By MICHAEL GRAFF
And now, they’ll be side-by-side. For the past five years, golf course superintendents in the Triad have faced a difficult decision: Join the movement toward hot-weather bermudagrass greens or stick with the old-favorite, cold-weather bentgrass.
Greensboro’s most well-known public golf facility will try both.
On June 17, Bryan Park will close its Champions Course for two months to overhaul its greens and install MiniVerde Bermudagrass. The Players Course, meanwhile, will remain open with bentgrass, which the facility installed less than a decade ago.
So, two golf courses that share the same swath of land will be divided by hot-weather grass and cold-weather grass. Yes, the line between the two turfs – which years ago was as far south as South Carolina – now rests squarely on top of the Triad. And superintendents who eat at the same lunch tables at meetings and conventions are falling on either side of the question: Are you coming, or are you staying?
By this time next year, Bryan Park may be the best place around to compare the two grasses.
“It gives us the best of both worlds,” said Kyle Kolls, the general manager and director of golf at Bryan Park. “We’ll have putting surfaces that can be good all year long.”
The northward movement of bermudagrass greens is undeniable. It’s happening at some of our top golf courses. Last year, Sedgefield Country Club unveiled Champion Ultradwarf Bermudagrass for the Wyndham Championship. That conversion showed the durability of the grass, as the club needed less than three months to complete the conversion before the PGA stars arrived. Starmount Forest Country Club also made the change in 2011, and about a dozen courses along the Interstate 40 corridor have done the same in the past three years.
As more superintendents become familiar with bermudagrass, they’re teaching each other new tricks. With so much of the work being done in the field now, superintendents are ahead of turf grass academics in understanding how to manage the new ultradwarf varieties of bermudagrass. Research is being done at the course-level every day, says Kevin Smith, superintendent at Bryan Park.
Smith, who’s been at Bryan Park for 10 years, helped oversee a conversion at a course in Kinston in 2008, and another at a course near Charlotte in 2010. Initially, he worried that bermudagrass would struggle in the cooler months, such as early spring and late fall. Now, he says, those worries are gone.
“We’re rewriting the textbooks,” Smith says. “We manipulate their growing environment with paints and pigments, in order to keep the grass ready in the shoulder seasons. The quality of the putting in those shoulder seasons has become comparable to bentgrass.”
The conversion process at Bryan Park’s Champions Course will be similar to the process that’s taken place at courses all over the Triad. The course will close June 17. Maintenance crews will aggressively vertical mow and deep-aerate the old greens, then fumigate to kill potentially harmful vegetation and weeds. On or about June 24, they’ll begin to sprig with the new bermudagrass. Then they’ll sit and hope for a dry week or two. This step is crucial; a few courses in the area have suffered washouts in the first days after planting, forcing them to start over.
But once bermudagrass green roots set, they really set. They’re deep and strong and resilient. They stand up to heat and moisture. They don’t require large fans in the summertime. And they alleviate one of a superintendent’s worst worries – the worry that he’ll lose his greens.
Smith says he spent several nights over the past few scorching summers falling asleep thinking about his greens. He woke up thinking about them. “That becomes a tough way to live after awhile,” he says.
Smith says he and his staff chose MiniVerde Bermudagrass over the Champion variety used at Sedgefield and Starmount mostly because of a comfort level – MiniVerde was the grass they used in the Kinston and Charlotte transitions.
“We felt comfortable with it,” Smith says. “But honestly, most golf course superintendents that have overseen the conversion will say, ‘I don’t care what bermudagrass it is, as long as I’m not growing bentgrass.’”
Bentgrass, once the standard for smooth putting surfaces, is still a good grass, Smith insists. But its limited durability in the increasingly hot North Carolina summers has become one of the most-discussed topics in golf in this region. The common complaint from the average golfer is that during the summer, the cold-weather grass becomes too soft, too spongy.
At the 2010 U.S. Amateur Public Links, which was held at Bryan Park in July of that year, the course’s greens all met the USGA standards for speed, but did not meet the standard for firmness.
Now, Bryan Park will have both types. Smith has timed the overhaul so that when the Champions Course is scheduled to open on the third Monday of August, the staff will shut down the Players Course for summertime aerification. The hope is that, all year long, at least one course will be open.
Kolls, the general manager, estimates that the renovation of the Champions Course – which will be paid for by the Bryan Foundation – will cost the course about 5,000 rounds this summer. That means about a $200,000 hit.
“But it’s absolutely the right thing to do for the longterm success of the facility and the golf course,” Kolls says. “It’s going to elevate the golf course. We’re now going to have a grass that thrives in that environment, in the summer when most people are playing. When we’re at our height, those greens will be at their height.
The topic of changing from one grass to the other is now so ingrained in the golf culture here that Smith heard about it at his barbershop a few weeks ago. All of the barbers in the shop, Smith says, are golfers. So he asked them what they thought of Bryan Park going to bermudagrass on the Champions Course.
“I was surprised by their excitement,” Smith says. “They all said, ‘Oh yeah. No ball marks.’”