Non-overseeded ultradwarf bermudagrass greens

By Brian Whitlark, USGA Green Section

In the desert Southwest, eliminating overseeding on ultradwarf bermudagrass greens is rapidly becoming the new trend, partially due to poor bermudagrass recovery after overseeding, but mostly because golfers have discovered that non-overseeded greens offer better surfaces for more golfing days.

In the fall, when many overseeded greens are slow, wet, and prone to pitch marks, ultradwarf greens are at their best. When the overseeded turf is weakening the following summer and ball roll becomes inconsistent, non-overseeded greens often perform far better. However, there are more than a few misconceptions with respect to non-overseeded greens, both from an agronomic and playability perspective, that need be addressed before we move on and discuss specific management strategies.

As a few leading turf managers have already discovered, managing non-overseeded greens in the winter can be tricky, and there are a number of pitfalls that must be avoided. Several misconceptions and pitfalls are summarized in the following points.

Misconception: Greens Firmness. In informal surveys, most golfers, golf professionals, and even most turf managers perceive that non-overseeded greens are firmer and therefore less receptive to golf shots than overseeded surfaces. This is simply not true. In fact, in every case where this author has quantified the firmness using the USGA TruFirm on both overseeded and non-overseeded surfaces on the same green, the non-overseeded portion is always less firm. Most likely, the non-overseeded surface is softer, a result of more thatch mat, which leads us to the next bullet point.

Misconception: The practice of overseeding greens creates more thatch and organic matter than when not overseeded — true or false? Based on personal observations, it appears this statement is false. Although there is no research data to confirm this, experience with measuring thatch and organic matter levels on both non-overseeded and overseeded greens shows that the non-overseeded surfaces always produce more thatch, at least in the desert Southwest. The bermudagrass grows for more days without competition from the cool season turf and therefore produces a greater thatch mat.

Misconception: Traffic Damage. Course officials often express that their primary fear with non-overseeding is the damage from traffic, the potential for weak turf, and even bare ground. This is not the case. One golf property that regularly sees more than 60,000 rounds per year (80 percent between November and May) had no issues with traffic damage on non-overseeded ultradwarf surfaces.

Misconception: Ball Marks. Given that non-overseeded greens are likely softer than their overseeded counterparts, one would assume that ball marks will be more prevalent. However, this has not been the case. In fact, all the turf managers that contributed to this article were in agreement that complaints about ball marks were nonexistent or decreased substantially once overseeding was eliminated from the greens program.

Pitfall: Winter color. Right or wrong, the desert Southwest market demands green. This should not be a deterrent to eliminating overseeding from the program; it is merely an additional challenge the turf manager must address. Turf colorant technology has come a long way in recent years, and superintendents are now offering cosmetically attractive, non-overseeded greens in the dead of winter. Several turf managers offer their colorant strategies later in this article.

Pitfall: Green speed. One very real concern in the desert Southwest is excessively fast green speeds during extended periods of cold weather and negligible growth. However, with a sound fall setup program, green speed can be maintained at an acceptable pace throughout the winter. Fall is the time to increase mowing heights and reduce mowing frequency. When growth stops in December or January, it is likely too late to increase heights.

Pitfall: Scarred hole plugs. Another concern when not overseeding greens is that old hole plugs recover slowly. If plugs are high and scalped, recovery will be slow, although colorants often hide such scars fairly well. Furthermore, if thatch is not aggressively controlled throughout the year, the turf around the outside edge of the hole plug often deteriorates in a half-moon pattern, forming a scar. This issue is seen throughout the year where horizontal stolons are allowed to grow unabated, but this is most problematic in the winter. Unfortunately, if hole scars are an issue at your course, substantial improvement will likely require several years of more aggressive surface grooming practices.

After reading the above-mentioned summary, the primary fears about not overseeding greens should have been addressed. Turf managers should take note of the pitfalls mentioned, including winter color, green speed, and scarred hole plugs. With this in mind, the remainder of this article will focus on strategies that three turf managers have employed in the Southwest Region to overcome such pitfalls and endear golfers to non-overseeded ultradwarf greens.

Fall, which for the sake of this article includes October, November, and a few weeks into December, is an important setup period for preparing for the onset of winter dormancy. The fall months are essential to encourage late-­season growth, increase heights, employ what are likely the last surface grooming practices for the year, and begin using colorants.

How do you encourage late-season bermudagrass growth and color?

