Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: It’s a feather in the cap whenever a golf course superintendent plays hosts to a professional Tour event. When the US PGA Tour tees-off at Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club (KLGCC) for the US$7 million CIMB Classic, superintendent Mohd Nizam Othman will have gathered two feathers in the space of three weeks.
KLGCC also played host to the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia, in the second week of October, an event won by China’s Feng Shanshan.
“This is KLGCC’s second year preparing back-to-back international tournaments,” said Othman, who oversees a staff of 160. “Our golf course agronomy team is doing a great job preparing both the East and West Courses for the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia and CIMB Classic, respectively.
“The biggest challenge other than weather is – the weather. Malaysia can experience very erratic weather conditions, with humidity during the day, sometimes cloudy conditions, and heavy downpours at any time. For each tournament, my team has to be available almost throughout the night to prepare the golf course for the following morning. But so far, the courses are doing great.”
The wear and tear at KLGCC is mitigated by the two 18-hole courses Othman maintains there. The East plays host to the Sime Darby LPGA event, while the West hosts the US PGA Tour. However, the Sime Darby LPGA and the CIMB Classic will actually be the second and third events Othman and KLGCC entertain during 2014. In April, the West Course hosted the European Tour’s Maybank Malaysian Open, won by England’s Lee Westwood.
That’s three major international Tour events (and three feathers) in seven months – not to mention the 50,000 member rounds KLGCC accommodates annually.
For this feat of agronomic skill and performance, Othman credits past tournament preparation – and education. Though based in Kuala Lumpur, Othman is an active member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), golf’s foremost facilitator of best course-maintenance practices worldwide. He also holds a degree from the Malaysian Agriculture Institute in Serdang, and a turf management certificate from the New Zealand Sports Turf Institute.
But there’s no getting around the fact that Othman is also one of Asia’s most experienced ‘championship’ superintendents. Each tournament preparation makes the next one more straightforward, he says.
This year marks Othman’s fifth Sime Darby LPGA, his fifth Maybank Malaysian Open and his second CIMB Classic. During his tenure as superintendent at Kota Permai Golf & Country Club, Othman prepared that course for four separate Volvo Masters events.
Othman is quick to point out that a major tournament is just as hard on the golf course as it is on the property’s outlying areas, which must typically accommodate four days of huge crowds.
“Both areas are equally important, of course,” Othman said, noting that competitors care most about the course itself, while members care about both the course and grounds – all year long. “As a championship golf course, we work closely with the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour and European Tour agronomists and Tour directors. Each Tour has different and strict set of specifications for golf course conditions. We do not compromise on any of them.”
Asian golf fans have an under-standing of all the work that goes into tour-nament prep-aration. For example, both courses at KLGCC feature Seashore paspalum turfgrass on fairways, tees, greens and rough areas. For the CIMB Classic, Othman and his team will maintain the West Course greens at .11 inches (or .28 cm).
But this understanding may not extend to the responsibility Othman and his fellow superintendents have for the larger golf course properties, all year long.
KLGCC was designed on a former rubber plantation by Nelson & Wright in 1992; it was subject to a major renovation from E&G Parslow in 2007. More than 3,000 trees have been planted since construction, and the property is today home to more than 50 bird species, in addition to dozens of ground-dwelling animals, such as squirrel, jungle fowl and monitor lizard.
Othman and his fellow superintendents must always strike a balance between on-going golf course maintenance and the well-being of these animal species, plus various wetland species.
While they are enjoying these competitions on television, Othman urges casual golfers to appreciate the balancing act superintendents perform every day at local courses across Asia – and the incredible impact the weather has on their efforts.
“It’s pretty tough to sustain the quality of turfgrass, every day of the year, when you have such humidity, cloudy conditions and rain all year long,” he said.
“These conditions cause the disease, the insect activities and a lack of photo-synthesis – all this can affect golf course conditions. I believe most Asian golfers understand tropical weather. And I believe they better understand each day how it affects the golf courses we all enjoy so much.”