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MX News Update 2024

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Turfgrass research: a case study

Ben Geren golf course
At Ben Geren Golf Course in Fort Smith, Ark., Jay Randolph, CGCS, used research from the University of Arkansas to help him regraze the course with more durable grass, replacing bentgrass with MiniVerde bermudagrass. Photos courtesy of Jay Randolph, CGCS


Editor’s note: National Golf Day is May 7-10. GCM will be reporting on GCSAA’s involvement in the event with stories throughout the week. To stay up to date with our full coverage, click here.

Jay Randolph, CGCS, presents a compelling argument for the value of turf research – and in his case, that value extends far beyond the boundaries of his specific golf course.

When Randolph was hired as superintendent of Ben Geren Golf Course in Fort Smith, Ark., many of the bentgrass greens at the then 27-hole facility were struggling.

Bentgrass vegetables in Randolph’s portion of the country are resource hogs, requiring water and labor at a rate that is unsustainable for facilities such as the municipal Ben Geren GC. So Randolph, a 28-year GCSAA member, started looking at alternatives. He chose a few species of ultra-dwarf bermuda grasses as promising candidates.

He didn’t just throw darts. Thanks to years of research conducted through the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program on properties at the University of Arkansas, Randolph ultimately selected MiniVerde bermudagrass for a regrassing of the greens that took place nine holes at a time from 2016-2018 at Ben Geren GC.

“They started (research) around 2013,” Randolph recalled. “Previously, the only people with ultra-dwarf bermudagrass in Arkansas were in the far southern reaches. They came up with research that actually showed that these varieties could survive in this area. They had created these test plots, showing the color, density, how drought tolerant they were – all this information that you can get from these plots. Not many people had these new ultra dwarf bermudagrass varieties. Not much research had been done on it at the time.

“There are just a lot of costs associated with bentgrass and there are a lot of benefits to using bermudagrass. Ben Geren is a municipal golf course. I don’t have a big, big budget. Based on that research, we therefore chose MiniVerde to take our course.”

That wasn’t the only way research influenced his decision.

In-season maintenance was only part of the story. Randolph also worried about how well a bermudagrass would withstand Fort Smith’s cold winters. Fortunately for him, other U of A research focused on bermudagrass’ cold tolerance, examining thresholds and the use of tarps and wetting agents.

“If it gets too cold, you’ll have winterkill and you’ll be in bad shape the next spring,” Randolph said. “Winterkill is bad manners everywhere. The University of Arkansas started researching these cold temperature thresholds and seeing what the tolerances were, and when the study came out, it was a trendsetter. Something like this had never been done before. Now everyone in the Southeast is taking advantage of that research. That made it a lot more comfortable for everyone to apply ultra-dwarf Bermudagrass greenery, because then you knew when to cover it, how often, all of that. That was a very, very important study that came out.”

Ben Geren golf course
Bentgrass vegetables in the Arkansas region require unsustainable amounts of water and labor to maintain. The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program helped Randolph determine the best alternative for the greens at Ben Geren Golf Course.


Randolph’s case is a clear, tangible example of how turfgrass research — one of the Big Three calls for participants in this week’s National Golf Day activities in Washington, D.C. — benefits golf.

Specifically, participants will request that turfgrass research be reauthorized through the National Turfgrass Research Initiative in the 2024 Farm Bill. In addition, the golf industry will request a $5 million appropriation to fund the NRTI, plus $2 million for a comprehensive national statistical survey of artificial turf as part of that bill, which was expected to be dealt with last session but was instead extended into the fall. from this year.

Randolph thinks the money would have been well spent. Previous research proved the viability of bermudagrass in his home and gave him the confidence to make the change.

“It’s hard to say, but without it we might still have bentgrass,” says Randolph, who says in hindsight the decision was the right one. “The biggest thing that has made it possible for us is… I am director of golf and parks. I have the golf course, which we now have 36 holes on, and over 2,000 acres of parks that I take care of. When we switched to ultra dwarf bermudagrass on our greens, the staff we sent out to check the greens and do everything you need to do to keep bentgrass alive… and do other things to improve the aesthetics of the golf course improve.

“But it also gave us more freedom because we have better bermudagrass greens, we could cut shorter and be faster and more playable, we could save more money. The first year after we put them in, we broke even. Since then, we’ve made a profit on the golf course, and those profits go back into the golf course and new projects there, but a lot of that has gone to other projects in the park system. Maybe you resurface a path, build a new path, build a new playground. It seems that this research is not that important, that it is a bit mundane or boring. But this research makes your golf course better and more playable, and for a lot of people like me, it gets to the point where you actually make money, and that money goes to a better community through the park system, and it’s all because of golf.”

Andrew Hartsock is the editor-in-chief of GCM.