Increasing water costs in Northern California are driving interest in converting fairways to bermudagrass as a means to save water. A recent workshop hosted by the USGA and the Golf Course Superintendents Association of Northern California at San Jose (Calif.) Country Club covered the many facets of converting fairways to bermudagrass and provided a forum for open discussion on the topic. The workshop showcased test plots TifTuf, Santa Ana, Bandera and Tifway II hybrid bermudagrass test plots as well as plots of two zoysiagrass varieties, Zeon and Primo. In addition to test plots, several speakers presented information about converting fairways to bermudagrass. Topics included communicating the value of a regrassing program to golfers and decision-makers, information on the breeding and development of bermudagrass and other warm-season grasses and how to work with turf suppliers during the process. Case studies highlighting successful fairway conversion projects were also presented. Here are some key takeaways from the workshop:
Andy Staples of Staples Golf Design emphasized that converting cool-season fairways to a warm-season grass results in using less water over time and can also enhance playability. While a fairway conversion project will require some disruption and capital investment, emphasizing playability and a better golf experience helps golfers and decision-makers understand the potential benefits.
Dr. Mike Kenna of the USGA and Dr. Marta Pudzianowska of the University of California Riverside (UCR) discussed the past, present and future of bermudagrass breeding including USGA-sponsored research currently underway at UCR. The breeding efforts are focused on developing new hybrids with better winter color retention and enhanced drought tolerance. In addition to bermudagrass, the UCR project is also working to achieve the same objectives with zoysiagrass and kikuyugrass.
Sod producers Jimmy Fox of Evergreen Turf and Greg Ball of West Coast Turf spoke about the sod characteristics of different bermudagrass hybrids and the present and future demand for these grasses. Both emphasized working with sod suppliers at least 12 to 18 months in advance of a proposed fairway regrassing project to ensure that sod or stolons are available.
Pat Gross, regional director of the USGA Green Section’s West Region, presented six case studies of successful hybrid bermudagrass fairway conversions, featuring a variety of preparation and establishment methods. Lessons learned from the case studies include:
- Various methods can be used to successfully establish hybrid bermudagrass including sodding, sprigging and overplanting – also known as row planting.
- Establishment method impacts project cost and establishment time.
- Timing the project between the months of May and July is critical to take advantage of warm temperatures that will promote successful bermudagrass establishment. In some warmer locations in Northern California this window can be April to August.
- The project must include a strategy for dealing with green waste.
- Costs for sodding ranged from $27,000 to $31,000 per acre. The cost for sprigging and overplanting was approximately $3,000 per acre.
- In each case study, courses that converted from a mixture of cool-season grasses to hybrid bermudagrass reported a 25- to 30-percent reduction in water use.
West Region Agronomists:
Patrick J. Gross, regional director – email@example.com
Larry W. Gilhuly, agronomist – firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian S. Whitlark, agronomist – email@example.com