Dormant Bermudagrass Depression

By Pat Gross, director, Southwest Region
January 27, 2011

Dormant bermudagrass is not “dead”.  Despite the loss of color, good playing quality can be preserved by minimizing cart and equipment traffic. 

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard from many grumpy and depressed golfers about the “terrible condition of the golf course”.  What seems to be the problem?  “The grass is dead!”

The grass really isn’t dead.  It’s just taking a well deserved rest.  A cold snap throughout southern California in late December and early January caused non-overseeded bermudagrass to go into dormancy.  When this happens, the grass loses its green color and goes into hibernation until warmer temperatures return in the spring.  The loss of color is simply a plant defense mechanism in response to the cold air and soil temperatures.  The grass is still alive, but growing very slowly.

The outcry from golfers usually centers on the following issues:

  • Brown color, which some golfers find objectionable.  The grass doesn’t “look” good.
  • Thin, muddy lies – cart and equipment traffic on dormant turf compresses the leaves, resulting in thin/ tight lies on the fairways. Earthworm activity complicates this condition even further as the worms bring soil to the surface and create muddy conditions.
  • Slow divot recovery.  The sand-filled divots look like polka-dots throughout the course, and balls sometimes come to rest in these divots.

 

Temperature and day length have a big influence on turf growth.  Even though southern California has beautiful weather throughout the year, we still experience cooler air and soil temperatures during the shorter days of winter. For warm season grasses, like bermudagrass, growth and green color will gradually return as soil temperatures rise above 60°F.  Historically, this tends to occur in the middle of March throughout most of southern California.

In the meantime, what can be done to address these issues?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Minimize traffic on dormant turf.  Keep golf carts and maintenance equipment on the paths as much as possible.
  • Emphasize playing quality over color.  Just because bermudagrass is brown, there is still leaf tissue to support the ball.  Furthermore, dormant turf usually results in more bounce and roll, and longer drives.  Enjoy the added distance off the tee!
  • Be patient.  Nature is in control of the temperature, and warmer weather is just around the corner.

 

Source: Pat Gross, pgross@usga.org 

 

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