Ultradwarf Bermudagrass Putting Green Conversion Q & A

By Chris Hartwiger & Patrick O'Brien, agronomists, Southeast Region
December 13, 2010

Management protocols help superintendents target winter green speeds for ultradwarf putting greens.  

The winter months are a good time to reflect on topics, trends, and discussions from the previous season.  Ultradwarf bermudagrasses continue to be the major story in the SE Region with on-going conversions from bentgrass to an ultradwarf.   In this article, we will review some common questions or comments we receive. 

Comment:  We are concerned that the green speeds on ultradwarf bermudagrass putting greens become too fast in the winter.   

This is a common assumption, but experience in the field does not point to ultradwarf putting greens becoming excessively fast in winter.  There is the possibility for this to occur, but management protocols are put into place to prevent this from occurring. 

In the transition zone, superintendents are advised to begin raising mowing heights and reducing topdressing frequency as temperatures drop in late summer to early fall.  The protocol chosen must not be set in stone due to weather variability from season to season as well as differences in mowing equipment.  Ideally, the desired final height-of-cut is established incrementally and the final height is attained before growth ceases. 

Ultimately, experience is the best teacher in this area.  Each superintendent will develop a feel for managing winter green speeds given the specific circumstances.    

Comment:  Ultradwarf bermudagrasses are only for high end clubs with large budgets.  

This is a common misconception that does not align with field observations.  In fact, the first courses to plant ultradwarf bermudagrasses were not high-end private clubs, but low- to mid- level clubs that struggled annually with turf quality.  These clubs were not seeking perfection; they just wanted good turf in the summer months.  These courses converted by the no-till method that was considered controversial at the time. 

Practically speaking, we have found low- to mid-level budget courses doing all their work with riding equipment and maintaining green speeds from nine to 11 feet.  Most importantly, the turf is healthy.

Comment:  The putting greens will be too firm for our golfers. 

A look at the origin of these grasses provides a couple of clues as to why this statement is not true generally.  Several of the ultradwarfs can track their genetic origins back to selections from Tifdwarf or Tifgreen.  These selections were not under intense maintenance; they were picked because they stood out as a tighter, denser patch of turf.  Today, management practices are going to dictate the level of firmness in a green.  One exception is the above-average firmness during the season of establishment.  As a green matures, surface firmness can be manipulated to meet the expectations of the majority of golfers.    

Has global warming negated the need for covers in the transition zone?   

Not true!  The residents of Birmingham, AL faced the eighth coldest 14-day period in recorded weather history in early January 2010.  Covers absolutely were essential, and they are recommended each winter season for the transition zone.  More information on this topic is included in this article on winter management of ultradwarf bermudagrass:  http://turf.lib.msu.edu/2000s/2007/071101.pdf

Question:  To find out if an ultradwarf would be a good idea for my golf course, we want to plant a test green.  What do you think? 

This is not a good idea for most courses for several reasons.  First, the ultradwarfs are no longer new or obscurely located in the region.  By planting an ultradwarf test green, you are asking the superintendent to create a new management program for one green, commit to obtaining the needed equipment for the green, and carry out what may be a new style of maintenance during a time of the year when his other greens (assuming bentgrass) require his undivided attention.  The likelihood of him clearing all these hurdles is low.    

A better approach is to use the resources spent on a test green to take decision makers on field trips throughout the region to play golf on ultradwarf greens and discuss maintenance requirements with other superintendents.  This will expose the decision-makers to a variety of grasses, management techniques, budgets, and levels of quality. 

Comment:  We visited a course with an ultradwarf and we think they are not good grasses.     

This is an observation we hear from golfers.   They are saying that they did not enjoy the quality of the ultradwarf surface, and therefore the grass is not a good one.   In our opinion, the quality of a putting green is about 30 percent genetics and 70 percent management.  We encourage people to select the best variety available at the time, and work on implementing the best management program available within their budget.  Ruling out a grass because of playability at one facility should not be an indictment against the grass when there are many success stories available to see. 

If these questions are being bounced around at your course and you would like to have more in-depth discussions with USGA Green Section agronomists, please contact Pat O’Brien (patobrien@usga.org) or Chris Hartwiger (chartwiger@usga.org) to schedule a Turfgrass Advisory Service visit. 

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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