Note: This article was originally published in July 2014.
Valhalla’s new bentgrass greens ready for Louisville’s relentless heat and humidity
In preparation for the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, Golf Course Superintendent Roger Meier will have the unenviable task of coaxing along bentgrass greens for a major championship during the peak of the summer heat and humidity. In Louisville, the average high temperature for August is 89 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average low of 69. Rainfall is usually about 3.5 inches for the month. The tournament is set for Aug. 4-10.
Adding to the fun is the fact that all 18 greens were rebuilt and then seeded in the fall and winter of 2011, with a nearly three-month gap between the front and back nine. Jack Nicklaus Design oversaw the work, which also included tree trimming and removal, as well as contouring green surrounds to improve flow of member walking traffic.
Nicklaus is the architect of the course that is now 100 percent owned by the PGA of America.
This will be Meier’s second major. The 2011 Senior PGA Championship was at Valhalla. That event was held in May.
This will be the first major on the new greens, which are, in Meier’s estimate, about two years shy of reaching maturity.
The grass chosen for the putting surfaces is T-1, a Jacklin Seed product.
The significant players in the selection process – Meier; Chief Championships Officer at the PGA of America Kerry Haigh; and Jon Scott, vice president of agronomic services for Nicklaus design and a former PGA Tour agronomist – all chose T-1. Scott was the first superintendent at Valhalla. Tim Moraghan, owner of the consulting firm Aspire Golf and former USGA Director of Championship Agronomy, was brought in by Meier to give his opinion, and he also chose T-1.
Of those involved in the selection process, Meier was the least familiar with T-1, so he visited a number of layouts in the area that have the grass. Scott was the most familiar with T-1. For the past few years it has been the only grass the Nicklaus company has used, including all the company’s courses in China, where they have built layouts in a variety of climates.
“It has all the characteristics we were looking for in a host of environments,” Scott says. “It doesn’t matter if you plant it in cold climates or hot climates. We’re always looking for a grass that has universality.”
At Valhalla, the biggest concern is heat stress, and according to Scott T-1 handles high temperatures very well.
“It grows during the hot weather and that gives it recoverability,” Scott says.
Originally, Valhalla’s putting surfaces were Penncross and then they were regrassed with a Penn A-1/A-4 blend. Other grasses besides T-1 were considered.
“We looked at all the options,” Haigh says.
Making Meier’s job tougher was the fact that Louisville had a long and cold winter, but it has been a good spring and summer.
“So far we’re happy,” Haigh says of the 2014 growing season. He described their agronomic approach to the greens as “pretty defensive. You’ve really got to think and be careful,” he adds.
The greens were rebuilt not out of choice, but necessity.
“They had reached their age of maturity,” Scott says of the USGA spec greens that were first played on in 1986.
According to Meier, the calcareous river sand used to build the greens “had degraded” to the point that infiltration rates were at an inch an hour or less. They also came to believe the gravel layer had “migrated into the soft subsoil,” he adds.
This time, a blend of 80 percent silica and 15 percent peat was used for the build.
The actual construction was just short of a nightmare.
Work began in September of 2011, with the back nine being seeded first. Then the fall turned very wet and construction was stopped cold for nearly a month, Meier recalls. When work resumed, two course construction companies were working at the same time in an effort to get back on schedule – Sanders Golf, run by Cole Sanders and based in Cordova, Tennessee, and GreenTee Golf out of Paducah, Kentucky, run by Earl Sanders, Cole’s brother.
“We didn’t drop seed (on the front nine) until Nov. 1, and the last green Nov. 15,” Meier notes.
Curlex wood fiber blankets along with green covers were used on the front nine putting surfaces. Luckily for all involved, it was a warm winter, allowing for first the covers and then the Curlex to be removed by the end of February. Meier was able to make chemical applications to the greens without having to remove the Curlex blankets.
Within a short time one could not tell which set of greens had been seeded first, Meier says.
“It was unbelievable how uniform it was,” he adds. “We were mowing by the first week of April. The one thing about T-1 that is unbelievable is the seed vigor.”
His assessment of the grass continues to be positive.
“We really like what we’re seeing,” Meier says.
Doug Brede, Ph.D., research director at Post Falls, Idaho-based Jacklin Seed, developed T-1.
Click image to enlarge.
In 1994, Brede visited old golf courses around Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, as well as throughout the Carolinas, looking for areas within the putting surfaces where the turf was holding off Poa annua. Out of all the samples, he selected 11 varieties of what he surmises are strains of old German bents.
Then, Brede stumbled onto some luck. A farmer growing Putter bent applied a chemical he was not instructed to onto an entire field and it killed off most of the plot.
“What was left was dwarf Putter plants,” Brede says. “It was like an ice cream parlor for plant breeders.”
He crossbred the Putter with the 11 previously selected bents.
T-1 made its debut on a Japanese course in 2004, and according to Brede, China is “T-1 city.” Of the 400 courses in that country, 300 used T-1 for their greens.
“I’m like a national hero over there,” Brede says chuckling.
You can bet Brede’s a popular guy at the Valhalla Golf Club, as well.
Spotlight on T-1
- Grass has “recoverability.”
- Handles high temperatures well.
- Also handles cold temperatures.
- Uniform surfaces.
- Seed vigor.
- Holds off Poa annua