GOLFER EXPERIENCE
Golfers and Facilities Benefit from New Grasses September 5, 2017 | CHARLOTTE, N.C. By USGA Green Section Staff

Through enhanced research and education, USGA agronomists are helping facilities utilize new grass varieties that improve playability and conserve resources.

Every year, USGA agronomists make more than 1,000 consulting visits to help golf courses around the country provide the best possible playing conditions. They also conduct educational workshops and seminars where golf course superintendents and their teams can gather to learn about important maintenance topics and share their experiences. Recently, USGA agronomists Steve Kammerer and Patrick O’Brien conducted a workshop in North Carolina about managing ultradwarf bermudagrass putting greens.

“Ultradwarf bermudagrasses have been a game changer in the southern U.S.,” said O’Brien, a 38-year veteran with the USGA. “Not long ago, many golf courses in this area were trying to maintain bentgrass putting greens. They would often struggle to keep their putting greens alive during the hot and humid summer weather.”

“Today, the majority of golf courses in the region have converted their putting greens to ultradwarf bermudagrasses,” said O’Brien. “These grasses have allowed golf facilities to deliver better playing conditions throughout the year.”

In the past, many golfers viewed bermudagrass putting greens as a less-desirable playing surface. The ultradwarfs, which were first introduced in the 1990s, changed that mindset by offering better putting conditions than older bermudagrass varieties without the vulnerability to heat and humidity that bentgrass experiences.

“Our golf course is busiest during spring, summer and fall,” said one of the workshop’s hosts, Jared Nemitz, superintendent at The Peninsula Club in Cornelius, N.C. “Ultradwarf putting greens allow us to focus on delivering excellent playing conditions when our golfers are playing the most.”

However, managing the rapid summer growth of ultradwarf putting greens requires consistent attention and a specialized management program. Kammerer and O’Brien explained and demonstrated the various steps involved to a group of 30-40 superintendents from across the Southeast and beyond, with some coming from as far away as Texas. The two-day workshop was conducted at two golf courses to demonstrate that these practices are adaptable to any facility.

“The surface management program we demonstrated has the same basic steps for all ultradwarf bermudagrass putting greens, but the techniques can be adjusted so that they are appropriate for the staffing, resources and equipment available at any facility,” said Kammerer, director of the USGA Green Section’s Southeast Region. “Tailoring sound management practices to fit within a facility’s budget is a big part of what USGA agronomists do, both in the Course Consulting Service and during workshops like this one.”

Joel White, superintendent of Rocky River Golf Club in Concord, N.C., hosted the second workshop session. “Converting from bentgrass to ultradwarf bermudagrass greens really changed the business model at our golf course. We saw increased revenue because our putting surfaces played better throughout the year. We also use less fertilizer and fungicide because the ultradwarf greens thrive in our climate, so our facility is now on a much more sustainable path.”

“USGA agronomists have been by our side throughout the conversion process from the planning stages, through the execution and to this day,” White added. “My assistant and I attended USGA ultradwarf management workshops in Memphis and Atlanta as we prepared for the conversion at Rocky River. Now we are pleased to host the workshop and share what we’ve learned with others.”

Scott Cochran, director of agronomy at Ballantyne Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., was one of the attendees. “It’s great having Steve and Patrick go through the key components of managing ultradwarf greens,” said Cochran. “One of the superintendents who works on my team, Monty Coffey, joined me at the workshop and we really enjoyed seeing the practices firsthand. It gave us a chance to ask the agronomists questions and to talk with other superintendents about how they do things at their course.”

In addition to the ultradwarf putting green workshop, which has been held annually in the Southeast for the past 11 years, USGA agronomists conduct workshops and seminars on a wide range of other topics across the country. Recently, putting green management workshops have been hosted at daily-fee golf courses in Purvis, Miss., and Hurricane, W.V., with several more scheduled in other USGA regions. These workshops focus on key putting green maintenance practices that can be implemented at courses with modest budgets.

“Conducting workshops and seminars has long been an important activity in the USGA Green Section,” said Kimberly Erusha, managing director. “Education and outreach is one of our primary goals, and workshops help us benefit the industry on a person-to-person basis. The attendees learn from our agronomists and from each other, and we gain just as much from them.”

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