Research Summaries For: The Construction and Maintenance of Greens

By Dr. Mike Kenna ( Director, USGA Green Section Research


After years of investigation, the USGA Green Section introduced its Specifications for a Method of Putting Green Construction in 1960. The method utilized sand as the principal component of the root zone mix to provide adequate drainage and resistance to compaction, and incorporated a perched water table in the profile to provide a reservoir of moisture for use by the turf. When built and maintained properly, USGA greens have provided good results over a period of many years for golf courses in most regions of the United States and the world.

During the past 10 to 15 years, changes have occurred in the way greens are maintained and in the number of products and technologies that have been developed. Play has increased, golfers have demanded closer mowing and perfection in maintenance, new grasses have been developed that have different maintenance requirements, and many more golf courses are using recycled water or poor quality water sources for irrigation. A wide array of organic and inorganic soil amendments have been introduced, and ideas for new green construction methods have been proposed. In addition to agronomic changes, the cost of golf course construction has increased dramatically, threatening to limit the growth of the game.

To take advantage of new ideas and technologies, and to address the environmental and economic challenges of the coming decades, the USGA will sponsor research studies on construction and maintenance of golf course greens. The goal of this research will be to:

Identify the best combinations of construction, grow in procedures and post construction maintenance practices that prevent long-term problems, reduce environmental impacts, and produce high quality playing surfaces. The reduction of maintenance costs and resource inputs, and the simplification of construction procedures were included among the research project objectives addressing this goal.

During 1995, the USGA Turfgrass and Environmental Research Committee selected ten putting green construction and maintenance projects which will be conducted over the next five years at a cost of $870,000. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) will co-fund five of the projects with the USGA. The following is a brief summary of the ten projects. Please note that the USGA has directed over 14 million dollars to support a wide variety of research projects including the development of new turfgrasses and the impact of golf courses on the environment. For additional information regarding the USGA's research activities link to the USGA's Homepage.

Engineering Characteristics and Maintenance of Golf Putting Greens

Michigan State University
Dr. James Crum
Dr. John Rogers, III
Why are some sands more stable than others? This project will investigate the physical properties of sands and establish relationships between strength and stability. The secondary objective is to evaluate the short and long term effects of post grow-in maintenance practices on putting greens constructed by three different methods; USGA recommendations, a modified loamy sand over gravel, and an unamended loam soil.

Methods for Classifying Sand Shape and the Effects of Sand Shape on USGA Specification Rootzone Physical Properties

Pennsylvania State University
Dr. Charles Mancino
How does the shape (i.e., angular or round) of the sand effect green performance? The project will first develop a simple, inexpensive and quantitative procedure to give a reliable estimate of sand shape without having to examine individual sand grains. The effect of sand shape on the physical properties of rootzone sands and whether the particle size distribution needs modification due to differences in sand shape will then be examined.

Layers in Golf Green Construction

Sports Turf Research Institute
Dr. Stephen Baker
Can the conditions for the removal of the intermediate layer be less stringent? The migration of particles and water retention will be closely examined where the rootzone layer directly overlies the gravel drainage layer. Profiles of the rootzone and gravel layer will be established with different combinations of gravel size, gravel shape, rootzone mix and initial moisture content. Water retention in the rootzone layer will be examined when it is placed over intermediate layers of varying size and composition.

Understanding the Hydrology of Modern Putting Green Construction Methods

The Ohio State University-OARDC
Dr. Edward McCoy
How does the profile design, root zone composition, slope of the green, drain spacing, profile depth, and irrigation protocol impact water movement and the extent of water perching in a USGA green? This research project will focus on water drainage, redistribution and use by turfgrass as influenced by a variety of factors related to modern putting green construction methods.

Assessing Differential Root Zone Mixes for Putting Greens Over Time Under Two Environmental Conditions

Rutgers University/Cook College
Dr. James Murphy
How do alternative putting green construction methods stack up to the USGA Green Section recommendations? Over a five-year period, recommendations for sand particle size distribution and the depth of the root zone mix in response to the microenvironment will be evaluated. A variety of organic composts and inorganic additives for root zone mixes will be compared to commonly used peat sources. The physical, chemical, and biological changes that occur as root zones mature, and the factors which contribute to the success or failure of greens will be determined.

Evaluation of New Technologies in Construction and Maintenance of Golf Course Greens

North Carolina State University
Dr. Danniel Bowman
This research is designed to characterize the physical, chemical and biological changes that occur in a sand-based golf course green over the first five years. It proposes a novel two-phase rootzone mix as an alternative to existing sand:organic matter mixes and questions whether the incorporation of stabilized organic material (i.e., sphagnum peat) is warranted over the long term. The research also will address the question of the perched water table, specifically regarding changes over time, and possible deleterious effects by air injection and water evacuation.

Grow-in and Cultural Practice Inputs on USGA Putting Greens and Their Microbial Communities

University of Nebraska
Dr. Roch Gaussoin
Beyond the questions dealing with the chemical and physical properties of putting green root zone mixes, how should they be grown in and made ready for play? Are the high rates of nitrogen used to accelerate growth a short term solution to meet opening day, but a path to long term failures? What are the criteria for allowing play on new greens? This project will evaluate grow-in and post grow-in cultural practices and procedures and readiness for play criteria. The long-term effect of these parameters on putting green performance, depth and extent of turfgrass rooting, and root zone hydrological, physical and chemical characteristics will be determined. The project also will assess the influence of these procedures on the microbes found in the root zone.

Organic Matter Dynamics in the Surface Zone of a USGA Green: Practices to Alleviate Problems

University of Georgia
Dr. Robert Carrow
The primary objective of this project is to determine the effectiveness of selected fall/spring-applied cultivation practices on the enhancement of bentgrass root development, water infiltration, and soil oxygen. The effectiveness of selected summer-applied cultivation, topdressing and wetting agent practices on bentgrass root growth, water infiltration, and soil oxygen status during the summer months when root decline occurs will be examined.

Nontarget Effects of Turfgrass Fungicides on Microbial Communities in Putting Green Profiles

Cornell University
Dr. Gary Harmon
Dr. Eric Nelson
This research effort will investigate the nontarget effects of fungicides used for disease control on golf course putting greens. The nontarget effects on greens treated with fungicides potentially include substantial changes in the soil ecosystem which may increase disease susceptibility and affect nitrogen cycling and the health of turf.

Bacterial Populations and Diversity within New USGA Putting Greens

University of Florida
Dr. Monica Elliott
Auburn University
Dr. Elizabeth Guertal
Clemson University
Dr. Howard Skipper
What species of bacteria are found in new greens? Where do they come from? How do microbial populations change over time? This project will monitor the microorganisms in newly constructed bermudagrass and bentgrass greens on golf courses in South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida. Effects on bacterial populations will be examined based on differences among organic material, fumigation, nitrogen fertility, and clay minerals.

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