Fall Green-Up: Turf Colorants Are Redefining Winter Playing Conditions

By Chris Hartwiger and Patrick O’Brien, agronomists, Southeast Region
September 17, 2013

Can you find the cool-season grass in this picture? There isn’t any. It’s all warm-season bermudagrass. The fairway, approach and the putting green have been painted.

The use of turf colorants on fairways in the fall, winter, and spring continues to be an emerging story in the region. The concept isn’t difficult to grasp. On golf courses with bermudagrass fairways where green is important in the winter for those who play the golf course, superintendents are replacing traditional perennial ryegrass overseeding with a turf colorant for the purpose of conserving resources without compromising golfer expectations. Navigating the road to successful turf colorant use does require the superintendent to make several strategic decisions before making a turf colorant application. Your strategy and geographic location make a big difference in the answer to these questions.

Question 1: What is your strategy?

  1. Never let the bermudagrass leaves turn brown or
  2. Make a mid- to late winter application to dormant bermudagrass just prior to the spring golf season.

Answering this question is vital because the color of the grass at the time of painting has implications regarding the type of colorant used and the application rate. When painting brown (dormant) bermudagrass, a higher volume of colorant normally is required.  Failing to plan accordingly can lead to results that fall below expectations. 

Question 2: Which type of colorant should you use – a paint or dye/pigment? 

The answer to this question is likely to be highly location dependent. A golf course located along the Gulf of Mexico can experience multiple cycles of dormancy and growth throughout the winter. It is possible that a warm-up will require fairway mowing which will result in removing leaf tissue that’s been colored. If a cold spell follows, the bermudagrass may enter dormancy and require another colorant application. Therefore, it is imperative to think not only about the longevity of a product when it remains on the leaves, but also the probability of conditions that would result in mowing off leaf tissue. 

Question 3: Have you determined the optimum method for applying the turf colorant? 

One of the big challenges with turf colorants is getting the product from its original container into the sprayer and out onto the turf. A superintendent can have a great plan with the best product for the location, but if the application process is not executed correctly, the end product will fall below expectations. Here is a link to a helpful USGA Webcast on Painting Fairways

The southeast region is still in the early innings of using turf colorants on fairways. As USGA agronomists we have the opportunity to closely observe this trend and learn what is working well. We look forward to any opportunity to assist you with this topic at your golf course. 

Source: Patrick O’Brien (patobrien@usga.org) and Chris Hartwiger (chartwiger@usga.org)

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

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