Drawing The Line on Winter Play
While the Rules of Golf call for everyone to play the ball as it
lies, a great many golfers play courses on which good lies are as
rare as double eagles. Bad lies are particularly frequent on
southern courses when the bermudagrass enters dormancy following
the first freeze. As a result, many golfers in the South adopt a
vague set of rules for winter play that usually involve bumping
the ball to a better place. Depending on the leniency of their
playing partners (also known as opponents), the bump may be as
little as six inches or as much as a club's length.
Since winter rules are an obvious direct violation of the Rules
of Golf, the more scrupulous golf memberships attempt to retain
some measure of compliance by stipulating the ball can only be
bumped in the fairway. However, what seems like a reasonable
requirement can become a source of hard feelings when players
(especially opponents) cannot determine whether the ball that is
to be bumped lies in the fairway or the rough. Making such a
determination is often impossible on dormant bermudagrass,
particularly on those golf courses where it is sometimes
difficult to tell rough from fairway, even in the summer.
The high-tech solution to this problem is to overseed
bermudagrass fairways with perennial ryegrass in the fall. Brown,
dormant bermudagrass, covered by a dense stand of ryegrass,
provides some of the most beautiful scenes in golf.
Unfortunately, overseeding is expensive In addition to the cost
of the seed (approximately $400 per acre), funds must be provided
for year-round mowing, fertilization, and irrigation. However,
the most significant cost may be damage to the bermudagrass. Low
mowing of ryegrass fairways in the fall and winter predisposes
the bermudagrass to winter injury. Then, competition between the
ryegrass and bermudagrass in the spring limits the ability of the
bermudagrass to recover quickly.
Bentgrass greens can be seriously affected by fairway overseeding
as well. When bermudagrass fairways are overseeded, neither
pre-emergence nor post-emergence herbicides can be used to
control Poa annua in the over-seeded acreage. As Poa annua
flourishes in the fairways, some of the seed produced is
invariably tracked into the greens.
Terry Stephenson, golf course superintendent of Western Oaks
Country Club in Waco, Texas, uses a simple and inexpensive method
to define winter fairways. Using his spray equipment, he outlines
the fairways with green dye. The width of the band of green dye
can be adjusted simply by turning off two or three booms. A
further adjustment can be made by capping additional nozzles on
the one functioning boom, leaving a single nozzle functional.
Approximately 25 gallons of the water and dye mixture provides
enough material to outline all 18 fairways. It takes less than
two hours to treat the entire course, and the dyed areas remain
well defined for two weeks or more, depending on how much rain is
In addition to eliminating the confusion over winter rules, this
simple idea makes the course more enjoyable to play during the
winter, since the fairways are so much better defined for the
golfers hitting their tee shots. The dye also can be used to
define target areas on the driving range (for ranges that do not
have target greens).
One caution is in order. It is tempting to dye the entire fairway
and provide green playing surfaces at a much-reduced cost when
compared to the expense of overseeding. Unfortunately,
today's dyes are much more colorfast than those used in the
past, and golf shoes, early morning dew, and dye do not go well
together. The money you saved on overseeding might well go into
buying new shoes for your dewsweepers (the early morning
players). By confining the dyed area to a small strip at the
interface of the fairway and rough, damage to the player's
shoes is extremely unlikely.
Sometimes the simplest and least-expensive ideas are the best.
Give this one a try.
Jim Moore, based in Waco, Texas, is director of the USGA
Green Section's Construction Education Program.