Deer Damage In Paradise

By Larry Gilhuly, Director, Northwest Region
October 13, 2010

In search of food and water, grazing deer and sheep have caused obvious damage to many parts of the golf course.

2010 may go down as one of the most trying for golf course superintendents in every portion of the U.S.  From the brutal winter damage in the Pacific Northwest, bermudagrass winter damage in the lower Midwest, to summer challenges to cool season grasses all over the central and northern tier states, 2010 was not a year of gentle trade winds and evening showers.  The one state in the U.S. that is historically known for both of these traits, Hawaii, is now in the second year of a severe drought. 

The Experience at Koele, on the island of Lanai, was built in the early 1990’s with several unique factors on-site.  First, due to the 2000+ foot elevation on nearly half the golf course and the very mild climate (for Hawaii), the creeping bentgrass greens have held up very well.  Poa annua has not invaded the greens and creeping bentgrass is still found on the majority of the putting surfaces. 

The other unique factor associated with Koele is the water source.  In addition to normal rainfall (generally between 30-40 inches annually), the only water allowed for golf course use is recycled water.  No potable water is allowed.  During normal economic times, this would not be an issue; however, with the ongoing lack of tourism and construction, the number of people living or vacationing on Lanai has declined dramatically.  With fewer people comes less potable water use in hotels, businesses, and homes.  The result is far less recycled water for use on the golf course.  The bottom line: Les Jeremiah, superintendent, was faced with having just 120,000 gallons of water per day for use on a golf course that was undergoing severe drought. 

Another difficulty faced by the maintenance staff was the different types of grasses found on-site.  The fairways were converted to Tifway 419 bermudagrass approximately ten years ago.  The roughs were primarily kikuyugrass with extensive areas of hilograss in the non-irrigated upper holes.  Finally, more than half of the tees have been converted to seashore paspalum, and many of the fairways have been invaded by this aggressive, well-adapted invader. 

Why is having these types of grasses a problem during a time of drought?  Enter the Axis deer and Mouflon sheep that search for food.  Due to the lack of water, both of these animals have come to the golf course in search of food and water.  While the lakes provide the water, the roughs have been denuded by grazing deer and sheep.  Since irrigation water has been eliminated from the roughs, only the strong grasses have survived.  The wide-bladed hilograss is gone (and good riddance).  The dominant kikuyugrass, although grazed heavily, continues to survive and expand into areas previously dominated by hilograss.  Seashore paspalum is the favorite treat of the deer and sheep.  While the animals appear to avoid eating dormant bermudagrass on the fairways and nearby roughs, they relish the seashore paspalum treat on the tees and fairways. 

When you add the many negatives faced by the staff at Koele, nobody would ever want to “experience” this much difficulty.  The rest of the story – the dormant hybrid bermudagrass fairways provided some of the best playing conditions this year.  Firm, fast and not green, yet providing good ball lie.  Oh “deer” – one does not have to be sheepish about using less water in paradise!

Source:  Larry Gilhuly, lgilhuly@usga.org

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