Course operators in the arid north are in a constant battle with the elements as they struggle to keep their fairways and greens in championship condition. 'It is a huge task to keep the course in good shape. It is much easier for courses in the south of China as it rains a lot more and the grass grows quickly, but up here it is a big challenge to keep the grass alive,' said Marlboro Ma, a manager at the Honghua course. Honghua has more than 100 ground staff who work year-round tending the course. Winter in the frigid north presents them with the greatest difficulties. Enduring sub-zero temperatures, courses in the north are forced to close from early December to the end of March each year. To protect the course during this time Honghua is first covered with tonnes of fine sand. On top of this the fairways and greens are laid with straw mats, which are then covered with plastic netting to retain heat. Any snowfall has to be immediately swept off the covering as it stops the grass from breathing. The grass has to be watered at least every three days throughout the winter months, with the water manually pumped through holes broken in the frozen lakes. Every few days the covers have to be pulled back to ensure the grass is not dying, Ma explains, and on rare mild afternoons everything is uncovered and exposed to the winter sun. In spring the covers are taken off and the grass is examined. 'If the winter was very severe the grass could be very weak, so we need to slowly add nutrients to nurse it back to full life,' he said. The central irrigation system - which is shut down in winter as the pipes would freeze - can be used again in spring, and the course's 1,400 sprinklers douse the parched greens and fairways about every two days. But in July and August, the rainy season in the north of China, the problem is reversed as the course can be damaged by too much water so the excess needs to be irrigated back into the lakes. Finding the right type of grass is also difficult. The seeds for the 'cool season grass' on the course had been approved by the Professional Golf Association and were shipped in from the US, Ma said. 'We do not have the option of laying grass grown in the south of China as it would not survive here. The type of grass we use has very thick roots so it can be cut very short and still survive extreme weather conditions,' he said.