Ivanna Greengrass asks, 'How do golf courses get grassed?'

By: Jeffrey D. Brauer

That depends in part on the region of the country. Southern grasses like Bermudagrass get sprigged, while most Northern grasses get seeded, with a trend to sodding entire courses! Had I used my "insider information" as a golf course architect, I would have invested in a sod farm.

Early in my career, we were lucky to sod anything. Later, we found that sodded banks grew in much better. Sodding out to perimeter sprinklers and cart paths because the different water needs of sod and seed made grow-in difficult.

Most owners now look at all business aspects of the course. Instead of dividing budgets between construction and operations, budgets contemplate long-term costs. They facilitate quicker opening, and reduced initial and long-term maintenance costs. In that light, sodding may be less expensive overall, especially if grow-in occurs in difficult and rainy conditions. While not universal, the benefits of solid sodding are a:

A contingency to insurance policy against unforeseen grow-in difficulties and costs.

A maturation budget-reduction tool. Sod is a classic case of "pay me now or pay me later." A realistic maturation budget includes labor and materials for fixing washouts, reseeding, etc. which are avoided with sod.

A maturation schedule-reduction tool. Sod allows us to maintain a scheduled opening, should the project not be completed within traditional grassing dates. It helps courses open (or reopen; solid sod is almost standard for renovation projects) earlier.

A fast-tracking tool. See above. Sod usually shortens any grow-in period, helping fast track projects. (And what project isn’t fast tracked these days?)

An efficient method to establish grass, especially with Zoysiagrass fairways, which are notoriously slow to grow in. Sod allows holes to be "buttoned up" as they are completed rather than artificially waiting for a grassing date, reducing exposed soil.

An environmental-protection tool. On a hilly or environmentally sensitive site, sodding minimizes erosion concerns. Sod may speed permitting, or may be required as a condition of construction in some cases.

A "first-impression" tool. Earlier generations expected courses to mature over several years, but we aren’t as patient! While "first impressions" are hard to quantify, they do provide a competitive advantage. I am convinced, for example, that the reputation of my courses at Giants Ridge largely derives from their opening-day turf quality that resulted from solid sodding, help the courses compete with other well-established resort areas.

There are some problems with solid sodding, including:

• One-month longer construction schedule, since it takes longer than sprigging or seeding.

• Potential layering problems unless the sod’s subsoil is similar to that of your site.

• Variety selection. You might have to settle for a similar variety that exists in fields, unless you pre-plan far in advance to contract grow the sod.

• Cost. While many owners are willing to pay more up front, the $10,000-plus per-acre price tag is still too much for some courses.

Where cost is too high, and grass will be seeded, a practical alternative is using fabric netting, which costs about half of sod, eliminates the above problems and provides excellent erosion control and turf protection. In flatter or less critical areas, we still use old-fashion hydro-mulch or straw, which halves the cost again, albeit with less erosion-control potential.

Currently, very little grass is installed without some kind of ground protection. Experience shows that it’s usually a classic case of "Pay me now, or pay me later." Or, as my parents often told me: "If it’s worth doing, its worth doing right the first time."

Jeffrey D. Brauer and his firm, GolfScapes, have designed 40 golf courses and remodeled 80. Canterberry Golf Course in Parker, Colo., and Giants Ridge are rated among the best affordable public courses in the United States, while his Avocet Course at Wild Wing Plantation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was a Golf Digest best new course winner, Champions Country Club is rated 5th in Nebraska and TangleRidge Golf Club is 12th in Texas. President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects during its 50th anniversary year in 1995-96, Brauer also designed Colbert Hills Golf Club at Kansas State, which opened in June 2000 as the cornerstone golf course for The First Tee program as well as the first collaboration between the PGA of America and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. To contact Jeff, call him at 817-640-7275 or send him an email at jeff@jeffreydbrauer.com.