A Simple And Effective Method To Establish Naturalized Grass Areas

By Pat Gross, director, Southwest Region
July 24, 2013

This naturalized grass area at Half Moon Bay Golf Links in California was created by carefully analyzing sprinkler coverage and completely eliminating irrigation once a moderately tall but not excessively dense stand of grass was present.

Half Moon Bay Golf Links is typical of many courses in California that are investigating ways to reduce mowing and maintenance expense while still producing an attractive and playable golf course. The process they employed to establish a new naturalized grass area provides a good case study on initiating such a project in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Director of agronomy Dan Miller and superintendent Bob Clarke decided to do a test in a large area of rough that rarely comes into play between holes numbers 12 and 14 of the Old Course. The overall goal was to allow the existing perennial ryegrass, fine fescue and Poa annua to naturalize and create a wispy appearance without becoming excessively dense. Here are the steps they took to achieve the desired results:

  • The edge of the naturalized grass area was determined by the limit of the fairway sprinklers so that the fairway would remain in good condition and irrigation coverage would gradually decline going into the rough.
  • Mowing was discontinued.
  • Irrigation within the naturalized grass area was reduced to sustain slow but steady growth and then completely shut off once there were some fescue and ryegrass seedheads present.

Within a few weeks, the Poa annua began to decline leaving a stand of fine fescue and perennial ryegrass that was moderately tall but not excessively dense so golfers could easily find their ball. There was no expense involved with the project and mowing operations were streamlined. Based on the results of this experiment, Dan estimates that an additional 25 to 30 acres of rough could potentially be converted to naturalized grass areas, which would provide a significant savings in mowing and maintenance expense.

While such a program may not produce the same results at all golf facilities, the basic process employed at Half Moon Bay is worth considering: 1) analyze potential areas based on irrigation coverage, 2) discontinue mowing, and 3) completely eliminate irrigation once a moderately tall but not excessively dense stand of grass is present. 

Source: Pat Gross  (pgross@usga.org)

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