Charlie Costello, superintendent, Phoenix Country Club: We spray urea and/or calcium nitrate to supply about 0.10 lbs. of N/1000 ft 2 every 7-10 days. Green spray dye is applied year-round, which warms the surface in the fall and encourages growth. Primo applications continue on a biweekly schedule, although rates drop from 14 oz./acre/month during the growing season to as low as 3 oz./acre/month in the winter.

Rob Collins, superintendent, Paradise Valley Country Club: Nitrogen inputs are increased from weekly applications at 0.10 lbs. of N/1000 ft 2 to 0.25 lbs./1000 ft 2 beginning in October and continuing through the end of November. Rates drop to 0.10 to 0.15 lbs. N/1000 ft 2 during the winter. Green pigment applications begin sometime in mid-November when growth has slowed, but the turf remains green.

Bill Rupert, superintendent, Alta Mesa Country Club: Nitrogen is applied every two weeks at 0.10 lbs. of N/1000 ft 2 during the summer. Once the humidity decreases and growth slows, nitrogen inputs are increased to 0.20 lbs./1000 ft 2 on a biweekly schedule. Green spray dye applications begin in early to mid-November.


Water works

U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater once stated, “. . . there are three things a Westerner will fight over — water, gold and women, in that order.” The state’s thriving golf community knows how right Goldwater was since it relies heavily on water in order to maintain both courses and clubs. In practice, Arizona’s history of water conservation speaks well for its founders and current stewards. The principal agency charged with ensuring Arizona has sufficient water for the rest of the 21st century is the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). The mission statement of the ADWR is “to ensure long-term, sufficient and secure water supply.” Its focus is quantity. It regulates neither cost (municipalities and the Arizona Corporation Commission, for private utilities only, control this) nor quality (an EPA responsibility), but does team with these entities to achieve the State’s water conservation goals.

Heading the ADWR is Acting Director Sandra Fabritz-Whitney. Armed with a degree in Environmental Resources from Arizona State University, Fabritz-Whitney joined ADWR 19 years ago and has worked in all phases of the department, including the Arizona Water Banking Authority and as a major player in the Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability, on which AGA Executive Director Ed Gowan represented the golf industry.

To help AGA understand what the ADWR does, freelance writer Michael Bartlett spoke with Fabritz- Whitney and asked her to provide a summary overview and update on some of its activities.

Arizona The State of Golf: Outline the major water issues facing the State of Arizona.
Fabritz-Whitney: One, protection of the long-term surface water supply, i.e., the Colorado River, including the Central Arizona Project (CAP), and other above-ground sources in Arizona. Two, protection of all groundwater supplies (underground sources). Three, planning for drought scenarios in which we would have to limit water usage. We also monitor the use of “reclaimed water.” Technically, this means water previously used for other purposes and then treated to return it to drinking water standards.

Q: What plans and programs does the ADWR have in place to deal with these?
A: We maintain regular contact with the seven “Basin States” (Arizona, California, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado) to make sure we have enough supplies. Additionally, within Arizona we are currently engaged in a statewide evaluation of the 25-, 50- and 100-year demand and supply needs that will take us into the 22nd century. The “right to access” water supplies is something we watch closely, including the legalities of this. Regular assessments of the five Active Management Areas (AMA) lets us see how they (Phoenix, Tucson, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Prescott) are meeting their statutory management needs.

Q: How does the ADWR view the golf community?
 A: Obviously, Arizona views the golf community as a positive economic force that creates jobs and revenue back to the state. But, it is also a major user of water and our role is to work with golf courses to meet the long-range goals mentioned above.

Q: Practically, what does this mean?
A: Basically, we divide golf courses into pre-1980 and post- 1980. 1980 marks the adoption of the landmark Groundwater Management Act (GMA) — a long-term strategy that created the Active Management Areas (AMA). Courses built before 1980 generally had more turfgrass and used more water. In 1985 the GMA set a general ceiling of 90 acres of turf and courses coming on line must observe this rule. In two decades, we estimate this guideline has saved the Phoenix AMA alone more than three billion gallons of water per year. Since the GMA’s inception, golf courses have taken a leadership role in finding ways to conserve water, especially when it comes to new technologies; primarily because they have the capital to invest in these. They are on the forefront of developing new best practices other industries can model.

Q: How do you incentivize golf courses to reduce water usage?
A: We don’t require that golf courses use reclaimed water. We do reward such use with reduced rates, i.e., instead of 1.0 per acre foot we charge .6 per acre foot. Courses monitor their use and turn in an annual report. Most do stay within their allotment.

Q: Does ADWR have a point person to deal directly with the golf course community?
A: Yes, we do, and that person works regularly with golf course superintendents to get a better understanding of the people who implement our guidelines. We want to know what they are doing, especially in the way of innovations, so we learn together.

