Grass Tailored Just for Putting
Closeup of Tifdwarf bermudagrass turf mowed at 0.135 inch shows low-quality
open spots with algae growth at a West Palm Beach, Florida, golf course.
TifEagle, a new bermudagrass for putting greens, will debut this summer on
golf courses in Florida, Georgia, and other southern states.
It is the latest product of Agricultural
Research Service geneticist Wayne W. Hanna's research to develop new forage
and turfgrass varieties with improved performance, quality, pest resistance,
and other desired traits. An advantage of TifEagle: It crowds out pesky
weeds--even at low cutting heights--reducing the need for herbicides that may
TifEagle is being licensed to certified seed producers under a collaborative
agreement between ARS and the Georgia Seed Development Commission and
University of Georgia Research Foundation, both located in Athens. ARS has also
applied for a patent. Through licensing, Hanna hopes to preserve the genetic
purity and longevity of TifEagle in commercial production.
Groundskeeper Ralph A. Hinz, of The Landings golf club in Savannah, Georgia,
is impressed with TifEagle's ability to tolerate the close, daily mowing that
gives the North's cool-season bentgrass varieties their putting speed. Unlike
many of the South's existing bermuda varieties, including the industry standard
Tifdwarf, TifEagle withstands routine cutting to a height of 3 millimeters
(one-eighth inch). Most importantly, its leafy canopy stays lush and
carpetlike, ensuring a golfer's ball rolls quickly in the direction it's
"You can get Tifdwarf to where it's really fast for special golfing
events like the Masters," says Hinz. "But you can't keep it at the
same height as a bentgrass for too long before it starts to thin out from
Such stress can open the door to opportunistic algae or to weeds like
crabgrass, necessitating use of herbicides. TifEagle's key advantage is its
fast growth and tightly knit root system. As a result, "it has a thick
canopy to shade out the algae and weeds," says Hanna.
"It's very aggressive, which I feel is a plus," says William F.
Smith, a golf superintendent who began testing TifEagle last year at the
Country Club of Columbus in Columbus, Georgia. "I look at it as far
superior to our existing greens."
To develop TifEagle, Hanna first subjected portions of the bermuda variety
Tifway2 to gamma radiation. Then, he selected mutant plants with very short
stolons--shoot-like structures that enable a turfgrass to withstand frequent
mowing. TifEagle was Hanna's top pick of 48 such mutant plants.
The newer TifEagle bermudagrass over-seeded with Poa trivialis, mowed at 0.125
inch at a Savannah, Georgia, golf course.
Test plantings on experimental plots and putting greens since 1991 indicate
that it outperforms its predecessor--Tifdwarf--at mowing heights of one-eighth
inch or less. Over 3 dozen university scientists and golf superintendents from
California to North Carolina participated in these tests.
Currently, the Georgia Seed Development Commission has 12 acres of
foundation sprigs, says Earl Elsner, the organization's director. Each acre
will produce sprigs for 40 more acres of certified plant material.
Hinz, who helped evaluate TifEagle, plans to establish the new grass this
summer on all the putting greens at one of The Landings' six courses. He has
already gotten positive feedback from the club's golfing clientele.
"They'll ask, 'How come this green puts better than the others on the
course?'" says Hinz.
For his part, Smith says, "We'll plant our practice putting green in
TifEagle, just to see how it responds to wear and tear." Meanwhile, Hanna
is continuing his search for hardy new grasses, especially those with
resistance to fungi and insects like the tawny mole cricket.
"We have a philosophy here," he says. "We're going to have to
grow grass in the future with less water and less pesticide. So we make sure we
don't baby our grasses in the test plots."--By
Agricultural Research Service Information Staff, 6303 Ivy Lane, Greenbelt,
Maryland 20770, phone (301) 344-2173.
Wayne W. Hanna is in
Forage and Turf Grass Research Unit, P.O. Box 748, Tifton, GA 31793; phone
(912) 386-3177, fax (912) 391-3701, e-mail
"Grass Tailored Just for Putting Greens" was published in
the May 1998 issue of Agricultural Research magazine. Click here to see this
issue's table of contents.