Is Bermuda The Answer For Courses?
Some of my favorite people are having the most trying days of their careers this summer, and if I had a voice with her, I would plead to Mother Nature that enough is enough.
Remember the cruel winter of 2010? Remember how ice and snow and freezing temperatures killed everything green and made golf courses struggle with frozen fairways and greens and cash registers that didn’t ka-ching for days at a time?
Golf course superintendents used their entire bag of tricks in an attempt to keep the grasses healthy and often that wasn’t enough. Bermuda grass, which loves hot weather, shriveled up and died in the relentless cold. Fairways were brown where they weren’t barren, and finding a good lie was a distant memory on a lot of courses.
Some courses were luckier than others. Courses and clubs with cash in reserve were able to keep operating without making too many sacrifices. Others, which were operating on that fine line between solvency and bankruptcy, were required to cut back on expenditures, employees and chemicals. None of this was going to help in the long run, but it had to be done if the doors were to remain open.
Spring finally arrived and brought with it hope that golfers would return in numbers enough to save the season. But, problem was, there was hardly any spring.
Winter left and the blistering heat of a summer descended on golf courses still struggling to get back on their feet. It was so hot that only the brave dared venture onto the fairways. On days when the temperatures didn’t reach 100 degrees, it felt like a cold wave.
So now the bentgrass greens that were never really meant to grow in the Carolina heat were taking the brunt of Mother Nature’s mad-on against golf courses. Course superintendents stepped out of their doors before daylight and felt the oppressive heat slap them in their faces.
As the days went by and the heat never went away, ugly things began happening to our beautiful golf courses. Brown spots appeared on what were normally lush greens. Crab grass and other ugly stuff started creeping onto the putting surface, adding more stress for the caretakers.
Members were upset, and they let the club professionals and the superintendents know about it. “We’re paying dues to play here,” they screamed, “and we’re not going to put up with this kind of stuff. We deserve to have greens and fairways like Augusta National. How are we supposed to break 90 when we’re having to putt on stuff like this?”
The USGA tried to warn us. Jim Hyler, the Raleigh guy who is president of the USGA, spoke all over the country, telling golfers and anyone else who would listen that brown is the new green. Golf courses were not taking in sufficient revenue to continue following the Augusta National path.
One course in the Sandhills made the decision to switch from bentgrass greens to Champion Bermuda. That course took a severe body blow, though, when it suffered an electrical failure in its watering system that took weeks to correct at a crucial time and its fairways not only turned brown but became mostly dirt surfaces
So there was Hyland Golf Club with beautiful greens that were perfect putting surfaces and fairways that couldn’t be played on. And still, the club survived. With plenty of water and sodding and a lot of TLC, the fairways came back. With green fairways and the Bermuda greens, the word got around. Golfers began returning. Calls came in daily asking what kind of grass was on the greens. The Carolinas Golf Association moved some of its qualifying events to the course with the great putting surfaces.
So is this the answer? If the summers are going to be this hot for a few years, are more courses going to have to switch to Bermuda grass greens?
You can bet a lot of tired superintendents are hoping they can switch. And members may start pressuring their clubs to switch. Playing on temporary greens gets old in a hurry. And weather like we’ve had for the past year makes our course superintendents get old in a hurry.
Contact Howard Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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