GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show29
GardenSMART Newsletter Signup
Visit our Sponsors! Southern Living Dramm
Visit our Sponsors and win.
Past Shows:

Show #29/503

In this show we're in sunny California, where the weather is nearly perfect everyday of the year and golfing is fantastic. If you've ever seen a golf course, and who hasn't, one can't help but wonder - How do they get and keep the grass looking so good. With the help of one very busy golf course superintendent we address questions ranging from over-seeding to sod installation to a home putting green. Importantly, this information about grass is directed towards the home owner.

Gina Frye is the Executive Director of Orange County, California's Golf Coast. She represents a group of fabulous championship 18 hole and 36 hole golf courses located in Orange County, California. Gina thinks golfing is unique in this area because the weather in sunny southern California is ideal for golf year round. Orange County Golf Coast is an award wining golf course destination. The courses have won many awards. There are gorgeous courses on the ocean with link style, mountain courses with views as well as courses located in beautiful hills. There are challenging golf courses for any level golfer. Their most women friendly course is Coyote Hills Golf Course but additionally there is Tustin Ranch Golf Course where one can walk or hire a caddy. A new course is Black Gold Golf Club which hosts weddings and since they're in the hills one can see Disneyland. Monarch Beach is located on the ocean and is breathtaking. The course we're visiting today is Strawberry Farms which is known for its longest hole, a par 5 with 630 up-hill yards. Strawberry Farms is located on a reservoir, has beautiful greens and hosts weddings as most of the courses do. One of the reasons Orange County golf courses are so fantastic is because of people like Jim Fetterly, the superintendent at Strawberry Farms.

Jim Fetterly is the golf course superintendent at Strawberry Farms as well as superintendent at another 18 hole course in San Juan Capistrano, then another 36 hole, public course, in Costa Mesa and a driving range in Mission Veijo. Jim believes that his job involves a specialized form of agriculture. There is no other crop that one picks every day. For example, here they're mowing greens everyday. Turf that is utilized for sporting events like baseball, football, soccer, etc. require good footing, the ability to absorb compaction and things falling on the surface. These are all important considerations, as well, for golf courses. Additionally a golf course must address things like taking a golf ball, rolling it across the greens and it's not supposed to wiggle or jump. They cut greens down to under 1/10 of an inch at times. It's an unnatural form of agriculture being applied in a natural setting. It's a unique and specialized form of agriculture. Jim grew up on a golf course, started playing it and enjoyed it. His father has always worked on a golf course, he's worked 50 years on the same golf course in upstate New York. Jim had several uncles who were golf professionals. Jim likes golf, enjoys being outside and being on a golf course. He played golf in college, attended Rockport State then later transferred to Cornell where he got his Bachelor of Science in Turf Management with a minor in Agronomy. Jim then was an Assistant superintendent at Cornell University Golf Club. When he arrived in California he became superintendent at a golf course in Orange County and has been a superintendent ever since.

A golf course is different in California than in New York. They play golf here 365 days a year thus the pressure is on for the course to look good all the time. Jim, at first, couldn't believe they played golf year round. He didn't think there was any way to have the turf ready for golf every day of the year. There is no down time. But they ask that here and Jim obliges.

The climate here lends itself to warm season turf certain parts of the year then a different kind of turf, cool season turf, at cooler times of the year. They must do a balancing act of mixing in some cool season turf with the warm season turf to make it as good as possible every day of the year. Matter of fact that's what they're doing right now on the driving range. They're taking cool season turf, planting it amidst the warm season turf to get it ready for winter play in the winter season in southern California. They're getting ready to over seed the golf course for the winter. The warm weather is behind them and it's starting to enter the cool season for turf and if they didn't over seed now the grass would go dormant and the color would go brown upon the first frost which typically happens in November. In order to prepare for that, while the days are still long enough they plant a winter Rye grass in amongst the warm season Bermuda grass. To accomplish this they try to get good contact, get it to take, so that it comes up and gives appealing aesthetic qualities along with utilitarian qualities of turf that are needed at Strawberry Farms. The over seeding provides a nice green golf course. To accomplish this they use a perennial Rye grass. They hand pick some varieties to over seed with. But they want the grass to be functional as well as pretty. This may be different than a home lawn because here they require divot repair, there are golf carts driving on the course, they have compaction issues, all these requirements dictate that the grass be more than just a pretty view from a window. They opt to always have grass growing on the course because otherwise they're afraid the course would just go to dirt. Thus they always have some type of turf actively growing to maintain the golf-ability of the golf course.