Q: Does the ADWR ever hold an annual summit-type meeting with representatives of the golf course community?
A: No, but it sounds like something ADWR should organize and I’m going to look into the possibility of convening such a gathering.

Q: Comment on the recently completed Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability.
A: This was a major milestone for water management in Arizona. Forty different groups — Native Americans, municipalities, industries and government agencies, among others — spent all of 2010 in working groups and produced a five-part plan covering public perception, regulations, infrastructure, conservation and funding. Some key goals are to get the public to accept recycled water as safe, streamline regulations for reuse of water, explore new systems and the retrofitting of old systems, reduce energy costs associated with water reclamation, introduce new incentives for conserving and recycling, and make conservation economically viable by reducing fees wherever possible.

Q: What is your relationship with the Arizona Golf Association vis a vis golf community issues and water conservation in particular?
A: They are an important partner in helping us shape our water management objectives, like the Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability. We always bring them in to provide analysis of a problem or feedback on how something we’re planning will affect them. Conversely, we try to be there for them with information on technical or regulatory matters. When they hold their meetings, we are frequently asked to speak on water topics; I’ve presented a number of times over the years. Or, we will run workshops for them on specific issues. Annually, I’d say we meet with them twice a year. We also provide financial assistance (funded by fees water users pay) for studies relevant to the golf industry; for example, meteorological experts at the University of Arizona share data on current and long-range weather patterns with course superintendents so they can more efficiently anticipate irrigation needs.

Q: A June 2010 article in The Arizona Republic stated that the Phoenix City Council was working on a new plan to help golf courses continue to reduce water usage. How does your department work with local municipalities regarding golf course consumption?
A: We don’t intrude. It’s up to local governments to deal with costs. But, we do watch to see they don’t exceed their basic requirements. We are all in sync on the need to conserve.

Q: Will water regulations inhibit more golf courses from coming online?
A: Thus far, it hasn’t seemed so. While we provide the structure for water management, it is up to the golf club or resort to identify a municipal or private water source and prove they have 100 years of water.

Q: What is your long-term vision for golf courses in Arizona.
A: ADWR wants to see the development and maintenance of top-quality courses that produce significant revenue for the state. Our philosophy says responsible water management leads to economic growth.


Turf Advisory Service

From the USGA

Eighteen turfgrass experts comprise the field staff within the USGA Green Section. Each agronomist conducts nearly 100 Turf Advisory Service visits each year. The goal of the service is to provide each course with an impartial yet concerned perspective on turfgrass growth requirements and playing conditions, along with the most current information on turfgrass research and management practices. The service includes:

On-site services, including all associated expenses (airfare, car rental, etc.).
A written report summarizing the main topics of discussion during the visit.
Agronomic articles and publications on a wide range of topics.
Consultations throughout the year by correspondence, email and telephone.

A unique advantage of the Turf Advisory Service visit is the opportunity to share information we gather during our travels and visits to several hundred golf courses. We are also in regular contact with university researchers and other colleagues throughout the country as an additional resource to help address your concerns.

The USGA Turf Advisory Service is not a “one size fits all” program It is designed to share a wealth of agronomic information to meet the individual needs of your course. The following is a sample of the various agendas and formats that can be addressed during a Turf Advisory Service visit.

General agronomic review – This is much like an annual check-up at the doctor. Along with the superintendent, key staff and committee members, we can review the condition of greens, tees, fairways, rough, bunkers and other aspects of your operation.
In-depth analysis of specific areas – Is your course considering remodeling bunkers? Rebuilding greens? Changing grasses on fairways? These can be very controversial and costly issues. An in-depth report-card style analysis can be preformed to identify the underlying causes of current problems so that they can be corrected for the best long-term results.
Water conservation programs – This is a major issue throughout the Southwest. The visit can focus on specific practices to maximize irrigation efficiency, improve water quality and soil properties, and develop drought contingency plans.
Overseeding and transition – An in- depth review of the various factors associated with winter overseeding, along with recommendations for successful summer transition.
Green committee orientation and board meetings – This is a good way to bring new committee members up-to-speed regarding the how and why of golf course maintenance activities and any special situations at your course.
Crew seminar – The visit can include a seminar for the maintenance staff to increase their understanding of their jobs and how it affects the condition and playing quality of the golf course on a daily basis.
Additional services – In addition to the on-site visit and written report, subscribing clubs will receive regional updates via the digital Green Section Record, published every Friday. On-line, webcast meetings also are scheduled quarterly, which can be viewed from the comfort of your office, and will highlight current trends throughout the region.


