Club and resort properties are improving the conditions and playability of their golf courses with major regrassing projects.
Nothing gives new life to a property like a facelift, and many clubs and resorts are currently enhancing their look—and playability—with major regrassing projects.
The motivation behind these projects varies from one property to another. Some returf because their members have been impressed with the results of similar projects at other clubs and courses. Others are responding to global-warming trends that have shifted long-held beliefs of which grasses will thrive best in a particular climate. And others introduce, or reintroduce, new turf species out of a desire to restore the original and more historic character of the course.
Summing It Up
• Proper site preparation is key to completing a successful regrassing project, so the new playing surfaces will be uniform.
• Effective maintenance inputs, including proper fertilization, irrigation, and pest control, enhance turfgrass health.
• Healthy turf leads to better putting surfaces and playability, and requires fewer maintenance inputs.
In all cases, the benefits of regrassing a golf course are not just skin deep. The input, and full buy-in, of the superintendents who must be closely involved with these projects from the start—and then live for many more years with their results—is critical to their ultimate success. In addition to ensuring that golfers are satisfied, this means confirming that the project will also make sense, and yield long-term benefits, for the property’s course maintenance operation.
Harbour Town Golf Links, one of three courses at The Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head Island, S.C., reopened last year in late September after closing in early May for a complete enhancement of the entire golf course. The tee boxes, fairways, and rough were replaced with Celebration Bermuda-grass, and the greens were regrassed with TifEagle Bermuda, which has been used on the putting surfaces since 2001. The property shut down two weeks after the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage tournament, to take advantage of the Bermudagrass growing season from May until mid-September.
“It was 15 years old,” Golf Course Superintendent Jonathan Wright says of the grass on the greens. “The greens had shrunk, and they had contamination from other grasses.”
The 18-hole property had regrassed turf with Celebration Bermudagrass through the years, replacing about 97% of the tees and half of the collecting areas and approaches. However, notes Wright, the fairways had not been touched since 1969, when the golf course opened. “We had put Celebration on the fairways of another [Sea Pines] course, so we knew what we were getting into,” he adds.
The project coincided with the installation of a new irrigation system and was also done in conjunction with upgrades to the Sea Pines Resort Plantation Golf Club, which serves the Heron Point and Ocean golf courses, and a redesign of the Ocean Course.
Four Years, 27 Holes
Many Florida courses are replacing 419 hybrid Bermuda with Celebration, because the 419 has become contaminated with other grasses that change the original turf’s characteristics, color, and growth habits. In Naples, Fla., Wyndemere Country Club is in the middle of a four-year plan to convert the grass on its 27 holes.
In 2014, the property converted the grass on the tees, fairways, collars, and approaches of 18 holes from a mix of 419 and Common Bermuda to Celebration Bermudagrass. That same year, the greens on those holes were converted from MiniVerde Bermudagrass to TifEagle Bermudagrass.
Tips for Successful Regrassing Projects
• During the turf selection process, consult agronomy experts and other superintendents about the performance of the new grass in your region.
Last year, Wyndemere converted the remaining nine greens from MiniVerde to TifEagle, and the tees, fairways, collars, approaches and rough on the same nine holes from the 419 and Common Bermuda mix to Celebration Bermudagrass. The project will continue through this summer and the summer of 2017, to convert the rough on the original 18 holes to Celebration Bermudagrass (nine holes will be converted each year).
Aaron Ohloff, Wyndemere’s Golf Course Superintendent, says the selection of the grasses was made to improve playability.
“On the greens, it was more a need because they weren’t originally built to USGA specifications. They were old sand push-up greens with no drainage,” explains Ohloff, who has worked at the 35-year-old property since March 2014. “We decided to go with TifEagle from a stability standpoint. There would be less chance of a mutation.”
The surface of the greens was redone with MiniVerde in 2009, he continues, but the grass got contaminated. Before his arrival, the greens were dying, and the contours and slopes made the putting surfaces unfair for the members and limited the number of areas for fair pin placements.
