Summer is a great season for playing golf, but it can also be an extremely challenging time for turf. High heat and humidity, periods of drought, insects, diseases and heavy golf traffic can leave golf course grass stressed and weak. If things get really tough, some grass may die – leaving behind damage that can impact playability for weeks and even months.
Golf course superintendents use a variety of techniques to help grass survive the pressure of summer, including raising the height of cut and mowing less frequently. Unfortunately, even the best management practices may not be enough to help some turf make it to fall. For this reason, golf courses are investing in improved grasses that are better adapted to handle the dog days of summer.
USGA agronomist Paul Jacobs works with golf courses throughout the Northeast and sees firsthand how some facilities struggle during summer.
“When weaker grasses start failing, it has a big impact on the golf experience and a facility’s bottom line,” said Jacobs. “Improved grasses offer a way to break the cycle of summer turf issues and can help golf courses deliver better playing conditions with fewer inputs. Unfortunately, many golf facilities are reluctant to upgrade their grasses because of the initial cost and disruption that comes with the conversion process.”
However, the savings that can come with using improved grasses may allow a turf conversion project to pay for itself within a few years. Better playing conditions also can increase golfer satisfaction and revenue for years to come.
“Upgrading shouldn’t be viewed as a cost,” said Jacobs, “it should be viewed as an investment.”
Corning Country Club in Corning, N.Y., was built in 1919. Over time, the fairways evolved to contain a wide variety of grasses, some more durable than others. During a stressful summer the fairways often would become thin and some areas could fail entirely. Weakened turf and heavy disease pressure also meant that expensive plant protectants had to be applied on a frequent basis. The high cost of fairway maintenance, combined with the unreliable playing conditions, motivated Corning Country Club to make a change.
After consulting with Jacobs, superintendent John Hoyle selected Luminary bentgrass for the fairways, an improved variety developed with the help of USGA research funding. However, finding a way to make the conversion with minimal disruption to play was going to be a challenge.
“Everyone agreed that upgrading the fairways would be great but closing down the course in the middle of the prime playing season was not going to work, so we had to get creative,” said Hoyle.