By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
When golfers consider the merits of a golf range,
the quality of the turfgrass is often the primary
factor. Facility owners and superintendents
consider several factors when determining the proper turfgrass to install on their grounds. Getting the right turfgrass for the soil, climate, and environment native to the region of the country is vital.
The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA) is an important resource for its members. In striving to be a leader in golf course maintenance management, the GCSAA serves the industry through education, advocacy, and resources.
Shelia Finney, the GCSAA Senior Director of Member Programs says, “To be a golf course superintendent member, you have to have some holes of golf that you’re maintaining. But if somebody just has a driving range facility, they would be able to join as an affiliate member and have the same access to the online education, the resources, the articles, every thing the superintendent member would have access to.”
Of course, any discussion of turfgrass would generally be region-based, as different species of grass flourish within the contrasting climates across the country. Finney lauded the valuable resources of her association and its 18,000 members and 99 affiliate organizations, stating that even non-members with inquiries are provided the information they need for their facility, wherever they are located.
On the West Coast, Kyle Jones is the Director of Agronomy at Yocha Dehe Golf Club, in Brooks, California. His facility is in a cool-season region, and as such he incorporates ryegrasses like rye blue, that peak in growth during cool seasons, but are considerably less-reliable during extreme heat.
Jones says that ryegrass is generally more expensive than some other grasses to maintain in his area, but for range owners with a relatively small area to maintain, the cost may not be a factor. He said divot repair on ryegrasses during the summer is more time consuming than with Bermuda grass, as those divots will “burn up.”
As is the case with all grasses, ample sunlight is vital to the health of the plant. Shade causes thinner turf that is less vigorous and dense, while sufficient sunlight ensures a dry, lively turfgrass. It’s ultimately the temperature that causes the biggest problems superintendents contend with every day.
Based on factors in your area, the proper grass should be chosen based on a thorough knowledge of the turfgrass needs and subsequent maintenance costs. In the Southeast, factors will be different, leading to a variety of options that are not available to Jones. Morgan Stephenson is the superintendent at Tobacco Road Golf Club, in Sanford, North Carolina. He says that “Hybrid Bermuda grasses are the most common in the Southeast due to their aggressive rate of growth and ability to thrive in hot environments, especially for tees that need to heal from excessive traffic.”
“The biggest challenge for us is scheduling the necessary maintenance so as not to affect play and the demand for the use of the range. We try to pick days that are slower, so the down time is less of an impact. Traffic distribution is relatively easy to manage by daily moving of markers or hitting stations. The more difficult thing to manage is the general maintenance that requires closing of the range.”
When asked about mirroring range conditions (aesthetics, mowing lines, and length) to those on the course, Stephenson said, “We try to have similar conditions as the course, but for us it’s not a priority as this is a warm up range that people are not going to spend a lot of time at.
Private courses may have a greater demand for this. If
willing to close the range as needed, you can do more
detailed maintenance.” Stephenson reiterated that all grasses need light, but Bermuda grass is especially sensitive to shade. He also said in addition to professional resources like the GCSAA, “communication with other owner, operators and superintendents is always a good way to gather information.”
In the Northeast, there are two main species of grass
used for ranges- bent grass and perennial ryegrass. According to Peter Landschoot, Ph.D., Professor of Turfgrass Science at Penn State University and Director of Graduate Studies in Agronomy, ryegrass is more cost-effective and very good for ranges in the Northeast, due to its ease of maintenance in the cooler climate, a stark contrast to what Kyle Jones faces at Yocha Dehe.
Landschoot cited creeping bent grass as the primary grass used for putting greens in the Northeast. Many ranges and courses in the region use ryegrasses elsewhere at the facility, since it’s less-labor intensive than bent grass. He also mentioned that both rye and bent grasses will go “semi-dormant” in extreme cold temperatures, but rye can often stay green all winter if it’s not too cold.
Maintenance practices must ensure that any grass, regardless of species, is not over-watered, as this will cause a bevy of problems – superintendents are educated in their trade to understand what to do, when to do it, and what actions to avoid.
Landschoot says that it’s a combination of science and experience that gets it just right.
Not far from Landschoot in Pennsylvania is Dennis DeSanctis, the owner/operator at Double “D” Turf, in Monroe Township, New Jersey. His business spends 90 percent of its time on golf courses across the Garden State. He said that although grasses are healthier the higher their length, he understands the need for closely mown turfgrasses in the golf industry. This means that getting a drought-tolerant variety of grass is vital to its continued health. With the lack of irrigation at most golf ranges, getting this variety of grass, like rye or fescue, is important.
DeSanctis said that most counties have Agricultural Extension Agencies for anyone whose responsibilities include turfgrass maintenance to pursue information geared towards their region of the country.
Factors in the Midwest are different as well. Matt Gourlay is the golf course superintendent at Colbert Hills, in Manhattan, Kansas. He recently found that costs had been “going through the roof.” To irrigate and maintain less, he opted for Buffalo grass, a warm-season grass, not conducive to the northern regions of the country, but ideal for his area.
I asked these experts if there is anything “universal” they could cite to streamline an article on the topic of turfgrass. Gourlay stressed the high number of grass options that golf facilities can consider based on the factors they face in their particular region of the country.
With climate varying greatly depending upon region, and budget and labor capabilities also fluctuating from facility to facility, it’s important to analyze your own individual situation, Finney said.
As much as I searched for a concise, like group of factors, it doesn’t exist. DeSanctis advised facilities to consult professional agencies like the GCSAA and the USGA, as well as their colleagues in the industry, and look to their local resources.