The Testing Continues (Hopefully)

By Patrick O’Brien and Chris Hartwiger, agronomists, Southeast Region
June 6, 2012

(Left) Honors Course superintendent David Stone still enjoys honing his putting stroke on the same green where he evaluated 27 different bentgrass varieties in 1992. (Right) The on-course NTEP Bentgrass Variety Trial is an excellent place to observe side by side the characteristics of numerous bentgrass varieties.

In the mid-1990’s, one of our favorite Turfgrass Advisory Visits each summer was at the Honors Course near Chattanooga, Tenn. where we had the pleasure of spending the day with golf course superintendent David Stone. Upon arrival, David would take us to his bentgrass trials on what was known as the “shady plots.” With 27 varieties replicated four times each, we had 128 bentgrass plots staring at us. Without the use of a plot plan, David ordered us to pick out the best 10 and the worst 10 plots.

David kept the plots under stress all summer and it wasn’t too hard to find the good ones and the bad ones. What was really amazing was how the same varieties kept finding their way into our top 10. Plots of A-1, A-4, and Crenshaw consistently rose to the top of the class. It’s interesting to note that after about 20 years, some of these grasses now dominate the market while others have faded away. Nevertheless, it was clear that on-course testing of grasses at the Honors Course provided courses in the region beneficial information about summer performance.

Today, we are asked quite often if there are new, superior bentgrass varieties. On-course testing of bentgrass varieties is still taking place in the region, but not to the extent it was in the early 1990’s. Reductions in university budgets and fewer new varieties entering the market are two of the reasons why on-course testing is not as popular.

There is one NTEP (National Turfgrass Evaluation Program) bentgrass trial in the southeast on a short-game putting green at the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club (N.C.). Dr. Grady Miller oversees this trial of 19 varieties which was seeded in 2008. Details on the varieties included can be found here:  National Bentgrass Test. This green receives golfer traffic, is closely mowed, and is treated with a preventative fungicide program.

The impact of summer heat and disease stress on turfgrass quality is an important component of a bentgrass trial in the southeast. Dr. Miller takes evaluations on a monthly schedule, but the summer data is especially noteworthy for superintendents in the southeast region. The data has been analyzed for 2010 and the results are can be found here:  National Bentgrass (Greens) Test at Pinehurst Resort (N.C.). You will note that when taking the LSD (least significant difference) into account, there is not clear separation between varieties for summer turfgrass quality ratings. Dr. Miller reports that this may be the last summer of testing with this trial. Stay tuned for the final results.

Will there be enough new varieties released in the upcoming years to justify additional trials in the southeast? Are there other grasses or aspects of golf course management that warrant on-course testing? Are there any superintendents willing to step up to take on this challenge at their course? These are excellent questions. As David Stone demonstrated back in the early 1990’s, there is much to be gained on a regional basis from on-course testing of grasses. If you are interested in starting on-course testing, please do not hesitate to call or email us for assistance. 

Source: Patrick O'Brien 770-229-8125 or patobrien@usga.org  and Chris Hartwiger 205-444-5079 or chartwiger@usga.org 

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