But, the winter rye also has seasonality. It starts to fade and die out when it starts getting warmer. The Rye will last longer in the spring if it is cool. When appropriate, probably in June, they will perform several cultural practices such as aeration or changing mowing heights and feedings to get the warm season Bermuda to wake up, to actively grow and fill in. In areas where the Rye grass is starting to pull back they will reseed with Bermuda. Thus when they reseed it's for cosmetic purposes but also functional - to maintain the health of the turf and the roots underneath.

For the home landscape many of us have either warm season or cool season grasses. When the warm season grasses start to brown out in the fall or early wintertime one has the option of overseeding and that is usually done with a perennial Rye grass. That will keep the grass looking green throughout the cool part of the year but come April or May it too will start to die out.

Jim shows Joe a mower utilized throughout the season for mowing banks and trimming along different undulations. This time of year, fall, they swap the cutting units that mow and put on verti-cutter heads. They're called verti-cutter heads because the blades are oriented vertically to the turf. Other mowers, whether reel type or rotary type with a single blade, would cut grass horizontal to the turf canopy. These blades were designed to go down inside the turf canopy and open it up. They're vertically oriented. Jim likens them to the same thing a barber would do with thinning scissors or a thinning comb on a full scalp of hair. The verta-cutters help thin the turf, open it up and allow the Rye grass seed that they'll be planting to get as deep into the canopy as it can. The goal is to get good seed/soil contact to ensure germination. If this step weren't utilized a lot of the seed would be up in the thatch and would not go down into the soil. If that were to happen there would be a larger percentage of seed that wouldn't germinate and the seed that did germinate would be weakened because the roots would be too high, instead of being down near the soil. Thus the plants would be weak. If there were to be a warm day, 2 or 3 weeks after establishment, the plant might fade because of the warm weather and because the seed is not rooted into the soil.

The next step is aeration. They're working an a tee and will seed this area a little heavier. They demand more quality in this area as opposed to the field and driving range. Since it's a smaller area which demands higher quality they do things more completely. Here they aerify on 2 inch centers, about 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep. This does several things. It provides oxygenation and helps absorb the dispersion of the top dressing material they will put down later. Also, since they water a lot in these areas the grass and surrounding soil will be much better equipped to absorb that water. Standing water adds to the risk of Rye grass plants rotting. Aeration provides a place for the water to go.

Aeration provides benefits for the home landscape as well. Every time Joe aerates in the fall he rents an aerator. At that point his lawn has been actively growing all summer and by pulling those cores out he creates openings which are a perfect place for the seed to go. If adding fertilizer or lime it also provides the best opportunity to get those products down into the soil, very fast. The aeration holes allow the water to drain, introduces the opportunity for oxygen to get down into the soil and promotes good root growth. Thus one gets a lot of benefit from a fall aeration.

So far Jim and his team at Strawberry Farms has taken painstaking measures to get things right. They've cut excessive tall grass, removed the leaf blade and opened up the grass with verti-cutting. They've utilized procedures that enables the seed to come in better contact with the soil. These are all key components for good grass germination.

Next, Jim discusses the process of spreading grass seed. He wants to get the seed down evenly and in the proper proportion. Different areas of the golf course require different rates of seeding based upon how they're being utilized. One area is more cosmetic, it's not heavily utilized, thus it must primarily appear green from a distance. Here they utilize 300-350 pounds per acre. The tees will be more heavily utilized (standing, divots, etc.) thus they seed them at a much higher rate. For these, they seed at a rate of 30 pounds of Rye grass per thousand square feet. The key to a nice even look is applying seed in multiple directions and at proper spreader settings. To achieve the cross pattern one shouldn't walk the same way all the time. Utilizing many directions and cross patterns will mask many imperfections. Many homeowners think that if 6 pounds per 1,000 square feet is recommended then 18 pounds, or triple, will make it look 3 times as good. That's not true. The same is true if too little seed is applied. If there are too many seeds, thus plants, each seedling will never develop completely, they'll never be good plants. They'll never grow properly, they'll be more likely to have diseases and more prone to disease attacks. The proper seeding rate is critical since each plant is competing for light, water and nutrients. The proper application rate on the package is a good indicator. When sowing the seed Jim tries to do everything possible to ensure the seed is enveloped in a complete soil environment. There should be soil underneath the seed and on top. This ensures that birds don't eat it, that it won't blow away and that water won't wash it away. All are critical concerns.

Here for top dressing they mix sand, any kind, it doesn't really matter, with 30% to 40% of a bark or wood material. Mix it together throughly, then put it in a top dressing machine which distributes materials evenly across the top, covering the seed. Jim doesn't like to use manures or animal waste because he finds oftentimes it is too hot for grass seed. In a home environment the sand mix may not be practical yet the same covering step needs to be accomplished. In lieu of Jim's mixture, buy pine straw, wheat straw, hay or finely ground bark or mulch material. Spread it evenly to accomplish the same objective which is to get good, even germination.

