Golf has long been a game of innovation. In fact, it seems that every couple of decades or so, there is a major innovation that improves the game. Most recently, the equipment boom – drivers, putters, golf balls – impacted the game for low-handicap and weekend golfers alike. Now, there is reason to believe the next big innovation will be grasses.

Steve Smyers

Grasses – really? Yes! A variety of turf grasses are being introduced in both cool and warm areas, and the way they are maintained will impact everyone who enjoys the game – including superintendents.

In the South, we are finding new warm-weather grasses just being released that are more drought- and cold-tolerant and hold color better. Up north, the new grasses are drought- and heat-tolerant, as well and less susceptible to diseases.

American Society of Golf Course Architect members are looking to the next age of golf development, in some cases taking existing facilities and modernizing or repositioning them, in other cases just putting newer products into the courses. Smart water use will play a key role.

We are looking at more water conservation not only in the types of grasses we use, but also the areas that need to be irrigated. Better decisions lead to turf reduction.

I am even introducing Zoysia grass on a course I am currently designing in the Midwest – an area of the country that historically used cool-weather grasses. Before now, Zoysia was avoided due to playability issues. It was considered inferior to some of the cool-weather grasses used on fairways. With modern maintenance equipment, however, superintendents are learning they can produce playing surfaces as good or better with Zoysia while maintaining their environmental and economic sustainability.

The evolution of Zoysia and Bermuda grasses has led to their use at facilities in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, Missouri and other locations that were thought to be limited to cool-weather grasses, which require more water and chemicals during the season. That leads to less maintenance due to one simple rule: The more you water and fertilize, the more you have to mow.

Today, we have more ways than ever before to cut back the use of water and fertilizer. Thanks to the research and investment that has gone into turf grasses, we are doing a better job of testing grasses to see what is best for each facility, leading to greater economic and environmental benefits.

Far from reaching its limits, that testing continues today. A course I am working on in Dallas has incorporated six varieties of Bermuda grass to determine which is best for the fairways and the first cut of rough. For the outer rough, we are testing Buffalo grass and other natives.

The key is to remember that there is no one right answer. It is important to determine what options best fit your environment, and what type of playability your clientele is looking for.

In Texas, I had to work through the perception that Bermuda grass was inferior to bentgrass for putting surfaces, despite the fact that Bermuda was holding up beautifully elsewhere on the course.

My advice for superintendents: If you are coming up with a project, research all of the grasses available in your area and conduct your own test pilots on the course. It also helps to work with an ASGCA member to make sure the correct questions are being asked and to coordinate activities.