you, that is certainly no fault of the turf-grass manager,” he said. “They have almost zero options on the market to deal with this.”
He said it is standard practice to replace greens every 10 to 12 years.
Even with the rougher, thinned out greens, Coral Gables residents have continued to play at the course known for its local feel.
On Tuesday, Andy Clute and his friends were out for one of the four days they spend at Granada every week. He said the sooner the blighted greens get replaced, the better.
“It’s an embarrassment to the city of Coral Gables,” he said.
His friend Jon Arthur said they hope the city moves quickly, but they’ll keep hitting the fairways anyway.
“We play here because our friendship is here,” he said.