As players stand over the daunting tee shots on the stunning seaside par-3 fifth and eighth holes of the Teeth of the Dog Course at Casa de Campo in the Latin America Amateur, the notable agronomic history of these putting surfaces does not enter their minds.
However, the proximity of these two greens to the Caribbean Sea means that they are often sprayed – and occasionally doused – by saltwater. For the first 30 years of the course’s existence, the salt-intolerant bermudagrass on the two putting surfaces was frequently damaged from the spray.
“This has to be one of the first places where seashore paspalum was used,” said Darin Bevard, director of championship agronomy for the USGA. Casa de Campo superintendent E. Nunez Malena, who has been at this course for 38 years, quickly concurred, then expounded on the history.
“This was definitely the first place in the Caribbean to start working with seashore paspalum, and those greens were the first trial for it,” said Malena, 68. “Mr. [Pete] Dye [Teeth of the Dog course architect] worked in combination with Dr. [R.R.] Duncan from the University of Georgia to receive some plugs in 2001, and we made the first trials on No. 5 and No. 8.”
Duncan, a longtime turfgrass breeder and geneticist, saw the burgeoning need for a salt-tolerant grass, and he initiated the first breeding program for seashore paspalum in 1993 at Georgia. The USGA joined Georgia in a joint project in the mid-1990s, and the first two cultivars – one for tees and fairways, one for greens – were released in 2000.
The warm-season perennial grass tolerates sandy and infertile soils, high salt concentrations and occasional inundation by seawater, which led to its installation and adoption by Malena and Dye on their marquee course. According to Malena, the grass introduced in 2001 on Nos. 5 and 8 is still there. Today, it is commonly used in lawns, recreation areas and golf courses far and wide, but those two seaside greens at Casa de Campo were proving grounds for its future success.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.