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Know Your Turf!





Thomas T Wartelle ™
Academie de Golf 


















Know Your Turf!
By Thomas T Wartelle, Professional Golfer & Agronomist


As a Golf Course Manager, it is necessary to have certain knowledge of the golf course turf and maintenance practices at your facility.  This knowledge will help you communicate with you clients, members and golf course superintendant about the conditions of the golf course.  Golf course maintenance is a big part of every facilities budget therefore it will be a major topic in business operations.

Your Facility’s Climate
Your location greatly affects which type of turf grass is best suited for your facility.  Therefore for this discussion we will categorize turf grass types for different climate zones. 

Northern Climates
Northern cooler climates are best suited for grasses such as Bentgrass, fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, rye grass, Poa Annua, and Poa Trivialis.  Many golf courses have a mix of these types for each one has advantages and disadvantage. 

For example, St. Andrews in Scotland has most of these types of grass.  It has stated that for a climate such as Scotland this is a big advantage for at least one of these grasses is flourishing at different points throughout the year.

Of the northern climate grasses, bentgrass is considered to provide the highest quality turf.  Bentgrass is a large genus with many different species but only a few types are used for golf courses.  Creeping bentgrass is the one most commonly used on golf greens. 

Creeping bentgrass is a perennial cool season grass that forms a dense mat which is perfect for smooth putting surfaces with very little grain or imperfections.   Bentgrass is often considered the “Gold Standard” for fast, smooth putting surfaces. The species was introduced into the United States from Europe during the Colonial Period.

Bentgrass is not well adapted to southern climates and bentgrass is best adapted to the transition zone where cooler temperatures prevail.  Bentgrass in the South is limited to putting greens and even then requires a certain climate, extensive management and high input costs. Typically the high maintenance costs of bentgrass greens in the South are not cost effective.  However, New England States and the Pacific Northwest have ideal climatic conditions for bentgrass.  In Europe and parts of Asia, the grass is native and commonly found in most turf.

Fescue Grass
Fescue is often considered a low input cool season grass. Fescue is commonly found on golf courses that are in coastal regions of the U.S. and Great Britain.  Fescue is primarily found in the rough.  It is a very sturdy grass that turns golden and can grow three feet high. Fescue is sometimes used as a fairway grass especially in native coastal regions.

Within the last 20 years, breeding programs have developed varieties of fine fescue that have improved disease resistance and the ability to be cut at modern fairway heights.  This could to be a new avenue for golf courses who wish to become more environmentally friendly while reducing operating budgets.

Kentucky Bluegrass
Kentucky Bluegrass is grown on tees that are mown higher and don’t require the amount of maintenance as the Bentgrass. Kentucky bluegrass does not tolerate high heat and can be susceptible to diseases when stressed.

Perennial Ryegrass
The use of perennial ryegrass on golf courses has increased rapidly during the past several decades.  Its characteristics are an upright growth habit, tolerance to close mowing, and the aesthetic appeal of “striping” that reel mowers create on perennial ryegrass turf. Like bluegrass, it
does not tolerate high heat and can be susceptible to diseases when stressed.

Poa Annua & Poa Trivialis
Mention the word Poa Annua to a greens superintendant in the South and you will hear many unkind words spoken about this grass.  It is considered a major weed on golf course putting greens and fairways in many parts of the United States and the world. 

The truth is, in northern and cooler climates, poa annua greens are considered the norm and can provide good putting surfaces.  It is often mixed with bentgrass and some rye grasses.  There are many different sub-species of poa annua and some greens are infested with as many as twenty different types. 

The secret lies in utilizing only the varieties that provide high quality putting surfaces.  As seen at Oakmont and Torrey Pines, poa annua mixed with bentgrass can provide a championship caliber putting surface. 

Poa annua can also be seen used in other areas of the golf course.  Many northern golf courses also have a close cousin of  poa annua call poa trivialis.  It is sometimes considered a weed, but it can provide a high quality putting surface as well.  In fact, it is often used to winter over-seed Bermuda grass greens in the South.

Southern Climates
Southern climates are better suited for warm season grasses that can withstand the harsher climates.  The South offers a variety of climate problems such as warm summers / cold winters, heat, drought, excessive rain, and high humidity.   The most common grass is Bermuda with its many varieties, but there is some progress being made with other grasses such as Zoysia and Seashore Paspalum.  In the extreme South, putting greens are almost exclusively Bermuda.