We've discussed over seeding but oftentimes we have bare spots of earth and want to get sod down. There are right ways and wrong ways to do this. First, make sure the grade underneath is even, raked out and smooth as possible. The soil should be tillable and as aerable as possible. At this stage make sure any amendments or anything else you want added to the soil are in place. When laying the sod make sure the seams are nice and tight. This helps prevent the pieces from drying out. If sod is left in the open the sun and wind will dry it out. When laying them stagger them, much like a brick wall with the cracks not running together and into the next piece. This ensures that you don't have 1 long seam. After laid, roll it. Be careful to have the right combination of moisture in the turf and weight in the roller so that the grass isn't squeezed. Make sure you don't squeeze all the moisture out of the turf. Overall it's not a complicated process.

After installation often times the sod may go into shock. The sod has come from a perfect environment, the sod farm but when it arrives in our yards or the golf course it may then go into shock. One area of sod we view was laid 1 week ago. It is now a little yellow. It is a warm season grass, a hybrid Bermuda and was imported from Palm Springs. There it had hot conditions, sandy soil and lots of good quality water. In general it enjoyed the location. Here it's a little cooler, the days are getting shorter, the grass is nearing its inactive period, it's getting ready to go into its dormancy period. In addition, here they have salty conditions in the soil and the grass is just not as happy as it was in its earlier environment. Thus it's experiencing a bit of shock. It will probably get its green color back but it might not be until next spring because it's entering its period of dormancy.

One can expect rooting and we can see rooting when picking a piece up. We look at a piece laid 1 week earlier. The roots are white and vigorous. When inspecting the sod laid 2 weeks earlier the roots are a little browner and not quite as white. The lesson, the roots are experiencing shock because of the soil they've been laid on. The 1 week sod is still enjoying the freshness from the sod farm. The sod will reach a point where the grass will start coming back after the initial transplanting shock. This grass isn't what one would ideally like it to be right now but Jim thinks that it will be a nice carpet of grass for their golf course environment next spring and next year. And again, they don't like to have bare soil here any time of year, thus would rather have sod in a dormant state rather than nothing at all.

There is an optimal time to plant grass. Fall is the backside of the optimal period of time. If planting in a home environment one could expect green, then yellow, then possibly brown turf through winter and then not looking good till spring. Here they're looking for a base underneath divots and golf cart tire tracks thus need this base. This was an area that didn't have that base. They will come in and overseed the sod with winter Rye and Jim thinks it will be fine as golf course turf. When overseeded with winter Rye the geometric patch will go away and it will all blend together.

The message for homeowners is if you want a good looking warm season grass, plant it at the start of the growing season. That way it will adapt the most quickly. Same thing for cool season grass, plant it at the start of the fall so it can adapt to its ideal conditions. If you do these things you should have the best looking lawn possible.

Jim says the most frequently asked question on the golf course is, "Can I have a putting green like the golf course in my back yard." He always tries to discourage it because this almost always fails. Here they mow the greens 7 days a week, spray them once a week and aerify them a couple times a year. The average homeowner doesn't have the knowledge or time to devote. If you had a large estate with a green away from the house and could hire a staff to care for it, only then does it make sense. If you want the look in your backyard try the hybrid Bermuda grass discussed earlier. Lay that down, put cups and flags in it, recreate the look of a green. Lay sod around it or grow grass around it and have the contrasting height of the cup. By doing this you'll have the look of a golf course setting and when having a barbecue or looking out the kitchen window it will look like you have a golf hole in your back yard. But for playing and improving your game, it's not going to suffice because it won't simulate what you find at the club or golf course. If your intention is to improve your game they've come a long way with synthetic or artificial surfaces for putting greens. Artificial greens are available that can be top dressed with sand to improve the putting speed of the green. You can get artificial greens that have polymer rubber underneath so that you can create the resiliency of the green. You will be able to work on chipping to or coming out of a sand trap. You can work on your game more capably from the artificial surfaces than from the real grass surfaces.

Joe thanks Jim for the lessons on grass. Jim is a great horticulturist but an even better teacher. We appreciate the lessons.

Links ::

Strawberry Farms Golf Club
Orange County: California's Golf Coast

Back to Top

GardenSMART Featured Article

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

Have your hanging baskets seen better days? It’s normal, by midsummer they are ready for a little TLC to bring them back to their former glory. To learn more click here for an interesting article.

  Click here to sign up for our monthly NEWSLETTER packed with great articles and helpful tips for your home, garden and pets!  
Copyright © 1998-2012 GSPC. All Rights Reserved.