The grass really is greener at Desert Mountain

The grass really is greener at Desert Mountain

Changing turf types and updated maintenance practices mean courses are open longer and in better condition.

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With seven golf courses to choose from, members of Desert Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona are never at a loss for chances to tee it up. Thanks to some changes in the grasses used and maintenance procedures, those courses are now greener, more environmentally friendly and offer more playing experiences than ever.

“All seven of our courses are open and green from November 1 to June 1, which is when the most members are here and the weather is spectacular,” Desert Mountain director of agronomy Shawn Emerson said. “We asked the question, ‘Would our members rather play golf in October or August?’ We decided to switch some of our courses to cool-season grasses so they can play all year-round on the best possible conditions.” 

To accomplish that, some of the courses have been re-grassed while others stayed as they were, with a Bermudagrass base. This creates greater variety while allowing alterations to the maintenance schedule, so more courses are open and green at the best times. 

It also gives Desert Mountain the distinction of having both the most and the greenest golf courses in the Arizona desert. 

“Until two years ago, all our courses had warm season Bermudagrass fairways and tees, which had to be overseeded in the fall,” Emerson said. “They were all good at the same time, but they also had to go through 30-40 days of transition at the same time during the month of October — arguably the finest weather month in Arizona! By changing grasses, we can make them peak on a varied schedule that’s better for our members and always provides golf access.” 

The changes began when the Renegade course — one of six Jack Nicklaus Signature Courses on the property — was renovated before the 2019-20 season. At the same time, a new par-3 course debuted, No. 7 at Desert Mountain.

“Both have fairways of bentgrass, which is a cool-season grass,” Emerson said. “When we saw they were very successful, we converted two of the other Nicklaus courses, Apache and Chiricahua, to another type of cool-season grass, rye. The results have been terrific.” 

Meanwhile, the other Nicklaus courses — Geronimo, Cochise and Outlaw — feature Bermudagrass and is overseeded with rye in the fall. 

“With the new schedule, all the courses are green and open from November 1 to June 1,” Emerson said. “All the courses have to close at some point for two months, but now you can walk on Desert Mountain any month of the year and play on more than one green high-quality course. No one else in the state can provide that.”

Members and the club have seen other benefits, as well. The cool-season courses are less expensive to maintain without overseeding, which demands extra preparation, seed, fertilizer and staff. Water use is also down — Emerson estimates 5 to 10 percent per course — which is significant in the Arizona climate. And both rounds played and new memberships are up. 

“The members are happy,” Emerson said. “Due to (COVID-19), we played more rounds than ever May through August. We were able to do that because the courses didn’t have to transition and they were in better condition.”

The variety of grasses gives Desert Mountain members another bonus, Emerson said. “They can come to Arizona and play all the grasses they’ll find in the other 49 states. We have the same grasses as New England, Chicago, Oregon, Florida and Texas. And they can pick a course that best suits their game, so if they like to hit a 9-wood and need a surface with more fluff, they can find it.

“We want to provide more green golf for our members and we don’t want to spend more. This system checks all the green boxes.”