– it was thought that intensive maintenance practices would be required to keep ultradwarf greens running fast and smooth.
But several golf courses and their superintendents are proving that ultradwarf greens can provide a more than capable putting surface without intensive management practices. These superintendents are providing quality putting surfaces on limited budgets.
At Camden Country Club in Camden, South Carolina, Superintendent Danny Allen oversees the course’s MiniVerde ultradwarf greens on a tight budget and with a small crew (five members, including himself). Allen, who is in his 35th year as the superintendent at the 18-hole private club that Donald Ross redesigned in the late 1920s, had heard that ultradwarfs needed to be verticut and topdressed more than other varieties.
“But we can’t do a lot of that,” he says. “It would take almost my whole crew.”
Dennis C. Echols, certified golf course superintendent at Jennings Mill Country Club, an 18-hole private club in Watkinsville, Georgia, oversaw his course’s conversion from bentgrass to TifEagle ultradwarf in July 2015. Despite the course’s limited budget, the greens have responded well to his maintenance practices, Echols says.
“You can basically manage the grass with the dollars you have,” he says. “You just can’t get as aggressive with it if you don’t have the money in the budget to do so.”
Danny Mullen, director of golf and operations at Paxton Park Golf Course, an 18-hole municipal track in Paducah, Kentucky, converted his course’s greens from 328 bermudagrass to Champion ultradwarf in 2003 and 2004. Mullen admits he was concerned about increased management, including having to topdress more frequently, on a $200,000 maintenance budget (including labor). But not anymore. His program is working at the course, which opened in 1939.
“The improved quality of our putting surfaces is such that it is well worth it,” Mullen adds.
What they’re doing
Rather than verticut and topdress weekly – which many superintendents do at higher-budget courses – Allen, Echols and Mullen have implemented fertility programs low in nitrogen (N) to control turf growth, which helps maintain consistent green speed and roll. Also, the less N, the less chance for thatch to accumulate, which would require more frequent verticutting.
“We can’t put too much fertilizer on them,” Allen says. “They could get so thick that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with them.”
Allen applies about 6 pounds of N per 1,000 square feet annually, with most of it applied from March through August. Allen uses granular and foliar fertilizers.
“I keep them pretty lean, and I don’t want a lot of growth,” says Allen, whose annual maintenance budget is about $480,000.
Allen uses iron and humates to help the greens hold their color.
Echols spoon-feeds the greens, spraying foliar fertilizer about once a week. He uses no more than 3.5 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 square feet annually.
“This year, we’ll be at about 3 pounds,” he says.
The greens are more lime-colored than dark, which is acceptable to the clientele, Echols says.
“They would rather have greens that putt well and have good ball roll,” he says. “Nobody has questioned their color. Because we spoon-feed them every week, they hold their color well.”
Mullen says he “starves” the greens in the summer. In the heat of the season, Mullen and his crew apply about one-quarter of a pound of granular fertilizer per 1,000 square feet to the greens every two weeks.
“The leaner they are, the better they roll. …I found by starving them that they have a better roll when they’re undergoing their most aggressive growth,” Mullen notes.
Echols knows superintendents who manage TifEagle more intensely; they verticut the greens every week to 10 days and topdress lightly twice a week.
Echols has not yet verticut Jennings Mills’ greens, which are now more than a year old. He does brush and groom the greens every other day, and daily from mid-August through September when the grass gets grainy.
“I’d rather stay on top of them with grooming and brushing,” he says. “They have shallow roots to begin with, and I don’t like going in there and cutting too deep.”
Echols topdresses lightly once every two weeks. The more topdressing, the more that the reels and bed knives on mowers need to be maintained, Echols states.
“If we really got aggressive with them, we would have to change the bed knives about every other day,” he adds.
His management plan is working.
“And we’re getting it done cheaper,” Echols adds. (The members) are fine with the way I manage them. …If I start seeing a problem, then I will adjust.”
Mullen also knows other super-intendents who verticut and lightly topdress ultradwarfs weekly.
