When considering insect pests, surrounds can be easily overlooked. For example, white grubs rarely become a problem on greens due to insecticide applications. However, grub control in surrounds is more difficult due to the accuracy required in timing and the limited number of applications typically made in these areas. Combination products that include a granular fertilizer, a preemergence herbicide and an insecticide are an effective way to control grassy weeds and prevent white grub damage with a single application.
Although turf diseases aren’t as concerning in surrounds as in areas of closely mown turf, gray leaf spot has caused significant damage to perennial ryegrass and turf-type tall fescue. Other diseases can also cause surrounds turf to deteriorate quickly under the right conditions. However, selecting disease-resistant grasses suited to your location will reduce the need for fungicide applications and the potential for severe turf loss.
Controlling various turfgrass pests in surrounds requires ample resources, labor and time for applications. For courses with modest budgets, it makes sense to focus primarily on controlling weeds and destructive insects in the surrounds and to only use fungicides on a curative basis if at all.
Establishing Stronger Grasses
Worn-down areas are likely to develop at some point, especially in high-traffic areas or along bunker edges, so small sod or overseeding projects will be needed occasionally. In northern areas, Kentucky bluegrass, turf-type tall fescue, or a mixture of the two, are the most common choices for surrounds. Because it has improved disease resistance and drought tolerance, many superintendents have had success using turf-type tall fescue for bunker banks and a combination of turf-type tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass for the rest of the surrounds. However, it should be recognized that many northern courses have a mixture of grasses in their surrounds – some desirable and some not.
Creeping bentgrass and bermudagrass can quickly invade surrounds, creating inconsistent lies and poor playing conditions. If these grassy weeds become a severe infestation, it’s often best to start over and sod the surrounds with your preferred grass. Selective herbicide applications could be made to control these weeds, but the applications often result in large bare areas that require reestablishment anyway. Overseeding surrounds is an option, but it’s less common because it takes longer to establish than sod and because traffic control is a challenge.
In southern areas, bermudagrass is the preferred species for green surrounds. Replacing the surrounds turf isn’t needed as often on warm-season golf courses because bermudagrass has high wear tolerance. However, if sodding is necessary on a warm-season course, use newer varieties of bermudagrass that have improved traffic, drought, cold and shade tolerance.
If wholesale turf replacement is deemed necessary in a green surround area, determining how large an area to sod is highly subjective. Cost is usually the biggest driver, but each surround is different so the ideal target area should be determined on a hole-by-hole basis. Ideally, the sod line should extend completely down any slopes, around all bunkers, and a few paces past bunkers, mounds or other features. Extending the sod line to adjacent cart paths or other obvious locations often makes sense as well.
Green surrounds require specific management inputs to produce good playing conditions and additional resources are often needed to significantly improve performance. If a budget increase isn’t possible, create a hierarchy for the different rough areas on the course based on the amount of play they receive instead of trying to maintain them all at the same level. By prioritizing green surrounds over other areas – e.g., tee surrounds and primary rough – an improvement in playability and performance should be possible without a budget increase.
Before adjusting maintenance practices, set clear expectations for turf conditions in areas where inputs will be reduced. Rough should always be rough, and variable conditions and the occasional imperfect lie should be expected when we miss our target.
Through the Course Consulting Service and GPS Service, the USGA can provide course-specific recommendations to help you improve the green surrounds at your course.
Adam Moeller is an agronomist in the Northeast Region and director of the Green Section Education program.
John Petrovsky is a manager in the Green Section Education program and a former golf course superintendent.