The Stimpmeter and the Open

Things have changed a bit since 1978

by the USGA Green Section Staff

We have all seen the video flashbacks of championships from years gone by. It is great fun to watch Arnold, Sam, Byron, and others in their prime. However, if you are in the business of golf course management, the things that catch your eye are how different the courses look compared to the ultra-manicured sites we see on television today. The bunkers really look like hazards, there are dry and even worn spots here and there, and typically there were a lot fewer trees. But the thing that stands out the most is how the balls rolled across the greens and then came to an abrupt stop.

So why 1978? Well, that was the year the U.S. Open was held at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado. It was the first Open at which the newly introduced Stimpmeter was used to aid in the preparation of the greens. Read more


Bring back brushing

By Brian Whitlark, USGA Southwest Green Section agronomist

Turf managers are always looking for a way to improve the quality of their putting surfaces. This article focuses on a simple strategy that will yield better greens. Brushing greens before mowing offers surfaces that are smoother and contain less grain. In Dr. Beard’s book Turfgrass Management for Golf Courses, brushing is defined as “. . . the practice of moving a brush against the surface of a turf to lift non-vertical stolons and/or leaves before mowing to produce a uniform surface of erect leaves.”

In the 1970s, brushing was referred to as “switching” greens and was employed primarily for dew removal. The popularity of brushing greens progressed from there, but has hit a plateau in recent years. That plateau is due in part to a lack of progression in brush technology. Brushes that most turf managers are familiar with have failed to yield results that meet expectations, but what should turf managers expect from brushing? They should expect to see an improvement where it matters most — in putting quality. Furthermore, turf managers should expect to see benefits such as:

Grain reduction.

Raising stolons and shoots, which produces a better cut.
A less injurious technique than vertical mowing or grooming, and therefore can be used more frequently and during periods when growth is not aggressively active.

A method for Poa annua seedhead reduction.

Unfortunately, the brushes that most turf managers use or have used are not aggressive enough to consistently improve putting quality. Such brushes can be divided into two categories — gear-driven or front-mounted. The gear-driven brushes failed to meet the mark as a result of their architecture. They are either constructed in a spiral orientation, which pulls the mower to the right, or they simply lack enough bristles to be effective.

The popularity of the front-mounted brushes grew as a result of the ineffectiveness of the mechanically driven alternatives. However, even the most widely used front-mounted brushes are unstable, are not durable, and are not substantially more aggressive than their gear-driven counterparts. Moreover, these units do not offer the ability to adjust the brush contact angle. In search of a more aggressive option, turf managers have modified the front-mounted brushes by adding weights and/or trimming down the bristles. Such modifications may result in more forceful contact with the turf surface, but the brushes often don’t last or are unbalanced and bounce across the turf.

The style of brush turf managers are accustomed to fails in comparison to new brush technology. The remainder of this article will introduce readers to three new brushes to try for course operations. The following list is not all inclusive, and as such, there may be additional brushes that are equally effective and available for turf managers.

1. The first brush is a gear-driven unit that fits the John Deere walking and riding mowers and fairway units ( It is equipped with 12 rows of bristles, which is substantially more than current brushes on the market. The brush is offered in several stiffness options and is mounted in the same location as the groomer. The brush height can be adjusted with the use of a Groomer-Gage to achieve a desired level of aggressiveness. When mounted on the John Deere greens mower, the brush counter-rotates and casts sand and clippings forward into the basket, rather than back into the cutting reel.

2. The second brush is offered from Turfscience, Inc., of Phoenix, Ariz. This is a front-mounted brush that can be mounted on either John Deere or Toro walking greens mowers. The brush is offered in three stiffness options, and the turf manager has the ability to modify the angle of contact with the turf. The brush is 2.5 times the width of current brushes on the market. One of the best attributes of this brush is the robust frame, which yields a very sturdy and durable unit.

3. The third brush is made specifically for riding greens mowers and can be mounted on Jacobsen, John Deere, or Toro models. The brush head is adjustable and the frame is constructed from steel and is powder coated to extend its useful life. This brush is offered by TC Group, LLC, and additional information can be found at

A word of caution: When one of these brushes is used for the first time, turf quality will likely decrease before it improves. Depending on the turf variety, growth rate, thatch, and grain in the surface, putting quality may not improve until the turf adapts to its new upright environment. Be patient, and as long as the turf is healthy, keep brushing.

Brushing before mowing is not a new technology, but this practice should see widespread renewed interest, given recent developments in brush design. When brushing is employed as a regular tool in a sound greens management program, this practice will improve putting surfaces.