The ultradwarf bermudagrass putting green golf model is solid in the southern USA (P1)

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There is a new business model in the Southeast Region that is improving the golf experience and reducing costs. The new model involves the replacement of creeping bentgrass putting greens with an ultradwarf bermudagrass variety. This concept has been a topic of conversation on many USGA Green Section Turf Advisory Service visits over the last fi ve years. This article will convey what is happening, why it is happening, and how other courses have used this model to their advantage. The article stops short of providing the information to determine whether your golf course may benefi t from this new business model. This information is best deter mined with an on-site visit and analysis of your situation.

A NEW WORLD ORDER
Dick Schulz, right, owner, and Curtis Singleton, superintendent at The Oaks Course, are so pleased with their ultradwarf putting greens that they now offer a monetary guarantee to their golfers.

A NEW WORLD ORDER

A perfect storm of events has come together to accelerate the process of changing from creeping bentgrass to an ultradwarf bermudagrass. These factors include:

Oversupply of Golf Courses — The traditional business practices used at golf courses are under fi re these days due to diffi cult economic times. The oversupply of golf courses in relation to golfer demand has put downward pressure on green fees and initiation fees. Every type of golf facility, including resort, public, and private has been impacted by the economic slowdown. It is a golfers’ market and there are good deals to be had. Golf courses are scrambling to compete. The hard-line strategy of cutting budgets without reducing green fees, and expecting golfers to remain satisfi ed or not notice, is a risky proposition.

Difficult Economy — The worldwide economic diffi culties of the last three years, according to the NGF. The golf course building boom of the 1990s and early 2000s caused an oversupply of golf courses.

Fewer people are playing golf, and rounds of golf have decreased 6% nationwide since 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation. Average facility rounds have been diluted by 20%. The number of golfers has diminished, with 27.1 million golfers in 2009, down from the peak of 30 million in 2005. The numbers indicate that a new business model is vital for survival.

Player Expectations — Despite the diffi cult economic times, course operators still feel pressure from their golfi ng customers to provide the highest standards throughout the golf course. Even with falling prices to play golf, golfers still have high expectations. They have choices today, and they will go elsewhere if they perceive there is a better value to be had.

Improved Genetics — The ultradwarf bermudagrasses (TifEagle, Miniverde, Champion) offer a dramatic improvement in quality over Tifdwarf and Tifgreen bermudagrass. Their fi ne-leaf texture and high density make these turfgrasses a high-quality putting surface when managed appropriately. They began replacing bentgrass in the late 1990s, and the rate of conversion is accelerating. Today, the ultradwarf greens can be found on courses from high-end private clubs to resorts to mid- to low-end daily fee courses. We have observed golfers commenting after playing a well-maintained ultra dwarf bermudagrass putting green that they didn’t even know what type of grass was on the greens. The catastrophic loss of bentgrass in the summer of 2010 has further accelerated a move toward superior genetics.

Conversion Method — Beginning in the mid-1990s, the concept of a no-till or minimally disruptive conversion process began to take hold. Although there were many experts who questioned the responsibility of planting a high-density ultradwarf bermudagrass into a putting green rootzone that may have been less than ideal, the results have been far better than expected. We do not see any failures after regrassing with an ultradwarf.

The no-till method of conversion is a broad term that implies the ultradwarf sprigs are planted into the green surface without reconstruction or disruption of the surface contours. Bentgrass is removed in a series of non-disruptive steps, and this helps to minimize the downtime. In most instances, it takes only 50 days from the planting date to reopen the greens for play, when done in the summer. In some cases, the conversion time has been even faster. The oldest no-till renovation courses have continued to perform well since the late 1990s.

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