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Synthetic greens – the next step?

Located near the wine-producing region of the Moselle and only 15 km away from Luxembourg airport and city centre, the Kikuoka Country Club boasts a 'championship' 18-hole golf course and a Mercure 4 star hotel. Kikuoka is home to many National and International competitions and has hosted the European PGA Challenge Tour for five years running and recently held the first World Banking Championship, quite an accolade for such a relatively new course.

Set in 120 hectares of lightly wooded, rolling countryside; the original Iwao Uematsu contemporary designed golf course opened in 1991 and continues to offer a stern test of golfing skills with several water hazards and 90 bunkers.

The most recent addition, designed by Steve Marnoch of golfmarnoch International Golf Course Architects and Senior Member of The European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA), is due to open at the beginning of 2008. A six-hole compact course offering holes ranging from 65m to 95m which settles into a former orchard inside the Kikuoka complex and uniquely featuring fully contoured, synthetic sand fi lled greens and three synthetic tees per hole. Once in play next year, Kikuoka intend to add 'accent' lighting to enable the compact course to be viewed from the clubhouse and allow some play going into the dusk.

Understood to be the first of its kind in Europe, this facility is already attracting interest from other parties wishing to develop similar facilities. The course versatility and uniqueness is proving a huge draw and is expected to be a roaring success with the members, visitors and non-golfing hotel guests alike.

There was a long period of discussion between The Club Manager and Head PGA professional John Pickford, who runs the complex, Richard Barnes who manages and maintains the course and Steve Marnoch, Golf Course Architect, who has known John Pickford for over 35 years. When Pickford was assistant professional to Ralph Moffit (former Ryder Cup Player) at Coventry Hearsall Golf Club in the UK, Marnoch's father Peter was the head greenkeeper.

At times they wondered whether the course would ever be built but Pickford and Barnes made several trips to visit the best synthetic surfaces available for golf throughout Europe and the USA. Finally the team decided that synthetic greens would offer something different for the Kikuoka Complex, along with the added advantage of less maintenance. Pickford and Barnes took the bold decision to create the course with what they knew would be the first fully 'contoured' greens created with this type of surface; even the Duragrass installers had never installed their surfaces on a totally shaped golf course before. Each hole has been designed to have a different character; Pickford's brief to Marnoch was to create a compact course which would be played as a short course for the members, visitors and non-golfers but also to act as an additional practice facility for use by the team of resident professionals. With this in mind the hazards and shaping are formed to offer the full range of shots that one would expect when playing golf anywhere else. It is also possible to play to numerous greens from a number of tees.

Most holes play through the former orchard so there are trees to contend with plus regular sand bunkers, mounding and rough. On hole #4 there is even a sand waste area where the player reaches the green over a timber walkway. The greens are contoured in true Marnoch style but offer four or five good, fixed pin positions on each hole to test the players – forcing them to play towards, near and over the hazards. The final hole #6 plays from an elevated position to a well-guarded green over a feature stream which has been landscaped with large, local rocks.

There are shots to elevated greens and some from elevated tees to greens below; all greens have been contoured in the same way as natural grass greens in order to provide a completely realistic playing environment. The contouring has to be carefully monitored to make sure that the greens are not too fast to putt on. The system for the sand fill designed by DuraGrass Companies Inc allows the green speed to be set, dependent upon the amount of sand fill added and the amount of rolling of the synthetic fibres.

Golf architect, Steve Marnoch also had the task of supervising and coordinating the construction of this uncharted project and to ensure its success; with construction completed under budget and in only seven weeks, Marnoch made regular visits to oversee and check the development of the course whilst the day-to-day supervision was carried out using close associates golfmarnoch Project Manager Dan Ellwood and Shaper, Michael (Fred) Green.

The whole compact course site has been fully shaped and contoured, drained and irrigated just as with a traditional natural grass course construction. The synthetic areas were developed by Supatee Turf in conjunction with DuraGrass Companies Inc from the USA.

The area has been seeded with Barenbrug 45% Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF), 45% Barlexas 11 (fescue arundinacea) with 10% Adeline (ryegrass) and Richard Barnes is looking forward to shaping out the new fairways, semiroughs, green collars and approaches in the spring of 2008 to enable great putting and playing conditions throughout the year despite the weather. Following the successful germination of the natural grass, the compact course will open next year.

Marnoch thinks that the natural grass areas, particularly the fescue rough will contrast with and set off the synthetic areas very well. "I would" he states "be interested to produce a fully contoured totally synthetic course as there is, currently, a great variety of synthetic grass available to produce realistic greens, fringes – even bunkers and now I have an excellent team with the understanding of the specifications and methods for installation it would be an exciting and progressive project."

The whole idea of synthetic grass is not new; what is new is the idea that you can play realistic golf on contoured, synthetic greens. This method of creating a course could be very attractive in many different situations and environments: for existing golf courses; inner city courses; courses where the availability of water is a problem.

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