Talking Turf Breeding With Dr. Brian Schwartz

By Patrick O'Brien, director, Southeast Region
May 27, 2013

Dr. Brian Schwartz is the turfgrass breeder at the University of Georgia, Tifton Campus. His efforts will hopefully produce numerous new turfgrass varieties for the game of golf.

Dr. Brian Schwartz is the assistant professor of turfgrass breeding and management at the University of Georgia, Tifton Campus. Dr. Schwartz received his Ph.D. degree in plant breeding from the University of Florida in 2008, and both his B.S and M.S. degrees are from Texas A&M University. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Schwartz regarding his turfgrass breeding efforts underway at the Tifton Campus.

Question: Dr. Schwartz, it is now almost 5 years since your arrival now at the University of Georgia, Tifton Campus. You are now head up the most famous warm season turfgrass breeding program in the world and follow in the footsteps of Dr. Burton and Dr. Hanna. Do you feel any extra pressure with this important role?

Answer: If I said "No" it would be a lie. Although there is pressure, I don't view it as negative or detrimental. From my perspective, the high expectations and demands are a motivator to work hard to meet the needs of the industry.

Question: The bermudagrass breeding program at the Tifton campus has released numerous varieties widely used on golf courses throughout the world. What areas of improvement are you focusing on at this time with the bermudagrasses?

Answer: Most of our efforts since I began have been to develop and evaluate bermudagrasses that are drought tolerant and maintain good quality with less input. Although I did not anticipate it, many of these drought tolerant grasses also exhibit better wear tolerance and recovery. We hope that a new bermudagrass variety with better drought and wear tolerance will serve both golf course superintendents and sports turf managers well.

Question: The use of ultradwarf bermudagrass putting greens on golf courses is now popular and expanding each year. Are you focusing on developing any new ultradwarf varieties and what areas of improvement are needed?

Answer: The development of a new putting green bermudagrass was not on my radar when I first arrived in 2009, but by mid-2010 my team and I were working full-steam on this project. It was evident to me that these efforts were needed because of the sheer volume of calls and emails I received concerning off-types (mutations and contaminants) on putting greens. To address this I decided we needed to incorporate new genetics into a variety because every cultivar that I am aware of has been a mutation that originated in some form or fashion from Tifgreen. To date we have made a few thousand crosses, but only a dozen or so have any potential for use on putting greens. We will keep working and I am confident we will eventually find a better putting green bermudagrass, hopefully one that requires less water and management to control thatch.

Question: I know you have a keen interest in zoysiagrass and especially the potential to expand usage at putting greens. Do you see your efforts with zoysiagrass breeding making an impact on the game of golf?

Answer: I see huge potential for the future use of zoysiagrasses on putting greens, even at the championship level. There are two varieties available today (Diamond and L1F) that make excellent low-input putting greens, but some of the new hybrids being developed have an "ultradwarf" plant structure and shade tolerance that could be a game changer. Time will tell if these new zoysiagrasses have the wear and recovery potential to handle ball marks, traffic and frequent changing of hole locations.

Question: Can you let us know about your present bermudagrass trials at golf courses and sod farms and if any interesting observations have occurred?

Answer: One of my early efforts was to identify golf course superintendents that had an interest in evaluating new hybrids. This is not for everyone as it can be expensive, time consuming, and at times frustrating. During 2011 several relationships formed and plans were made to test a limited number of promising grasses under true golf course management. Beginning in 2012, we planted trials at the Atlanta Athletic Club, Ford Plantation, and Country Club of Columbus, giving us three distinct environments to test performance. We will establish two new tests this year, one at the Valdosta Country Club and another at The Landings Club. I will be happy to work with anyone in the future as the need arises. So far we've learned a great deal about the differences in establishing bermudagrass and zoysiagrass, rooting, drought tolerance, and green speeds. I think we will find out more and more as the years go on, and maybe a new variety will rise to the top.

Source: Pat O'Brien (patobrien@usga.org)

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