Brendon Kelly knows better than most the huge challenges which those like him who look after North Harbour’s bowling greens have had to face in the past summer.
On top of the problems posed by one of the hottest and driest summers on record, as the season neared its end clubs had their greens shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, with clubs doing so even before the Government had made it mandatory.
That this was partially relaxed after two or three weeks of total inactivity to allow Kelly and his colleagues to return to give the greens much needed attention was a welcome relief.
“It was certainly beneficial,” he says. “The greens badly needed spraying and even in a short time a lot of moss had formed.” There was one positive to the compulsory shut-down, though, and it was helpful that the summer season was coming to an end. “One of the good things was that it gave the greens a bit of a rest.”
But even before the pandemic and its repercussions the exceptionally dry weather had meant difficulties for Kelly, who is in charge of the Browns Bay and Birkenhead greens and three Auckland greens, and all the other Harbour greens staffs.
Des Cotter, green superintendent for the Takapuna club, says many bowlers themselves probably didn’t fully appreciate the brutal reality that even after overnight watering the high day-time temperatures led to many greens suffering “heat stress.”
Before becoming superintendent Cotter was Takapuna’s voluntary green-keeper as well as being an active bowler.
Kelly, too, is an enthusiastic bowler and of such an accomplished standard he has won, besides a number of club championships, two centre titles. But despite having an inside appreciation of the game, and not needing to be told of the need for quality greens, Kelly and Cotter have endured criticism from club members who think they know better.
“It can get a bit depressing at times,” Kelly says. But as had Cotter he has learned to develop a thick skin and has no qualms about having a dual role. Some of his colleagues, though, like Hamish Russell, who looks after the Takapuna, Mairangi Bay and Milford greens, have deliberately avoided becoming active players for fear of having to endure negative comment.
Kelly, 48, did a green-keeping apprenticeship at the Waitemata Golf club, having previously played golf with a handicap of seven. He took to bowls about 25 years ago while looking after the Rocky Nook greens in Auckland.
Russell, too, started with golf clubs, having done a diploma course in turf culture at Massey University.
Both Kelly and Russell have won praise for their success in restoring what had been troublesome greens, Russell particularly for what he has achieved at Milford, and Kelly for his recent transformation of Birkenhead greens.
One other greens challenge looms for some of Harbour clubs. That’s whether they should change their greens to the Maniototo weed from the South Island. Browns Bay has already done so and the excellent quality of its greens leads Kelly to suggest others should follow its example despite previous concerns about Maniototo’s unsuitability for the northern climate.
“I’ve actually found it to have less disease than Starweed,” he says.