Normas Yakin is a turf
manager who loves the outdoors and believes there is a better way to manage
turf and landscaping without affecting the environment. He doesnt mind
sharing his knowledge and if you want his advice on how to manage your turf,
contact him at
mynormas @ yahoo.com
(without the blank spaces)
Laman web untuk rujukan rumput turf
English Section, for my articles that have appeared in other publications before
The grass is always
greener on the other fairway…
This article first appeared in Pargolf Magazine March and April 2006
On the green is where you make the stroke that could make or break you. It could decide who wins and who lose. The greens would be the most valuable real estate on the golf course. A former boss told me that the greens are like the ‘heart’ of the golf course. The second most important turfed area for a golfer is the tee. It is where 300 metre drives or 3 metre duffs are made. But for golf course maintenance, the tougher area to maintain would be the fairway.
On the tee, the staff can still decide where you should hit from. They can put the markers where the grass is greener or the soil is firmer. If the tee has weeds, because the size of the tees is relatively small, they can control them easily. If they want to impress golfers, they can landscape the surrounds.
But the fairways are a different matter. They’re huge with sizes going up to 20 hectares for an 18-hole course. And golfers, they can hit the balls to all corners of the fairway: from the beginning of the fairway 10 metres from the tee to the edge of the fairway one metre from the pond. The whole fairway on a par 5 may be beautifully turfed except for one small tiny patch, and you can bet there’ll be golf balls on that patch.
The fairways, because of their size, are good for the scenery too. You may never have been to a great golf course but you probably have seen pictures of the beautiful stripes on the fairway.
So the grass on a fairway does make a difference. It won’t make or break a Superintendent’s career like on the green, but when all things are equal, it’s the fairways that count. Of course other than grass, how the fairway plays is also determined by the drainage on the fairway. If golfers keep losing their golf balls even when they know it landed right smack on the fairway, they are not going to be very impressed with the golf course. But since this article is about grass, we will keep other factors aside for the moment.
There are three important grass on fairways in Malaysia; Zoysiagrass, Bermudagrass and Cowgrass. Were it that easy, then this would be a very short article indeed. But no, two more grasses needs to be included; Paspalum vaginatum and our local grass Seranggoon can be included too. Add to that the fact that the Bermudagrass itself comes in a few cultivars and hybrids and you had better get yourself comfortable if you plan to read to the end of this article.
In the beginning there was Cowgrass on the fairways in Malaysia. It was relatively easy to maintain and hardy in its own way. It did not grow quite like the other grasses with their stolons and rhizomes. It could withstand wet weather, had no major disease problem and only cows find them palatable. Perhaps that’s why it’s called ‘Cowgrass’? If the weather is too dry, it just goes dormant and when the rain comes, it comes back to life.
In Malaysian turf industry; ‘Cowgrass’ is the local name given to either Paspalum conjugatum or Axonopus compressus. A search on the Internet gave me three scientific names for ‘Cowgrass’ and one of them wasn’t even a grass but a species of herb called Trifolium pretense; used for traditional healing. If you asked me, I would go for Axonopus compressus, but some literature argues this is the Latin name for Tropical Carpetgrass.
How does it fare among golfers? Well if properly looked after; it can be good to play on. Proper feeding and regular mowing will make it grow dense and hard. On the other hand, due to their toughness, courses planted with Cowgrass sometimes tend to give them less tender loving care compared to courses planted with foreign grasses. For instance the mowing may be less regular, because unlike on imported grasses, this will not cause the Cowgrass to grow long and wild. More often than not the fertilizer program for Cowgrass is not followed strictly because the colour of Cowgrass will remain dark green even when not fertilized and it won’t thin or die out, at least, not immediately. So the tendency is to hold on to the fertilizing a bit. But both these practices will mean the grass won’t be strong enough to hold the ball and it will be like hitting off the rough even when you are on the fairway. Plus weak turf will allow weeds to thrive.
In my opinion, if Cowgrass is given half the cost of fertilizing usually reserved for Bermudagrass or Zoysiagrass and regular mowing is carried out with the same kind of reel mowers used for imported grasses; you could end up with one heck of a golf course.
Another less known advantage of Cowgrass is that it is more shade tolerant compared to most other species of grasses. Did you notice that in most of the courses where the fairways are Bermuda or Zoysia, the rough under the trees are almost always Cowgrass?
It is not without its weaknesses too; if invaded by other local grasses as weeds, any herbicide used to control the weeds will hurt it too. It has shallow roots, which means that even a short period of no rain will start to show an effect.
There is a new grass in town called the Pearlgrass, I am told that it is a cultivar of Cowgrass. It grows very close to the ground and the way it’s spread out, it may not hold the golf ball in the golfer’s favour. So I don’t expect it to be used on any fairways soon, but it does look good on a lawn.
It wasn’t until the golf course boom in the 1980s that other types of grasses made their appearance in Malaysia. The most prominent of them is Bermudagrass. In a previous article I mentioned how we can see a lot of variation in the growth habit of Tifdwarfs from one course to another. They look so different yet they are claimed to be Tifdwarf. Well for the fairway grass, the opposite is true; you’ll get plenty of names but most of the time you can’t tell them apart. There’s the Common Bermuda, Tifway 419 and Greenlees Park for a start. Then there were attempts that I know of to plant Windsor Green and Numex Sahara. And those were the grasses that I know of in Malaysia, in the states there are plenty more Bermudagrass with names like Santa Ana, Sunturf and even Pee Dee.
