Regrassing greens using the No-Till method

A Florida superintendent overcomes doubt and uses an uncommon process.

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April 21, 2005
John Walsh
Renovation Tees & Greens Maintenance Turf Course News

Putting greens are the most important aspect of a golf course, and superintendents spend a lot of time and money maintaining them. But after a while, superintendents are faced with the decision to renovate greens, whether it be regrassing or a complete rebuild.

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The 14th green at Naples Heritage Golf and Country Club will be regrassed, as will the other 17 greens, using the No-Till process.

At the 18-hole Naples (Fla.) Heritage Golf and Country Club, the club’s board of directors and green committee decided to regrass its greens. The course, which features 419 Bermudagrass on the tees, fairways and rough, and Tifdwarf Bermudagrass on the greens, is 10 years old. The greens are in good shape – just a bit outdated, according to Kurt Anno, golf course superintendent. He says the life span of greens in Florida is about 10 or 12 years.

Anno, who has been at Naples Heritage for three years, says there haven’t been any renovations done to the course, which opened in 1996.

The club’s long-range planning committee first brought up the idea of regrassing the greens, and about a year ago, the committee became serious about renovating the greens, according to Anno. The committee made suggestions that were sent to the board of directors, and then the board presented them to the green committee. The president of the green committee, the general manager and Anno discussed what to do and how it would be done.

Anno says the original intent was to strip the greens and till in the new greens mix. However, Anno and the club’s green committee decided to implement the No-Till regrassing method, which Anno wasn’t fond of originally because he had never heard of the process and didn’t know of any other courses that had renovated greens this way.

“I was very skeptical,” he says. “I was dead against it, even at our second meeting with the committee.”

When Naples Heritage’s green chairman mentioned the No-Till regrassing method to Anno, who says he’s a bentgrass guy from the North, he researched the process on the Internet at Champion Turf Farm’s Web site (www.cturf.com). The No-Till regrassing process with Champion Bermudagrass started in Texas in1996, according to Mike Brown, vice president of Champion Turf Farms. Anno says there aren’t many superintendents in Florida who’ve implement this process.

“New techniques in the business aren’t kept as secrets,” he says.

According to Brown, 124 courses have successfully converted their greens to Champion with the No-Till method.

Anno, who’s been in Florida only five years, asked Todd Lance, a USGA agronomist in Florida, if he was aware of the process. Lance had heard of the process but didn’t fully support it because the USGA hadn’t conducted its own research on the process.

Anno eventually was convinced that the No-Till regrassing method was the way to go after checking out another course in Naples. Chuck Eberle, golf course superintendent at Lely Resort, had renovated Lely’s greens using the No-Till method.

“I set up a meeting with the green chairman, me and Chuck,” Anno says. “After that meeting, I was fired up. Chuck originally was very skeptical, too, but after the grass came through, he was convinced and ended up regrassing a third of his course this way.”

Grass type
The grass type the club was going to use was Champion or TifEagle, but either way, it was going to be an ultradwarf Bermudagrass variety, according to Anno.

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Superintendents can use Roundup or methyl bromide in preparation for the No-Till process.

“We were leaning toward the Champion, but the decision was up to me because I had to grow it,” he says.

Because Champion is so much more aggressive than TifEagle, it can be No-Tilled whereas TifEagle can’t, Anno says.

One reason Anno likes Champion is because it comes from once place – Bay City, Texas.

“TifEagle is grown on many different farms,” he says. “When that happens, you might have that one slight chance that you get some turfgrass that doesn’t perform like it is supposed to. The state of Florida doesn’t certify turfgrass growth and sales, so you don’t know where the TifEagle comes from.”

The process
There are two different preparation methods for the No-Till process. One is by using Roundup (two applications is recommended) to kill the turf, and the other is to use methyl bromide.

“You don’t have to get every single blade of turfgrass removed because any remaining Bermudagrass will be choked out by the Champion,” Anno says.
Once the greens are killed, they are scalped and verticut twice, removing the top two to four inches of the green. This takes three or four days.

“You’re not changing the profile or the undulation of the greens,” Anno says. “You’re just trying to remove all the grass. You want 90 percent of the grass gone, and that happens through scalping and verticutting, but you can’t do it too much. The longer you have to do it the better.

“You can also spray a heavy growth regulator on the greens, then scalp and verticut, then aerify or double aerify if needed,” he says.

Anno says this process should be done if the green has good drainage and solid construction. If not, then it’s recommended the green be torn up and reconstructed.

Once almost all vegetation is removed and the greens are aerified, tarps are placed onto the greens just prior to methyl bromide application. Then the gas is pumped under the covering. It’s left in place for two days, then removed, allowing for at least two days to air out. Then, if additional verticutting is desired, it’s done at this time. A pre-plant fertilizer is then applied and any additional soil amendments are added.

Anno recommends aerifying with 5/8-inch tines that are as close together as they can be. The aerification helps get the methyl bromide down into the soil.
“If you have a doubt of any issues with fungus or nematodes in the soil or a soil borne pathogen, you’re taking that fact out with the methyl bromide because you’re gassing them out,” he says. “Roundup won’t do that.”

Anno says the cost of applying the methyl bromide to 2.5 acres is $24,000, whereas two applications of Roundup will cost $1,000 plus labor.

Now it’s time for the grassing. Bermudagrass sprigs are laid down in an even fashion, and a machine presses the stolons onto the soil. Then the greens are topdressed heavily and watered. Generally, the soil is flat before the sprigs are put down. Normal grow-in methods are applied after this. In most cases, the greens can be open for play in eight weeks. It can be done as early as four weeks, but that is pushing the envelope, Anno says.

Anno will start this process April 25. He plans to apply the methyl bromide May 9 and start grassing May 18 or 19.

Anno isn’t concerned the 419 will creep into the greens or the Champion will creep out into the green surrounds.

“We will edge where the green meets the collar,” he says. “The 419 won’t creep into the greens because Champion is so tight and the root mass is so dense. You might see runners from the greens coming over the top, but those will get cut off by mowers.”

Many factors
The No-Till process is not for everybody, according to Anno.
“Before you go ahead with the No-Till process, Champion (Turf Farms) will ask for soil samples,” he says. “If you have a large thatch layer or poor construction or drainage problems, you’re better off rebuilding your greens.

“We just have outdated turf,” he adds. “We have no other problems with our greens.”

However, a thatch layer is needed to hold the fertilizer and fungicide, Anno says.

“You need to keep that, so why get rid of it when you need it,” he says. “If rebuilding your greens, spend time building a thatch layer.”

Anno says the overriding factor to use the No-Till method was cost because it can be done for a fraction of the cost to rehab greens. For a typical 18-hole course, this process, using Roundup, will cost about $50,000. It will cost $80,000 using the methyl bromide, and it costs about $1 million to rebuild greens. The No-Till regrassing method is good for smaller clubs that don’t have large budgets to redo their greens because it’s cheaper. GCN