Zooming into the zoysiasgrass era

Zooming into the zoysiasgrass era

GCI’s Guy Cipriano boarded a bus and started Golf Industry Show week by learning more about an emerging turfgrass variety with Texas roots and international appeal.

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February 24, 2015
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A turfgrass variety developed in Texas and made for the world entered the industry spotlight in San Antonio.

On a blustery Monday away from the conference rooms of the Henry Gonzalez Convention Center, more than 100 superintendents participated in the “Zoysia as a Game Changer Tour.” Team Zoysia, an affiliation of producers, scientists, golf course superintendents, equipment managers and distributors, staged the event in conjunction with the Golf Industry Show.

The tour had an international flavor as golf course managers from the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Italy, Panama, West Indies, Barbados, Mexico and the Dominica Republic interacted with superintendents from the United States. The tour started at Bladerunner Farms, a zoysiagrass research center in Poteet, Texas, and ended with superintendent Neil Cleverly providing a comprehensive look at the grow-in process at the Rio de Janeiro course hosting the 2016 men’s and women’s Olympic golf tournaments.   

Cleverly, who hails from the United Kingdom, has overseen grow-ins at multiple courses. But he says nothing compares to what’s happening in Rio. Construction on the Gil Hanse-designed course started in May 2013. Grassing began in June 2014 and officials are hoping to conduct a trial tournament on the course later this year. Challenges include muggy conditions, strict government mandates, erratic labor and the international scrutiny attached to hosting the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904. Herbicides, for example, are not permitted in Rio, so more than 50 workers were needed to hand pull weeds on the 84 seeded acres.

When it’s completed, the Olympic course will be the first 18-hole public facility in Brazil, a country with more than 200 million residents but just 99 golf courses and 20,000 participants. “The golf course we are building for the Olympics is a legacy golf course,” Cleverly says. The facility also includes a practice area and four-hole junior academy.

The course features paspalum greens and zeon zoysiagrass fairways. Cleverly is confident he selected the proper varieties for a site featuring various microclimates. “There is no magic wand or bullet for grass,” he says. “There are different grasses for different applications.” The course should play firm and fast for the Olympics, with Cleverly calling the potential of the greens “awesome.” He says the zoysiagrass fairways will be so tight that “you can play a putter off them.” 

As Cleverly spoke inside the Golf Club of Texas clubhouse, workers continued honing the grow-in at the 18-hole public facility scheduled to reopen this spring. The GC of Texas, owned by a group that includes zoysiagrass guru David
Doguet, features six varieties of zoysiagrass, including a new variety, L1F, on the greens. Doguet and golf course architect Roy Bechtol, who designed the original golf course that opened in 2000, led a tour of the renovation. The new design trims the number of manicured acres from 136 to 91, eliminates bunkers and reduces tricky contours on greens. The abundance of zoysiagrass could cut water usage by as much as 50 percent, according to Bechtol. “We think this course should be a showcase for doing the right thing,” Bechtol says.

Having a renowned zoysiagrass research center nearby is helping the course’s rebirth. Bladerunner Farms is less than 20 miles from the GC of Texas, and the research facility portion of the tour included presentations by Doguet, Texas A&M’s Dr. Milt Engelke and Dr. Ambika Chandra, the University of Georgia’s Dr. Brian Schwartz and Dr. Wayne Hanna, retired Austin Golf Club superintendent Doug Petersan and soon-to-be-retired Atlanta Athletic Club director of courses and grounds Ken Mangum.

The AAC was the first high-profile facility in the United States to use zoysiagrass on its fairways. Mangum, who will work with Team Zoysia following his retirement from the AAC, says zoysiagrass requires less mowing, eliminates overseeding, reduces winterkill and provides ideal color contrast on the Riverside Course. “If we want to be better, we have to do something different,” Mangum says.

Guy Cipriano is GCI’s assistant editor.