“The playability of the greens from turf and design standpoints were driving forces,” Ohloff says of the renovation. “We needed to get the greens into a more playable design for the members. Tracker wire was buried with the greens, so we tried to take them to their original size.”
TifEagle can withstand lower mowing heights and frequent verticutting to control thatch buildup. The grass also recovers more quickly from mechanical injury and has better color retention in cool conditions. In addition, it is cold-hardy, drought-tolerant, and disease-resistant.
Ohloff says the property selected Celebration Bermuda-grass because of its color, durability, shade tolerance, and traffic tolerance. “It gives us a good surface year-round, not just during the peak growing months,” he says.
Another Naples, Fla., property, Audubon Country Club, is in the midst of replacing turf on its 18-hole golf course as well. Last summer the property replaced the 419 hybrid Bermudagrass, which it had installed in 2000, with Celebration Bermudagrass on the playing surfaces of holes 10 through 18, excluding the TifEagle greens. This year the property will do the same on the front nine.
“Over the last 15 years, the original 419 had reverted back to its genetic lineage. It had lost its uniformity and become patchy. It had multiple turf varieties, and each one had different tolerances,” reports Certified Golf Course Superintendent Kenyon Kyle.
The patches of different grasses had different growth habits, Kyle continues, and some of the grasses had coarser blades than other grasses. In addition, he reveals, some sections were more susceptible to disease than others.
Prestonwood Country Club, a 54-hole property in Cary, N.C., has plans to replace the A-1 bentgrass on its Highlands course greens with Champion Ultra-Dwarf Bermudagrass this summer. The course will be closed during the project, which is scheduled for June 13 through September 3.
“Prestonwood CC is a very busy golf facility that hosts approximately 25,000 to 28,000 rounds per course throughout a calendar year,” reports Director of Golf Course Maintenance Lee Hancock. “The bentgrass greens have struggled to satisfy this amount of traffic during the past several years.”
The project is expected to improve playing conditions and the consistency of the greens. As a top warm-season turf, Champion Ultra-Dwarf Bermudagrass can provide quality playing surfaces for a greater length of time throughout the year.
“We selected Champion Ultra-Dwarf Bermuda to be our turf of choice because of the success it has had in our region,” Hancock reports. “Prestonwood CC hosts a Champions Tour event, the SAS Championship, and we included the opinions of their agronomists during our selection period.”
Preparation and Execution
At the outset of its regrassing project, Harbour Town Golf Links—which previously had various types of Bermuda-grass, including 419, Common and 328, on playing surfaces other than the greens—the grounds crew removed the grass and thatch from the golf course. The crew also removed organic matter, which had built up during the last 15 years, from the greens. “We tried our best to eradicate our old turf by mechanical as well as chemical means,” says Wright.
The Harbour Town maintenance staff performed three or four types of aerifications to get the surface as soft as possible to plant the sprigs, and then worked with contractors to sprig the course. Celebration Bermudagrass was sprigged in the fairways, tees, approaches, and rough with a machine, while the greens were hand-sprigged with new TifEagle and returned to their original contours.
“The better the plant we get in the ground, the better the playing surface in the long run,” Wright states. Keeping the turf moist was essential to the project’s success as well. “The wetter, the better,” Wright says. “You can lose sprigs in the middle of the summer pretty easily if you don’t keep it wet.”
At Wyndemere, which is replacing its irrigation system as well, the holes also were closed while they were under construction from late April until early November. The property used outside contractors to regrass the golf course with a no-till process, in which the original grass was killed with a herbicide before sprigging in the new grass.
“The no-till process allows for a quick grow-in and reduces the potential for the older Bermuda to come back in,” says Ohloff. “And it’s relatively inexpensive.”
A machine was used to rake the turf and remove dead grass. “You should do your best to get some soil exposed on the surface through aerification before sprigging the grass, so the sprigs have soil surface to tap into,” Ohloff explains. “You want soil exposure and soft surfaces so the sprig machine can get the sprigs into the ground. The survival rate is a lot better than if the sprigs are sitting on top.”
