Caring for aging turf

Features - Turfheads Take Over

As grass on courses built during the golf boom of the 1990s ages, maintenance programs must evolve. Scott Krout offers tips based on his experiences in the Arizona desert.

December 9, 2020

© superstition mountain Golf and Country Club

When I started working at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, there was no club and no golf. It was a level piece of land and I had the privilege of being a part of the team that helped create what it is today – a luxury private golf club with two spectacular Nicklaus-designed courses. Now, 23 years later, I find myself maintaining the same turf installed all those years ago.

Several staff members and I have been with the club for 20-plus years. We have come to know the property like the backs of our hands. We know exactly what has been done to the turf over its lifetime, what’s worked and what hasn’t.

Young grass is resilient, easier to maintain and can quickly overcome challenges potentially detrimental to older turf. Like all living things, as grass ages it becomes more of a challenge to keep it healthy. It’s more susceptible to disease, insects and soil issues.

Continuous monitoring and management

Every golf course consists of microclimates caused by variations in shade, wind exposure, elevation, slope and soil conditions. Some spots may need a little extra water or less fertilizer and we must adjust our maintenance routines in these areas almost daily.

While we like to keep the use of insecticides and fertilizer at a minimum, we sometimes have to get more aggressive with insecticides, fungicides and fertilizer as the aging turf demands more care to stay healthy. This is especially true for intensely-maintained areas like greens.

Soil and irrigation

As the courses get older, the soil tends to compact, making it more difficult for water to penetrate the hard ground, which is not always an easy feat in Arizona to begin with. We’ve had to increase the frequency of cultural practices such as aerification, dethatching and topdressing to combat compaction and other soil issues.

The irrigation system is as old as the turf. We are regularly replacing or repairing components in the sprinkler heads and various other elements of the system. We also must keep a close eye on areas that are becoming less efficient and find ways to adjust programming to address these issues.

We live in a desert and must be good stewards of our natural resources. Golf courses get a bad reputation, but we are the most efficient users of water compared to things like HOAs, community parks, businesses and homeowners. Our courses are equipped with a state-of-the-art weather station to measure rainfall, humidity and other weather data to help determine the proper amount of irrigation water to put on the course.


Our members enjoy golf year-round — and want to see green no matter the season. This means we undergo overseed nearly every year, which is extremely hard on our base Bermudagrass. Basically, as soon as the summer Bermudagrass is strong and vibrant, we scalp it almost to the dirt and plant ryegrass. It’s a constant cycle that injures the base turf and requires the team to shift how we care for and maintain the course as each type of grass needs different things in terms of water and fertilization to thrive.

This continuous transition between the two types of grasses is one of the largest challenges we face. There are only about four months when we are maintaining turf — the other eight are spent either growing it in or eliminating it, scalping, overseeding, transitioning and nurturing it into recovery. I like to joke that for those four months when the grasses are at their peak and the courses are lush and green, we are the smartest staff members on property. Members think we’re heroes. The rest of the year … well, let’s just say we are apparently not so smart.

This year, to improve long-term conditions, we made the tough decision to not overseed tee tops, greens or rough. In some cases, these are areas that have been overseeded every year. It’s a huge change for our members, especially the greens, but we believe it’s a necessary evil to maintain the future health of the turf. It’s a leap of faith and I’m grateful for the support from the club’s owners and the understanding of our members.

Scott Krout is the director of agronomy at Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club in Gold Canyon, Arizona. This is his second Golf Course Industry contribution.