“I will topdress every other week, which was more than I had to do with 328 bermudagrass, but we have a better putting surface,” he says. “The topdressing is the key to getting a better putting surface.”
He verticuts the greens monthly during the spring and summer.
“That plan works for us. Our patrons are pleased with the greens,” Mullen says.
Other key maintenance
Shade is a constant challenge for ultradwarfs.
“The ultradwarfs don’t like shade at all so we have taken down a lot of trees,” Allen says. “You aren’t going to be able to manage this ultradwarf in the shade. It’s just not going to happen. It doesn’t matter what the budget is.”
Mullen covers the greens in the winter, but only if the forecast calls for temperatures below 15 degrees for several nights in a row.
“We have only had to cover them about twice every winter in the 12 years we have had Champion,” he says.
Allen doesn’t use covers on the greens in the winter because he can’t afford them. But if he knows that temperatures are going to dip to single-digit temperatures, Allen and his crew will apply pine straw to the greens to protect them. The pine straw is stockpiled so it can be used over again.
Allen, Echols and Mullen say disease hasn’t been much of a problem on the greens. Echols reports minor bouts of leaf spot and bermudagrass decline. When Jennings Mill had bentgrass greens, Echols sprayed fungicides 15 times a year; now he is spraying about eight times annually.
Keys to Managing Ultradwarf on a Low Budget
- Fertility programs low in nitrogen to control turf growth, which helps maintain consistent green speed and roll. Also, the less N, the less chance for thatch to accumulate, which would require more frequent verticutting.
- While the greens aren’t dark in color because of low fertility, they are still green.
- Managing green speed according to golfers’ expectations.
- Frequent brushing and grooming.
- Verticutting, not weekly, but when it is deemed necessary.
- Topdressing, not weekly, but possibly every other week.
- Painting the greens in the winter.
- Managing shade constantly.
- Keeping turf and soil moist.
- Keeping a close eye on height of cut.
The three super-intendents also have realized that the soil beneath the ultradwarfs needs to be kept moist throughout the year.
“We water them every night, especially in the summer,” Allen says. “Sometimes we have to water during the day when it gets really hot.”
If it’s January and there’s no moisture in the ground, Allen will water the greens as long as its 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
“It would be nice to have enough manpower to be able to hand-water some, but we just don’t have it,” he says. “We do put out wetting agents at least once a month, even in the winter.”
Nematodes have been a challenge at Camden, but Allen is using a new nematicide, which features the active ingredient fluopyram, and has witnessed solid results. After applying the nematicide, Allen says the color of the greens changed dramatically in only four days.
Allen also realized that he could get away with irrigating the greens less after applying the nematicide. He attributes that to a stronger root structure now that nematodes are no longer feeding on them.
At Camden, Allen mows the small, undulated greens with a triplex at .110 to .120 in the summer. If there’s a tournament, he will lower the height of cut to achieve more speed. Normally, the greens run at 9 or 10 feet to satisfy the older membership, which fits in well with Allen’s maintenance practices.
TifEagle also has fit in nicely at Jennings Mill, considering that members’ expectations for fast greens aren’t off the charts. Members prefer the greens running 10 to 11 feet.
Mullen says Champion is a hit at Paxton Park.
“What we got out of going to Champion was a faster, truer putting surface that is a year-round putting surface,” he says. “With 328 bermudagrass, we were a seven-month golf facility. We can also achieve speeds with Champion that we couldn’t achieve with 328.”
Mullen learned the art of greenkeeping from his father, Daniel Kayo Mullen, who was a self-taught superintendent.
“I remember my dad telling me, ‘You can learn all you want to from the books that you read, but in the end the grass will tell you what it needs. You just need to go look at it,'” he says.
Mullen has heeded his father’s advice. He may not spend as much money and time on maintaining the ultradwarf as other superintendents, but he has learned a lot about managing the variety just by studying it.
“I always think of what my dad said,” he says.