Even for greens that are in good condition, and in the middle of prime season if necessary, clubs in the Carolinas and throughout the South continue to change to Bermuda grasses that are easier to keep alive, no matter what summer heat may come their way.
Verdict Ridge Golf and Country Club in Catawba Springs, N.C., will close on June 25 to begin a two-month process of killing its bentgrass greens and replacing them with Champion Bermuda. The club is making the change during prime time in its golf season, the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reports, to get in step with a trend that has swept through the Carolinas and other parts of the South.
Verdict Ridge’s greens have been in good condition for months, the Observer reported, but they will now be sprayed with Roundup. What’s left will be scalped by greens mowers, and sprigs of the more heat-tolerant Champion Bermuda will be spread across the green complexes, using a no-till method.
Nothing will be dug up as the bentgrass, long considered the best putting surface available despite its tendency to wilt and sometimes die in the summer heat, is replaced will be replaced by the ultra dwarf Bermuda strain that is transforming golf in the Southeast.
August 25 is the target date for when Verdict Ridge plans to reopen with new grass on its greens that will look as if it’s been there for years, the Observer says.
“We have to have quality greens, and this is the best product out there,” says Scott Knox, General Manager at Verdict Ridge and son of former Charlotte Mayor Eddie Knox, the club’s developer, told the Observer. “It confirmed our decision when two of the top courses around here did the same thing. If you have good greens, people will come.”
Verdict Ridge is part of a seismic shift underway throughout the region, the Observer says. This summer, the Peninsula Club, River Run Country Club, River Hills Country Club and Rocky River Golf Club have been among Charlotte-area courses doing the same thing.
Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C., which will host the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship in August, began a similar transition in late May. Old Chatham, a top-end private club in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle area, is also making the change this summer.
Quail Hollow Club, site of the Wells Fargo Championship, will switch from bent to Bermuda prior to the 2017 PGA Championship, and Pinehurst Resort is making plans to convert the greens on its eight courses to Bermuda in the coming years.
Last year, the Bermuda greens at Atlanta Athletic Club, site of the 2012 PGA Championship, and East Lake Golf Club, site of the Tour Championship in Atlanta, drew rave reviews from players. Already, approximately 70 percent of the courses in the Atlanta area have converted.
Wayne Smith, CEO of Charlotte’s Smith Turf and Irrigation, which provides turf maintenance equipment to courses in four states, said he knows of approximately 50 courses making the transition this year.
“I don’t think it’s wrong to say that 10 years from now, there will only be a handful of courses [in the Southeast] left with bentgrass,” said Pat O’Brien, Southeast Director of the USGA’s Green Section, which oversees course conditions.
The past two summers, when temperatures have been above normal throughout the South, bentgrass greens have struggled to stay alive, the Observer notes.
“The year before last, we spent $50,000 putting in fans [to cool the greens],” Knox said. “We spent all this money putting down fungicides and raising the mowing level on our greens. We had to pay a kid to hand-water our greens in the heat.
“When your greens should be their best, the spring and fall, you have to aerify,” he added. “Everything bentgrass hates, Bermuda loves.”
Knox said he approached the 250 members of Verdict Ridge in January about the conversion. The club requires a mix of dues-paying members and public play. Shutting down for two months in the summer to make the change will cost the club approximately $350,000, including lost revenue when the course is essentially closed. There will be nine temporary holes for members to use.
“Most clubs look at this as a new business model,” O’Brien said. “We give a worksheet to all the clubs that lets them compute their costs of bent versus ultra dwarf. In most instances, there’s quite a bit of savings.”
Before bentgrass took over approximately 30 years ago, every course in the area had Bermuda greens, but it was a different kind of grass that was thick, spongy and full of grain. The new Bermudas produce faster, firmer putting surfaces that can be adjusted by the superintendent to fit what each course wants for its golfers, the Observer notes. The new surfaces also allow superintendents and their staffs more time to work on other parts of the course in the summer, instead of devoting hours to keeping the greens alive.
“The greens will basically keep themselves alive. We’ll just define the quality of them,” said Joel White, Superintendent at Rocky River.
In the winter, when temperatures reach 26 degrees, Bermuda greens must be covered with blankets that take less than five minutes to put on. On average, courses in the Charlotte areas will use the blankets 10 to 12 times a winter, O’Brien said. Last year, only two nights required blankets on Bermuda greens.
Bud Welch, head golf professional pro at Springfield Golf Club in Fort Mill, S.C., oversaw the change from bent grass to Bermuda at his property two years ago. Nearby Waterford Golf Club and Fort Mill Golf Club have made the same change, as did the Golf Club at Ballantyne. In the past, Welch said, play would drop noticeably when the condition of the greens declined—almost as if someone had posted it on Facebook.
“I can’t exaggerate how great this [Bermuda] is,” Welch told the Observer. “It’s not only hearty. We don’t have ball marks. We don’t have to [hand-water]. We don’t have to worry we’re going to lose our greens when it’s 95 degrees. Our play has been terrific because of the greens.”
Welch said representatives of other area courses have been to Springfield to study the putting surfaces.
“I’ve seen so many groups of three or four men in suits stand on our greens and look at them,” Welch said. “I just think, ‘Well, there’s another golf committee taking a look.’ ”
At Verdict Ridge, Knox is ready for the conversion to begin. It’s not a trend. It’s the new way of life for golf courses in the Carolinas.
“Every course we called said they’re thinking about,” Knox said. “No one said they weren’t going to do it. If they’re thinking about it, they’re going to do it.”