11/29/2013

The golf courses along the Grand Strand have always assumed that visiting golfers expected the grass to be green year round.  It is the reason course have always gone through expensive over-seeding with cool weather grasses such as poa trivialis on greens and ryegrass on tees and fairways while warm-weather bermudagrass goes dormant.

Golf course owners, operators and superintendents along the Grand Strand are increasingly becoming more comfortable with another way to achieve the green conditions that golfers seem to desire.

Many of the courses have converted to the fine bladed ultra-dwarf bermudagrasses over the past decade and it has brought about the policy of coloring the dormant grass instead of over-seeding.

Painting of greens has recently become the No. 1 alternative to over-seeding greens for winter color.  Bermudagrass growth stops when nighttime temperatures begin to drop below 60 degrees (F).  This is accompanied by discoloration of the turf when temperatures drop below 50 degrees (F) and eventually to full dormancy when frost occurs or as temperatures become lower than freezing.  Superintendents in the Southern United States, therefore, often over-seed bermudagrass greens to meet golfers’ desire to play on green grass during the winter and increase profits for their courses.

The most common cool-season turfgrasses over-seeded into dormant bermudagrass greens are rough (Poa trivialis) and perennial ryegrass.  When the over-seeding season starts, the bermudagrass is often not fully dormant yet and is still competing for water and nutrients.  Over-seeding itself is disruptive for the existing bermudagrass turf as verticutting or other physical means of thinning the turf is performed to provide good seed-to-soil contact.  Additionally, to provide a quality putting green, high over-seed rates are often used.  These high seeding rates plus cooler spring temperatures often weaken the bermudagrass turf and potentially results in catastrophic problems during spring transition into summer.

In severe cases, a golf course will transition from over-seeded cool-season turf to severely thinned or even dead bermudagrass turf.  Other problems include increased susceptibility to vatious diseases and the inability to rid the over-seeded grass, which becomes a lingering noxious weed.  In addition the these management problems, cost can become a problem for golf courses as well, which is between $500 and $2,000 per over-seeded acre (the cost of ryegrass seed increased 15% in 2013 and is expected to increase another 15% in 2014).  Many golf course managers view over-seeding as a necessary high-cost practice to attract and retain winter-play golfers.  For all these reasons, turf professionals have sought alternatives to over-seeding and discovered a painting is a simple solution.

Behind the lead of Brunswick Plantation superintendent Rob Vaughan, the trend of painting is working its way down the fairway.  Brunswick Plantation was the first Strand course to color fairways green in 2010, and at least seven other public access courses are coloring fairways this winter.

“We put down ryegrass to give it definition and color, because everyone wants it green,” Vaughan said.  “We can do the same thing with colorants or pigments, and instead of being on ryegrass say nine months out of the year and Bermuda three, I can now be on Bermuda 10 months and colorants two, under a normal situation.  In February, I’ll be mowing Bermuda again.