Why this common golf-course practice is falling out of favor

sprinklers watering a golf course fairway

Overseeding golf programs is a time-honored and water-intensive apply.

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It occurs yearly, with ritualistic rhythm, just like the humpbacks returning to Kapalua: golf-addicted snowbirds from northern states migrate south searching for hotter climate and verdant fairways

Most of the lush, inexperienced programs they encounter come courtesy of a apply referred to as overseeding, which works exactly because the identify suggests: as warm-season grasses, equivalent to Bermuda, go dormant, upkeep crews supplant it with cool-season ryegrass, which supplies an emerald taking part in floor all through the autumn, winter and spring, till the warmth returns, the warm-season grasses reawaken and the cycle begins once more.

Overseeding works (Augusta National does it, and nobody complains in regards to the situations there). However it’s time and resource-intensive (notably, it requires lots of water to get these ryegrass seedlings going), and lately it has been falling out of favor. In response to knowledge from the Golf Course Superintendents Affiliation of America (GCSAA), the entire projected acreage of overseeded turf in golf dropped by 60 % between 2005 and 2021.

To overseed or to not overseed? The calculus varies from area to area, even course to course. James Symons, a 22-year member of the GCSAA, is the superintendent at Anthem Nation Membership, in Henderson, Nev., which has in the reduction of dramatically on the apply. We requested Symons to stroll us by means of the concerns at Anthem, the implications and the professionals and cons of overseeding as an entire.

Why the course used to overseed

Up till 2022, Anthem overseeded its tees, fairways and tough, often in mid-September, making a wall-to-wall playground of ryegrass, 90 acres altogether. The labor requirement, Symons says, was “immense,” requiring a full week of 12-hour days for prepping, and one other two full days spent dropping seed. In whole, that meant closing the course for 3 to 4 weeks, which allowed time for the newly seeded ryegrass to develop in. Golfers didn’t like that. However they appreciated the outcomes. Perennial ryegrass, Symons says, is “a unbelievable taking part in floor” that additionally “maintains the inexperienced that golfers love — particularly guests from colder climates.” Householders across the course are keen on it, too.

Why the course now not overseeds

Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, Southern Nevada shall be hit with water restrictions that can scale back golf-course allotments by 36 %. Anthem noticed the writing on the wall. To conform, Symons says, the membership must scale back water use by 50 million gallons per 12 months. In 2022, Anthem transformed its fairways to extremely drought-tolerant pressure of Bermuda, and stopped overseeding them. This previous September, it did the identical with its apply grounds. The membership additionally stopped overseeding its tees this previous fall. Now, solely the tough will get overseeded, which quantities to lower than half the entire acreage on the course. Because of this, the course has seen a 20 % drop in water use in 2023, in comparison with its six-year common.


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Professionals and cons of overseeding

On the plus facet, Symons says, he’s not simply saving water. He’s saving cash (within the post-pandemic world, seed prices, amongst different issues, have shot up) and workers hours, which he can now commit to different initiatives. Although the course nonetheless closes, it has to close down just for two-and-a-half weeks, as a result of the tough requires much less prep than tees and fairways. What’s extra, come srping, the course greens up quicker, because the reawakened Bermuda doesn’t need to compete with any lingering rye. Lastly, many golfers love the playability and aesthetics of tan and bouncy fairways framed by lush rye tough. The ball sits up properly, and runs without end alongside a panorama with a cool, contrasted look.

Not that everybody likes tawny turf. For some golfers, solely inexperienced will do. For that, there’s paint. However these prices (roughly $9,500 per month-to-month software for 35 acres of fairway, Symons says) can pile up, as cart visitors rapidly wears down paints on dormant Bermuda, which (one other draw back) can get matted down and dusty because the winter wears on. 

Bigger implications

Augusta Nationwide goes to ryegrass for a purpose, Symons says. It’s an awesome taking part in floor that additionally appears to be like lovely. However many programs don’t have the luxurious, particularly not within the Southwest, the place water, all the time treasured, grows scarcer on a regular basis. Symons says he can envision a day when water ranges in Lake Mead drop so low that water restrictions will get tighter nonetheless. It’s not unfathomable, in some unspecified time in the future sooner or later, that Anthem may abandon overseeding altogether.

No matter occurs, Symons says, the golf trade must hold adapting, which could imply letting extra grass go dormant. That, Symons says, a “paradigm shift for snowbirds and members to just accept the eventual new regular,” which wouldn’t be unhealthy, both.

On dormant programs, in any case,  “the playability is sort of good and the ball roll is so good that drives go a lot father,” Symons says. “What’s to not like about that?”

Josh Sens

Golf.com Contributor

A golf, meals and journey author, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Journal contributor since 2004 and now contributes throughout all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Greatest American Sportswriting. He’s additionally the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Enjoyable But: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.

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