Picking the right grass for golf course

The choice of grass plays a vital role in the look and feel of a golf course

Whenever we think of golf courses, a lush green landscape springs to mind. Golf has become synonymous with the colour green.

Of late, though, the trend is changing and golf courses are leaning more towards sustainability. In other words, they are now focusing more on managing the play area rather than trying to keep the entire course green.

Keeping the golf course lush and green is a great challenge and requires a lot of water, fertilisers and other related resources. So, now, the greens, fairways and tees are well-manicured and managed to provide the best possible playing surface for the golfers. But the rough areas and the non-playable zones are left to nature and irrigated less frequently, making such areas less green and more brown.

This is happening not only with existing golf courses but also with new ones, specially the courses being developed in arid and dry tropical regions.

Climate, the clincher

The choice of grass plays a vital role in the look and feel of a golf course. A well-designed golf course can look non-appealing if the grass selection is not done prudently. A lot of factors are to be considered before we choose the type of grass to form a nice playing turf.

Turf is grass and the part of the soil beneath it is held together by the roots. Management of turf is nothing but the work required to keep the grass healthy and ready to be used for its various purposes.

Normally a superintendent is the one responsible for managing the turf on a golf course — literally keeping the grass greener on the other side.

For this, he will have to first understand the various types of grasses, their basic characteristics and, above all, the climatic conditions based on which the right grass for the right place is chosen.

Climatic conditions in India range from being arid to tropical to highlands to Savanna. One can experience different climates with changing milestones. In one part, we can experience extreme hot weather and in another, cool breeze.

In such dramatic conditions, the choice of grass is the key to success. To make things simpler, let’s consider the climate to be either warm or cool, which makes us match it with the two major classifications of grasses, that is, “the “warm season” grasses and the “cool season” grasses.

Generally, people who are not from the turf industry think that these grasses are incapable of surviving outside of their respective season; that warm season grasses prosper only in summer and cool season grasses flourish only in winter. However, it is more complex than we think. A turf management expert or an agronomist should be consulted before taking any turf-related decision.

Warm season grasses

These grasses grow best during summer, when the temperature is between 25°C and 35°C; they require less water and can be seeded (not all species); the soil temperature required for seeding is 15°C to 18°C. They can also be sodded or sprigged. Being summer season grass, they go into dormancy during winter, when the temperature falls. These grasses have very poor winter tolerance and turn brown in colour with the winter stress.

Receptive more to the sun, the warm season grass responds well to fertilisation in summer and is in the best of health during the hot season. It also does not grow well in the shaded areas as the reach of sunlight to these areas is poor. Some of the warm season grasses are Bermuda grass, Seashore Paspalum, Zoysia, Centipede, St. Augustine, Buffalo, Carpet and Bahia Grass.

Cool season grasses

These grasses grow best during winter, when the temperature is between 18 and 24°C and are adaptive to cooler and temperate regions.

The cool season grass grows mostly in the spring or fall. It performs best with consistent rainfall or irrigation, having no water resistance. It can be seeded or sodded.

As opposed to warm season grass, this grass goes into dormancy during summer and the growth is reduced. It responds well to fertilisation in the spring or fall, has adequate winter and shade tolerance, little or no winter dormancy and stays green during the winters. Species of cool season grass are Bentgrass, Ryegrass, Fescues, Blue grass, etc.

Choosing the right grass at the right place is important but maintaining it well is what makes the difference. Even the best grass can look bad if not maintained adequately.

Proper mowing, watering and fertilising will help make any grass flawless.

The writer is a golf course architect and founder of AV Golf International

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