He also suggests using a sprayable, pre-emergent herbicide, to create a barrier on the ground and prevent weeds from overtaking the new grass.
“I recommend doing a few soil samples, but my experience with no-till renovations has shown you can get away with using less pre-plant fertilizer, because you have nutrients in the soil from all the years you’ve been fertilizing,” notes Ohloff. “If price or budget is an issue, then put more money into a post-plant fertilizer.”
Wyndemere also used a six-ton roller to go over the areas that had been sprigged, to smooth the surface and seal the soil around the sprigs.
As part of the Audubon CC project, which also included rebuilding the bunkers, expanding and laser-leveling the tees, and rebuilding the crushed-shell cart paths, the maintenance staff killed all of the grass except the greens.
“The most important thing is to get a very good kill on the grass you’re replacing,” explains Kyle. “After you plant the new grass, you don’t want to flood it, but you need to keep the tops moist while the baby plant develops.”
When the turf project started in April, a herbicide was sprayed on the grass to kill it. The process was repeated twice more at two-week intervals. Four weeks of grading followed, and the new grass was planted in mid-June.
An outside contractor did the grading, shaped the bunkers, laser-leveled the tees, planted the grass, and moved some bunkers to enhance playability. The Audubon maintenance staff installed new sand and drainage in the bunkers; resodded the lake banks, greens perimeters, and tee complexes; and replaced the cart paths. The staff also ensured that the plants established strong roots and started to grow laterally.
“We planted the grass through sprigs. We spent the first month watering it and keeping it wet,” Kyle reports. “After four weeks we shut the water off and put mowers on it. Within eight weeks we had 100% turf coverage.”
The staff then started fertilizing, mowing, and developing the desired appearance of the turf. Initially, the maintenance staff mowed the new grass at ½-inch. “The tighter you mow it, the better you encourage the lateral growth of this grass, so it fills in all the thin spots,” notes Kyle.
The grounds crew mowed the original 419 rough at 1 ½ inches, but they now mow the rough at 1 ¼ inches, to make the surface smoother. “Celebration performs better at a little bit lower height of cut,” Kyle explains. “We want it as smooth as possible to create a good golfing experience. Our members have been very pleased with what we’ve accomplished.”
The property will follow the same procedure this summer when it regrasses holes one through nine.
“One of the most important aspects of this project was making sure we did an effective job of killing the original grass,” Kyle explains. “It’s all about uniformity. We didn’t want a resurgence of [the 419].”
The Audubon crew planted the new grass the second week of June so it could grow in during the summer, and the golf course reopened in mid-October.
Prestonwood’s maintenance staff will do most of its work in-house. The crew will also modify tee boxes, improve drainage and some irrigation issues, and examine sand traps for minor repairs. “We are focusing on trees that surround our greens,” says Hancock. “We’re working hard to make sure the Bermudagrass will have enough sunlight to grow vigorously in the busy parts of our season and also melt frost, ice, and snow in the winter. Turf blankets will be used in the winter months when soil temperatures drop into the 20s.”
Properties that have recently undertaken major returfing projects have already have seen benefits with the new grasses. For example, Celebration Bermudagrass has high shade tolerance, and it recovers quickly from divots, traffic, and wear and tear. Its blue-green color is proving to be richer and more vibrant to the eye, making it stand out well. The aggressive species also establishes itself quickly and withstands encroachments better than other grasses.“It’s almost like the grass is tailor-made for our climate,” says Jonathan Wright, Golf Course Superintendent at Harbour Town Golf Links, one of three courses at The Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C.“It’s a prettier color, and the tighter surface gives better lies in the fairway,” Wright adds. ”It handles nematodes better. We don’t get as much insect damage because of the tighter canopy.”
While the grow-in portion of the Harbour Town regrassing project was “intense” because of the short timeframe to complete it, Wright says, it is too soon to tell how the new grass will affect maintenance. The staff pushed the grass hard with fertilizer and nutrients because of the small window for grow-in, he reports.
The Harbour Town maintenance staff overseeds every year, and the property overseeded with rye grass, which transitions well to Bermuda in the summertime, two weeks after the course reopened.