Also known as Couchgrass or couch, it is actually a weed in cotton plantations in North America. It is widely adapted to our climate though it does not tolerate excess water very well. It tolerates drought condition better than Cowgrass. It recovers better than Cowgrass from divot and has an excellent wear tolerance.
But why the many cultivars, varieties and hybrids? Well some are the seeded variety, which are mainly used in some parts of the US where it is not so warm and yet not so cold (also called the transition zone). Most are cultivars, which cannot be planted from seeds; only from parts of the mother plant.
Some are chosen for different reasons like for colour, or drought tolerance (now you know why it’s called the ‘Sahara’) or maybe its growth habit. Or maybe Mr. Pee and Mr. Dee want something for the world to remember them by? From my own personal experience the Greenlees Park Bermuda is just so much easier to maintain compared to Tifway 419 because it requires less fertilizer, grow much faster and has a darker green colour.
Zoysiagrass has a light green colour, the leaves grows dense and is physically harder than other types of fairway grasses. It has more vertical growth than horizontal so divot recovery is slow. Establishing a Zoysiagrass fairway is painfully slow. Of course if you have the patience the wait would be worth it; the dense strong turf would hold a golf ball as strong as on a tee. Some courses use Zoysia on fairway and Bermuda on rough. The contrast in color is beautiful but the problem is maintaining the border.
The most common species in use are Zoysia matrella, Z. japonica and Z. tenufolia with cultivars like Meyer and El Toro. Each will have its own strengths but you would find in Malaysia the most common species would be Z. matrella.
The cost of maintaining Zoysiagrass is higher than other grasses. Not only because of fertilizer but mostly because it grows faster than the others therefore it needs to be cut more often. And the leaf is harder than other types so there is more wear and tear on machinery and blades.
Those three are the main turfgrass for fairways in Malaysia. There are two more species being used in Malaysia though not on many golf courses. Paspalum vaginatum is planted on two courses and Seranggoongrass is planted on one.
If you ever want to buy a grass species to plant at home or at work. Never rely on the name of the grass alone even if both you and the supplier are talking in terms of Latin scientific names. You might end up cursing each other in Latin scientific names too. Go to the nursery and choose personally. If you have doubts, get the contact of the people they have supplied to before and get feedback; especially if the grass is for greens. At the nursery it will be cut at about two inches but on the greens it will be cut at 4mm! Even better, get it evaluated by a third party like an independent consultant or Agronomists.
The specific name of this grass never fails to raise a few eyebrows. What can I do? It wasn’t me who gave it its name. God knows what the scientist or botanist was thinking of when they named it. I wish I could call it Paspalumgrass but Paspalum is the genera name for many species and not all of them are grasses fit for a golf course. And adding 'grass' to part of the specific name would sound even worse. Fortunately it is also called by the name ‘Seashore Paspalum’ so that I don’t have to go round saying the full scientific name because somebody is bound to ask me to repeat it again.
Only two courses I know of in Malaysia are planted with this type of grass; both of them in the East Coast. I had always thought it was the cultivar Adalayd but a friend who was a former Superintendent in one of them told me it was Salaam.
There are many other cultivars available and even one cultivar reportedly can be used on greens. It is now currently being tested on a course in Hawaii.
This grass can stand 'wet feet' for long periods. Which means it is ideal for Malaysian weather. It can also stand salty water. This is why it is the grass to be used for golf courses by the sea. It has a light green colour and an aggressive growing habit. I am told it has low a fertilizer requirement and quite easy to maintain.
In a golf course down South where the grass was imported and planted in a nursery, I was told that the main problem for this grass is disease. Even though the East Coast golf courses did not complain about it I would want to know more before deciding on this grass; disease on 20 hectares of grass would be a nightmare.
Seranggoongrass on fairways? Surprised? So was I when I found out about its existence on a golf course in the North. I didn’t think it looked bad at all though it may be problem in the dry season. Seranggoongrass is not drought-tolerant. But for poorly drained areas on clayey soils, it would prove to be an easier grass to maintain.
One good thing about this grass as I discovered when I planted the lawn of my rented house with Seranggoon weeds from my greens: it could go for weeks with no mowing!
There can be no proper conclusion. I make no recommendations or condemnations in these series of articles. There are many reasons that need to be taken into consideration when selecting what kind of grass to be planted on a golf course. The reasons may have changed over the years and the time may have come for a change. Or those days the choice of grass may be left to a consultant or the architect, who spends two months in a year here and the rest of the time in his home country. Or those days the choice was made by a Committee of well-meaning people who play golf all over the world and would like to copy here in their home course what they see elsewhere. Since then the course maintenance staff may have learnt a few things. If the golf course has been in existence for many years, the question of whether the grass is the right or wrong type for your course is academic, what is more important is that the grass is given the proper care it deserves. If it’s not, then it doesn’t matter what grass is on your green, fairway, tee or lawn. The person to talk to would be your local Golf course Superintendent (or whatever you call him/her).
There are many reasons why a particular grass is chosen over another and nobody is 100% right. For any kind of grass, there are also reasons why it shouldn't be chosen and many people can and will give the reasons. Especially many months or years later. Hindsight, as they say, is vision 20/20.
Bermudagrass "The Sports Turf of the South" Richard L. Duble, Turfgrass Specialist, Texas Cooperative Extension at http://plantanswers.tamu.edu/turf/publications/bermuda.html