Bermuda Grass
Bermuda grass is a major turf species for golf courses, and general utility turfs in Australia, Africa, India, South America and the Southern region of the United States.  It is found in over 100 counties throughout the tropical and subtropical areas of the world.  Common Bermuda grass was introduced into the United Sates during the colonial period from Africa or India.

In the United States the distribution of Bermuda grass extends from New Jersey and Maryland southward to Florida and westward to Kansas and Texas.   Modern irrigation extends Bermuda grass use westward to southern New Mexico, Arizona and California.  Recently, the development of more cold hardy varieties of Bermuda grass has increased use near its northern limits.   

Bermuda grass is a warm season perennial species adapted to tropical and subtropical climates.   It grows best under extended periods of high temperatures, mild winters and moderate to high rainfall.  It does not tolerate low winter temperature and becomes dormant when average temperatures drop below 50°F and the grass begins to discolor.  Temperatures below freezing kill the leaves and stems.  Bermuda grass remains dormant until average daily temperatures rise above 50°F for several days.

In warm climates that are frost-free, Bermuda grass remains green throughout the year.   Growth is reduced at the onset of cool nights.  It grows best when the average daily temperatures are above 75°F. It is not very shade tolerant.

With the right climate, bermuda grass is known for its hardiness on golf courses.  There are many new modern varieties that specialize in certain usages such as fairway grass, tee boxes, and putting greens.  In the past, bermuda grass greens where known for a “graininess” that was not desirable.  But with recent development in finer hybrids, bermuda greens are beginning to rival bentgrass’s dominance as king of putting surfaces.  Some of these new putting green hybrids are Mini Verdi, Champions, and TifEagle.  One unique aspect of hybridized Bermuda is it must be plugged, sprigged, or sodded as hybrid bermuda grasses are sterile.

In temperate climates where bermuda becomes dormant in the winter, there has been development of hybridized bermuda that tolerates more cold.  However, often facilities in temperate climates simply “overseed” the golf course in winter with cool season grasses such as rye and poa trivialis.

Bermuda grass tends to build up a thatch layer of un-decomposed organic matter just above the soil surface.  This is often seen in putting greens.  Proper mowing is essential to prevent the accumulation of thatch in turf.   Also, thatch removal by mechanical means is required.   Vertical mowers (Verti-cutting) are used to remove excess thatch and grain especially on putting surfaces.

Zoysia Grass
Zoysia grasses are warm season grasses native to China, Japan and other parts of Southeast Asia.   In recent years it has shown some promise as a golf course turf grass, especially fairways and teeboxes.  It is extremely drought tolerant.   Under drought conditions, it will turn straw colored but will respond to subsequent irrigation or rainfall.  The leaf blades roll under drought conditions to conserve moisture.  Zoysia has a deep root system allowing it to effectively extract water deeper in the soil.   The optimum water requirements are similar to those of bermudagrass. 

Zoysia grasses are among the most wear tolerant turf grasses.   However, it has a slow rate of growth and takes longer to recuperate.   It can tolerate some shade and is often used on tee boxes where bermuda grass will not perform.  Like bermuda grass, Zoysia grass tends to build up a thatch layer and requires some verti-cutting.

Seashore Paspalum
Paspalum is the newest golf and sports turf grass.  Paspalums has many favorable attributes including hardiness for some harsh conditions.   It can be used in conditions that are not an ideal environment for other grasses such as bermuda.  When lack of fresh water is an issue, paspalums can tolerate water that is effluent, brackish, or any water with any amount of salinity levels above 500 PPM.  This quality makes it ideal for harsh environment regions including areas affected by salt water spray, tropical storms / hurricanes and various other challenging conditions.

Many greens superintendants are not familiar with its cultivation.  However, it is not difficult to cultivate paspalum for the well trained personnel.  Its maintenance guidelines are different from other turf grass species especially bermuda grass

Typically, paspalum is used in fairway and rough areas although a new variety called “SeaDwarf” is now being used on putting greens.  Paspalum is offering some exciting new options for golf courses to go more “green” with less maintenance costs.



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