Golfer expectations can be crippling for any superintendent. They see green grass on the golf course and think that’s what it should look like year-round. The pressure to satisfy these expectations can be stressful, so you turn to the idea of overseeding. From cost to labor and time, overseeding isn’t an easy task. You can’t help but think: Is it worthwhile for your golf course?
Perspective on overseeding has changed in the past five years. “It has become more accepted through industry publications, and there’s an effort on spreading the word about overseeding and its benefits,” says Mike Stevens, southeast regional director of agronomy at Billy Casper Golf. “There’s an expectation for playing on a different-looking golf course. The saying ‘greener isn’t always better’ is true. It’s all about the experience and how the rest of the golf course plays.”
Thanks to golf tournaments on TV and similar events, the expectation of green grass year-round has diminished.
“Those events helped the general public understand that it’s OK to play on a golf course that isn’t green 12 months out of the year,” Stevens says.
Why you should consider it
What are your reasons for overseeding? Are you trying to satisfy golfers’ expectations? Are you trying to lure in players to make more money for your course?
Aesthetic is one of the biggest pros to overseeding. It provides a great transition from summer golf to winter golf from a member standpoint, according to Kenton Brunson, assistant golf course superintendent at Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. Superintendents gain more experience in turfgrass health from overseeding their course.
“It’s a good aesthetic for golf club members because they want really good conditions,” Brunson says. “You get the most revenue when you overseed.”
The aesthetic will be amped up after overseeding over turfgrass that goes dormant.
“You have to look at the original reasons. In the South, it’s always more about the aesthetic than anything else,” Stevens says. “Bermudagrass stops actively growing at about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so you want to change it after heavy play.”
Stevens says from a commodity standpoint, you’re spending less on fertilizer and fuel when deciding to implement overseeding.
“The challenge is going past that initial shock of bright grass that you’re used to playing on,” Stevens says. “Every facility and market is different and every golfers’ expectation is different so you have to be aware.”
Why you should think twice
The upfront cost for a standard 18-hole course in the southeast market has a seed cost of around $20,000, according to Stevens. Add on utility costs to irrigate during the winter and labor costs, and that quickly adds up and becomes an expensive maintenance process for the club.
Are cost and labor not an issue for your club? Well, don’t forget about playing time.
“November is the perfect, busy time of year to play golf in the Florida and South Carolina area,” Stevens says. “You’re taking away about three weeks of prime playing season if the golf course is wet from overseeding.”
Every facility needs to have a conversation about the agronomic and business side of overseeding.
“Does spending $60,000 make sense to make another $120,000? The question is also whether or not to single yourself out as the better market product and better than the competition down the road,” Stevens says.
A crucial component of overseeding to consider is water management, especially if a course is in the desert like Brunson’s course in Arizona.
“Water management is critical. It can get up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit here so if your water management isn’t on point, you worry about your course a lot more,” Brunson explained.
Mistakes happen. Learning to fix them is crucial. The biggest mistake is not preparing the bermudagrass base in preparation for overseeding, Stevens says.
“If you’re going through the hassle and expense, you want to reap the benefits from the money spent,” he says. “Give yourself the best chance possible for germination.”
If the timing isn’t right, then there can be problems. Brunson explained that Desert Mountain Club overseeds in six weeks and focuses on one course at a time.
“It’s all about timing,” Brunson says. “You can be two days off and have a terrible year. We have it down to a science because timing is everything.”
The lack of preparation is a second mistake, followed by the lack of understanding.
“You’re essentially making a competition between two plants,” Stevens says. “If preparation isn’t given on the back end, then that could put the superintendent in a position where golfers will look at the golf course and unfairly judge them on the conditions of the transition period. Education to golfers and the general public is extremely important, especially if you’re not going to overseed.”
The last word
Overseeding preparation varies throughout regions. Stevens says autumn has a more relaxed time frame in Florida and South Carolina because superintendents aren’t fighting humidity. However, it’s more aggressive out west.
“The first step is to make sure you have the pre-emergent schedule timed right and the application down,” he says. “The goal is to have good definition between the nonoverseeding and overseeding area. Then, you have to prep the seed bed and apply growth retardants like PGRs to help slow down bermudagrass.”
In the desert where Brunson is located, they spray an herbicide that takes off the top foliage of bermudagrass so the growth is stopped. Then, mow it down and scalp it to 0.3 of an inch. Two different crops are competing against each other for dominance, according to Brunson.
“Lastly, we walk the perimeters and drop the seed,” Brunson says. “It takes anywhere from 10 to 14 days after dropseed for the ryegrass to pop and seven days later, it’s playable.”
Sitting down with your team and strategically thinking about whether or not overseeding is necessary for your golf course will save you time and effort.
“Golfers and directors should understand that every facility is different, and it’s imperative that superintendents understand the resources that go along with overseeding,” Stevens says. “Superintendents should try their best to share the information. They’re the experts on the property, and the team relies on them, so they should relay the most information they can on the benefits of overseeding.”