“There might be thinner areas with the Bermuda when the rye grass starts dying off,” reports Wright. “We might have to push it a little bit, but we know what we’re getting into. In the long run, it’s going to make our lives easier. We’re pretty familiar with the grass.”
So far, says Aaron Ohloff, Golf Course Superintendent at Wyndemere CC in Naples, Fla., the new grass at his club has had no effect on his budget or on maintenance inputs. “It’s not going to reduce our maintenance, but I don’t know that it’s going to increase it, either,” he reports. “It might require more fertilizer in the first few years, but I’ve had some guys tell me that once it has a chance to develop an organic layer, that can back off. It takes a little time to mature, but you see the positives of the grasses the first season.”
At Audubon CC, also in in Naples, Certified Golf Course Superintendent Kenyon Kyle has been pleased with the results of the regrassing project at his club as well.
“We were looking for better tolerance for wear, shade, cold and disease,” Kyle states. “We accomplished all of those goals. The tolerance of the new grass with cart traffic, foot traffic and shade is dramatically improved.”
Audubon CC does not have to apply as many fungicides in the wintertime now, and Kyle expects the lower fungicide requirements to have the most noticeable effect on his budget.
“Anytime you have a healthy stand of grass, you have fewer problems overall,” he says. “It’s not as susceptible to wintertime disease. Our biggest problem is with gray leaf spot, but we didn’t have to treat one area for gray leaf spot this year. We are on a calendar-based fungicide program, but we haven’t made one fungicide application since we replanted.”
Until the front nine has been regrassed, however, the Audubon grounds crew will continue to mow the different grasses on the course at different heights.
“During the year of transition, we have to make sure we don’t put the wrong mowers out at the wrong height of cut,” Kyle notes.
The recent winter was rainy for Naples, so Kyle says it is difficult to gauge the water requirements for the new Celebration Bermudagrass on Audubon’s course. He anticipates, however, that the turf will require less water because of the overall health of the grass. The keys to keeping grass healthy, he says, are proper maintenance practices including proper fertilization, irrigation and pest control.
Audubon’s crew will spend the summer months aerifying, verticutting, and topdressing the turf. “The summer practices that we employ are going to be the key to keeping it consistent year after year,” says Kyle.
Superintendents already have seen results in the playability of their newly regrassed golf courses.
“Everybody seems to be extremely happy with the way the golf course is playing right now,” says Wright. “The feedback has been 100 percent positive.”
He also says the greens are more receptive to shots from the fairways. “The greens will be a little firmer. We try to keep them as firm as possible,” he states. “They will reward good shots and punish the bad.”
At Wyndemere, Ohloff says, members also have been pleased with the renovations. “They’re anxious to get the new grass in the rough on the other holes,” he adds.
Kyle has seen improvements in playability at Audubon CC as well. “The new grass is completely uniform,” he reports. “There is no difference in the grain, turf quality or turf health.”
The new turf has “significantly enhanced the golfing experience for members,” Kyle continues. “It’s healthier, and I think it’s a better playing surface.”
At Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C., Director of Golf Course Maintenance Lee Hancock is anticipating similar results, which also plans to convert its Meadows course to Champion Bermuda in 2017.
“We expect the new turf on our greens to provide better playability for our members, but we are not expecting a savings of fertilizers, chemicals, and other inputs,” Hancock says. “We do expect to save on labor, due to the reduced need to wilt-watch the warm-season turf.”
Prestonwood’s inputs and morning planning sessions will be integral to the club’s success, Hancock believes. If grounds crew members can prepare the greens in front of play, he says, they should not have to return to the greens for monitoring until early afternoon. Then, he adds, the staff will have more time to prepare for the following day.
“The new greens are better suited for our climate during the busiest time of our golf season,” he says. “Therefore, I believe they will provide a positive impact overall.
“I believe that the Ultra-Dwarf Bermudagrass options are good for the game of golf,” he adds. “As a whole, we need to focus on topics that encourage the right amount of growth for the game.”