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Bermuda Grass

The hybrid Bermuda grasses are a cross between the species of Common bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) and the African bermudagrass (Cynodon transvaalensis). Hybrid Bermuda grass was first released by Dr. Glenn Burton for turf cultivation in the United States in 1952. Work had begun in earnest in 1946 after the war when the United States Golf Association Green Section provided a $500.00 grant to the University of Georgia forage grass development effort at Tifton, Georgia. However, the originally released hybrid Bermuda grass strains were not fine enough for good quality putting greens.

It wasn’t until 1956 that Dr. Burton released Tifgreen (previously designated Tifton 328) hybrid that was well suitable for putting greens – it had taken a remarkably short period of time of only ten years to develop Tifgreen. By 1960 he had also released Tifway (was previously designated Tifton 419) that became well adapted to fairways and tees. In 1965 Tifdwarf (a natural mutant of Tifgreen that was taken from a green of the Florence Country Club, South Carolina) was released and came into use on greens second only in popularity to Tifgreen.

As golf courses rapidly increased in the southern regions of the United States from 1970 to 2000, increased demand for improved hybrids spurred extensive breeding efforts. These efforts were substantially supported by such groups as the USGA Green Section and today the results of these efforts have brought fourth new lines of ultradwarf hybrid Bermuda grass cultivars for golf greens.


Ultradwarf Hybrid Bermuda Grasses

Ultradwarfs were driven to the market by demands for a very dense leafed, low growing hybrid Bermuda specifically for golf putting greens. In the transition zone between the cool northern climates and hot southern regions of the United States, warm season grasses were desired that could compete in putting quality with bent grass – and especially at lower annual maintenance costs than bent required. Thus were born the ultradwarfs and they have been rapidly deployed over the last several years.

Selected out of existing golf greens planted with hybrid Bermudas, several ultradwarfs have become popular in the market place including such cultivars as:

  • TifEagle Developed                             at the Coastal Plains Experiment Station, Tifton, Georgia.
  • MS Supreme                                        Developed by Mississippi State University.
  • Floradwarf                                            Joint developed by the University of Florida and University of Hawaii.
  • Champion                                             Private breeding.
  • Classic Dwarf                                        Private breeding.
  • Jensen                                                  Private breeding.
  • Jones Dwarf                                          Private breeding.
  • Mini Verde                                             Private breeding.
  • Reesegrass                                           Private breeding.

Today the wide variety of hybrid Bermuda grasses is still increasing in the area of new releases of ultradwarfs for golf putting greens. Particular care should be taken to research the literature in order to select the best grass for your particular location and use demands.

Also keep in mind that the ultradwarfs are very aggressive grasses and thus require a much more intense regime of maintenance than older hybrid Bermuda grasses. Albeit, they require a bit less effort than creeping bent grass.


Ultradwarf Hybrid Bermuda Grasses


Next in warm season popularity for golf putting greens are Zoysia. Zoysia grasses are very sturdy grasses that resist wear and they take high humidity and rainfall, but if damaged their slow growth habit makes for very slow recovery.
Over the past several decades, efforts funded by the USGA Green Section have been made to develop new cultivars that are more tolerant to cold and more drought tolerant.

The golf course use of Zoysia began in earnest around 1952 in the MidAtlantic states of the transition zone such as Virginia, when the efforts of the USGA Green Section began with the introduction of Meyer Zoysia (Z-52) for fairways (named for Dr. Frank N. Meyer, a plant explorer who had collected the first Zoysia seed and material in 1906 from Korea).

Dr. Fred Grau and Al Radko were the far-sighted leaders who drove the initial efforts to improve selections of Zoysia japonica for golf course use by supporting Dr. Ian Forbes who developed the new selections.
Zoysia tenuifolia was the finest leafed species and has been used for putting surfaces. However, efforts at the Coastal Plain Station, Tifton, Georgia resulted in a hybrid cross of Zoysia japonica and Zoysia teuifolia called Emerald Zoysia grass that has become a standard in golf. Emerald, also a project of Dr. Forbes, had the vigor of a hybrid plus the best attributes of the two parents.

Dr. Victor Younger, University of California Riverside, along with Stan Spaulding developed an improved variety of Zoysia japonica at the South Coast Field Stationin El Toro, California. Named ‘El Toro,’ this variety was very much like Meyer, but was faster growing. Unfortunately it did not pan out as a putting green variety, but had good use in fairways and tees.

Beginning with a massive effort in the late 1970s, Dr. Milt Engelke, Texas A&M, took up the reins to champion the next generation of Zoysia development along with Dr. Jack Murray who headed the United States Department of Agriculture Research Station at Beltville, Maryland.

While we sadly lost Dr. Murray to an early death, Dr. Engelke has now brought promising new Zoysia cultivars to the market for golf course putting greens.

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