Tough work behind lush look

Tough work behind lush look
The boom sprays of the Briggs irrigator can extend to 30m so that the entire width of the turf can be watered.

Ever wondered how the grass at the Singapore Turf Club (STC) remains so well-kept despite having horses thundering on it every day?

This is because about 40 meticulous landscaping and maintenance workers toil almost every day to maintain the lush turf which horses train and race on.

The club's senior manager of tracks, Mr R. Jayaraju, explained that the turf has almost 600 races every year, making it one of the busiest race courses in the world.

The 47-year-old added that with about 1,400 horses training and racing on the turf, it is no wonder that "aggressive" maintenance is required.

After the races on Sunday, 15 maintenance workers rid the turf the next day of debris and loose grass. After that, they use special turf cutters to remove damaged patches of grass.

They then use ezy-trays, which hold 6cm-long conical containers of grass, to plug holes in the ground.

With almost 15 hectares of grass to maintain manually, this is no easy task for the STC's hired contract workers, who mostly are from India.

Nor is the maintenance cheap. Mr Jayaraju puts the annual cost of the endeavour at about $1 million.

The STC also makes use of complex machinery to spray water, pesticides, fungicides and liquid fertilisers on the turf. One of the machines used is the Briggs irrigator, which has boom sprays that can extend up to 30m to cover the entire width of the turf.

Assistant manager of tracks, Mr Sugumaran Krishnan, 42, said there are only two such vehicles in Singapore.

He said: "It takes two or three men to drive the vehicle from the storage area to the turf. It will then be attached to irrigation lines connected to the turf club reservoir."

LABOUR SHORTAGE

Mr Jayaraju added that the STC has been trying to mechanise maintenance processes over the past few years because of a labour shortage.

The STC is also looking at ways to cut costs.

Said Mr Jayaraju: "We are engaging in many sustainable practices and one of the things we do is recycle the sand used to support the grass."

He said that the club buys about 7,000 tonnes of sand a year from Malaysia. With recycling, the club has cut down on the amount of sand it buys by 60 per cent. This translates to an annual saving of more than $250,000.

The maintenance team at the STC has won several awards at the International Convention on Quality Control Circles.

In 2011, it won the Gold Medal for coming up with a technique to minimise the effects of soil erosion on the turf.

Besides finding a way to cut down on manual labour, maintaining the turf in Singapore's wet climate is one of the STC's biggest challenges.

"We live right on the equator and Singapore has about 3,000ml of rainfall a year. This can cause a lot of damage to the turf, so we need to apply aggressive measures to resurface damaged areas," said Mr Jayaraju.


This article was first published on August 29, 2014.
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