Don’t Overreact To Early Season Bermudagrass Problems

By Darin S. Bevard, director, Mid-Atlantic Region
May 14, 2014

Latitude 36 bermudagrass on this practice tee has greened-up very well overall. However, the obvious pattern of late-fall divots shows the impact of traffic in conjunction with a hard winter.

In recent years, many cool-season golf courses in the Mid-Atlantic region, even as far north as Allentown, Pa., have found a place for newer bermudagrass varieties such as Patriot, Riviera, Latitude 36 and Northbridge. In most cases, an undersized par-3 tee or a practice tee has been converted to bermudagrass; but some golf courses have converted entire fairways to new finer-textured, cold-tolerant bermudagrass varieties. Now, after our coldest winter in 20 years in conjunction with a miserably cold spring, bermudagrass is no longer considered a viable option by some because of isolated winterkill and slow green-up. However, I tend to disagree. Here are some thoughts and observations to consider:

  • Memories are very short. Golfers long for days gone by when their cool-season surfaces provided perfect conditions throughout the year but ignore the fact that they actually didn’t. In every case, there was a reason why a given area was converted to bermudagrass. The most common reason areas are converted to bermudagrass is because the preexisting grass failed to meet expectations. For example, before being converted to bermudagrass, the surface of an undersized practice tee may have remained a combination of crabgrass, goosegrass and thin turf despite repeated attempts to overseed.
  • Traffic is a killer. Whether it was late-season divots on a practice tee, cart traffic or the ball picker, traffic negatively impacts dormant bermudagrass and the results are obvious. Heavy traffic leads to weak bermudagrass, and the cold spring has extended the dormancy period leading to more traffic on dormant or slow-growing bermudagrass. Traffic management on dormant turf is critical. 
  • In most cases, bermudagrass has survived the winter. New growth was slow to emerge, but recent warmer temperatures have accelerated the process. As a whole, winterkill has been isolated to poorly drained areas, areas with heavy shade, some north-facing slopes and heavily trafficked areas.

My parting thought is not to overreact to these short-term setbacks. If these problems become a trend, then maybe you need to reevaluate your use of bermudagrass. It is  likely that most of the bermudagrass areas will recover rapidly with warmer temperatures to provide very good playability during the summer while cool-season turfgrasses struggle in the heat. There is no perfect grass in the transition zone where it can be too hot for cool-season grasses during the summer and too cold for warm-season grasses in the winter. However, take a minute to travel down memory lane and remember the turf problems that led to the decision to establish bermudagrass in the first place.

Source: Darin Bevard (dbevard@usga.org)

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