No more than a decade ago, replacing healthy bentgrass greens with bermudagrass putting surfaces would have been unpopular and bad for business for elite golf courses along Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand.
“Everybody wanted to play bentgrass greens,” said Max Morgan, vice president of agronomy for National Golf Management’s 22 Myrtle Beach-area courses. “It wasn’t that long ago that people would call the pro shop every day and ask if the greens were bent. If you didn’t have bent, people wouldn’t come.”
But thanks to the widespread success of three (Champion, MiniVerde and TifEagle) varieties of ultradwarf strains of bermudagrass on top courses throughout the Southeast, that opinion has now reversed.
Visiting golfers no longer demand bentgrass when they come to the beach. The top courses feature mint-condition ultradwarf greens that offer quick, smooth rolls to players and peace of mind to course superintendents and owners.
“Now, they call to make sure we’re got the new bermudagrass,” Morgan said. “They’d kill us if we switched back.”
When the PGA Professional National Championship comes to The Dunes Golf and Beach Club and Grande Dunes Resort in 2014, the nation’s top players among the club professional ranks will compete on 36 holes of new Champion greens.
Grande Dunes Resort made the switch in 2012. The venerable Dunes Club, one of the last Grand Strand courses to feature bentgrass greens, is making the change this summer.
Dunes Club superintendent Steve Hamilton said the decision was easy despite the club’s long-time devotion to bent greens. By selecting Champion, which grows at an aggressive rate, the course expects to be closed only 8-9 weeks and ready for play for the lucrative fall season.
“Champion has been very successful,” Hamilton said. “From the standpoint of putting quality, we wouldn’t make a change unless we expected to get conditions that are better or the same as we have right now.”
Ultradwarf offer a combination of high-quality putting surfaces and unmatched durability and tolerance.
Champion, developed in Texas, is the hottest variety, covering the greens at more than 530 courses in the South. MiniVerde, which is being installed this summer at Charlotte’s Quail Hollow, home of the 2017 PGA Championship, has a similar, small blade size. TifEagle, the first ultradwarf to gain popularity, has larger blades and deeper roots.
Ultradwarfs can be kept in pristine condition throughout the year, especially during peak revenue seasons in April, May and October. Aerification can wait until June. Other benefits to the bottom line include the elimination of overseeding and reduced water costs.
Champion greens can register off-the-chart speeds on the Stimpmeter while providing the true rolls expected on good bent greens. Attentive care is required, though. To maintain PGA Professional National Championship-quality putting surfaces, double cutting, attentive top dressing and frequent rolling will be required.
“Greens won’t be a factor at the tournament,” Morgan promised. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve learned how to take care of the ultras. You can play 200 rounds a day in the summer and nobody can tell.”
Few people know ultras like Morgan. National Golf Management (NGM) was a local pioneer when it switched Aberdeen Golf Club to TifEagle in 2000.
Since then, NGM has converted Grande Dunes Resort, Long Bay Club, Myrtle Beach National King’s North, Waterway Hills, Willbrook. River Club and River Hills to Champion; Pawleys Plantation, Blackmoor, Wachesaw East, Farmstead and Meadowlands to TifEagle; and Wild Wing Avocet as well as Myrtle Beach National’s West and SouthCreek courses to MiniVerde.
“The ultradwarfs are the best green surfaces out there in our type of climate,” Morgan said. “There’s nothing new coming down the pipeline that I know of. Ultradwarfs are the rage. There really isn’t anything to complain about with them.”
Caledonia Golf & Fish Club, which has maintained a reputation as one of the Grand Strand’s most spectacular and best-groomed courses since opening almost 20 years ago, was another Champion convert.
In six-plus years, Caledonia superintendent Jackson Clemons said the Pawleys Island course hasn’t experienced any major maintenance problems.
“It has been a home run in every way,” Clemons said of Caledonia’s greens. “The Champions grass has been great. Bentgrass is going to become a dinosaur around here.”
Throughout the Southeast, iconic courses such as East Lake, Atlanta Athletic Club and The Honors Course have converted to ultradwarfs. Pinehurst Resort is in the midst of making conversions. Pinehurst No. 2 is slated for a change to Champion only a few weeks after it plays host to the 2014 U.S. Open.
In addition to getting the new Champion grass putting surfaces, the Dunes Club is expanding its driving range, adding a few new tees and improving drainage capabilities at its 11th and 13th holes. The bulkhead around the pond on the short par-4 No. 10 has been removed, providing a more natural look.
Outside play at The Dunes Club will be available through most Grand Strand golf packagers.
Though the Dunes Club’s Penn A-1 bent greens were in excellent shape when stripped for Champion, Hamilton doesn’t expect any complaints once the new greens are open.
Champion is nothing like the slow, grabby bermudagrass putting surfaces that sent golfers in search of bentgrass back a few decades ago.
“There’s really been an explosion in the ultradwarfs in the Carolinas,” said Hamilton. “As long as the ultradwarfs are maintained to the bentgrass level, nobody will care. And, as an owner or club member, you don’t have to be concerned about losing your greens with ultradwarfs.”