Published by : Stuart McLean - 14 August 2022

Durban Country Club will next year be upgrading all their greens complexes and rebuilding bunkers following the devastating flooding of their course in April and May. Members recently returned to playing all 18 holes, after most of them had been closed for three months. Water still covered many fairways into the early weeks of June.

A view of the flooded par-4 16th, one of the worst damaged holes at Country Club.

“The members are happy to be playing the course again, even though the greens are not in the best of condition,” said DCC golf director Don Gammon. “It means our Centenary celebrations are back on track for December.”

The worst floods in the past 100 years were distressing for members and staff in this the club’s centenary year. The course was officially opened on December 9, 1922.

It is estimated that more than 200 million litres of water drowned DCC over a 10-day period of heavy rainfall from April 10 to 20, something like 300 millimetres on April 11 alone, wreaking catastrophic damage. A large area at the Umgeni River end of the course resembled a vast muddy dam, with trees the only means of demarcating the submerged fairways of holes 5 to 9 on the front nine, and 10 to 16 on the back nine.

The Prince of Wales par-3 12th (right foreground) stands aloof from the rest of the flooded holes.

Inadequate stormwater systems and culverts, plus an overflowing Umgeni River, saw an unprecedented buildup of water on the course. Country Club had frequently been subject to flooding before, but nothing on this scale.

While most of the fairways were under water, only three greens, Nos 5, 6 and 7, suffered the same fate. Those on higher land were spared any damage. The green of the Prince of Wales, the par-3 12th, stood out like an island between vast water hazards which were the 11th and eighth fairways. When maintenance staff began pumping the water off the course, much of it wasn’t able to immediately drain away because the stormwater exit points had been blocked by debris and silt.

Having no irrigation system following the flood meant there was no water to wash off the mud and river sediment that had accumulated on top of the fairways.

The par-4 ninth fairway remained flooded for months after the April deluge, whereas the 14th (right foreground) became playable.

“We have no option but to embark on a major renovation project, and fortunately we have the financial backing from our sponsor Nick Jonsson and a trust to complete it,” said Gammon. “The majority of our bunkers were structurally compromised, and those that weren’t need significant work. However, nothing can be done this year as we are now entering the rainy season and we don’t want construction vehicles getting stuck on the course. The upgrades are planned to happen next winter.”

Gammon could not say what grass would be used to resurface the greens. Finding the right grass variety suitable for the humid Durban climate, paspalum, bent or cynodon, would appear to be a major priority, because the Country Club greens have been the weak link on this great layout for many years.

The green of the par-5 10th (top left) almost resembles an island alongside the flooded 14th (left) and 13th (top right)

The club persisted with slowish paspalum greens popular in KwaZulu-Natal up until 2010 when a mini-verde cynodon was planted in a hurry prior to the club hosting the 100th SA Open in December that year. The mini-verde did produce quicker greens, but they were not pleasing on the eye in terms of texture and colour, and not always in the best of condition at certain times of the year, particularly during and after a cold winter.

In spring 2021 these greens reacted badly to a maintenance treatment with a herbicide and Royal Blue cynodon had to be hand-planted prior to the club hosting the Jonsson Workwear Open on the Sunshine Tour in February. The greens were “acceptable” for that tournament and were putting reasonably well when the floods came along.

DCC still has significant irrigation challenges as the system is not yet working after the main pump station and its satellite boxes were destroyed. Currently the greens have to be hand watered using a 2 500-litre JoJo tank attached to a vehicle, doing nine greens a day.

Gammon admitted that the club were working on drainage solutions to avoid future flooding on this scale. This includes widening sluits with an excavator.

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