It’s Not Dead…It’s Brown

By Chris Hartwiger, senior agronomist, Southeast Region
November 13, 2013

Puzzled by brown bermudagrass in winter? The answer involves chlorophyll, light intensity, and temperature.

Sometimes we are so accustomed to things around us that we forget people may see things differently. Many years ago, I recall a conversation I had with a golfer visiting the Southeast during the winter. He enjoyed the golf course, but was convinced all the bermudagrass was dead because it was brown. I shared with him the reality that when temperatures get cold enough, warm-season grasses like bermudagrass lose their green color and turn brown. Unfortunately, I did not have a good answer for why the bermudagrass turned brown. A quick trip to my turfgrass library and the answer was provided in Dr. Beard’s book Turfgrass: Science and Culture. A brief description of winter discoloration of bermudagrass is described below. 

An explanation of why bermudagrass turns brown in the winter involves an interaction of three items: chlorophyll, light intensity, and temperature. Chlorophyll is a green pigment that gives turfgrass leaves their color. It absorbs light in the energy-producing process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll production in a turfgrass plant is highest when light intensity is lowest. This can be seen by observing green turfgrass plants in shaded environments. As light intensity increases, the rate of breakdown of chlorophyll increases and the total content of chlorophyll in the leaf decreases. As temperatures decrease, the growth rate of the plant decreases and which includes the production of chlorophyll. When light intensity is high and temperatures are low enough, the rate of chlorophyll breakdown exceeds the rate of chlorophyll synthesis and the turfgrass plant leaves turn brown (Beard, 1973). In other words, chlorophyll is breaking down faster than it can be produced. 

We are now entering a season where golfers will see plenty of brown grass on southern golf courses. Fortunately, golf is played on grass, not on color. Enjoy the nice fall days ahead and we hope to see you on the links or at an upcoming turfgrass conference. 


Beard, James B., 1973. Turfgrass Science and Culture. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 658 p.

Source: Chris Hartwiger (

Information on the USGA’s Turf Advisory Service

Contact the Green Section Staff

Partner Links
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image
AmEx image

The USGA and Chevron have committed to using the game of golf to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. This commitment has led to the creation of extensive golf-focused STEM teaching tools, and has resulted in charitable contributions to support golf-related programs through Eagles for Education™

At U.S. Open Championships the Chevron STEM ZONE™ is an interactive experience highlighting the science and math behind the game of golf through a variety of hands-on exhibits and experiments.

The partnership has also produced educational materials such as the Science of Golf video series and a nationally-distributed newspaper insert which are provided to teachers as tools to enhance existing curriculum in schools. These lessons teach the science behind the USGA’s equipment testing, handicapping, and agronomy efforts.

For more interactive experiences featuring golf-focused STEM lessons, visit the partnership homepage.

Chevron image

Rolex has been a longtime supporter of the USGA and salutes the sportsmanship and great traditions unique to the game. This support includes the Rules of Golf where Rolex has partnered with the USGA to ensure golfers understand and appreciate the game.

As the official timekeeper of the USGA and its championships, they also provide clocks throughout host sites for spectator convenience.

For more information on Rolex and their celebration of the game, visit the Rolex and Golf homepage.

Rolex image

IBM has partnered with the USGA to bring the same technology, expertise, and innovation it provides to businesses all over the world to the USGA and golf's national championship.

IBM provides the information technology to develop and host the U.S. Open’s official website,, as well as the mobile apps and scoring systems for the three U.S. Open championships. These real-time technology solutions provide an enhanced experience for fans following the championship onsite and online.

For more information on IBM and the technology that powers the U.S. Open and businesses worldwide, visit

AmEx image

Lexus is committed to partnering with the USGA to deliver a best-in-class experience for the world’s best golfers by providing a fleet of courtesy luxury vehicles for all USGA Championships.

At each U.S. Open, Women’s Open and Senior Open, Lexus provides spectators with access to unique experiences ranging from the opportunity to have a picture taken with both the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open trophies to autograph signings with legendary Lexus Golf Ambassadors in the Lexus Performance Drive Pavilion.

For more information on Lexus, visit

AmEx image
American Express

Together, American Express and the USGA have been providing world-class service to golf fans since 2006. By creating interactive U.S. Open experiences both onsite and online, American Express enhances the USGA’s effort to make the game more accessible and enjoyable for fans.

For more information on American Express visit

AmEx image