Great Parks’ Golf Courses Going Green… and Brown?

All, On the Green, From the Field

Are Great Parks’ golf courses going green AND brown this year? Actually, it may be both. This year, Little Miami Golf Center and Meadow Links & Golf Academy began experimenting with different methods of planting zoysia grass on select fairway areas. The goal is to see firsthand how this quirky grass can help us in our quest to become more sustainable in our golf course maintenance practices.

Zoysia is known as a warm-season grass. Thriving in drought conditions and high temperatures, it is a much hardier grass than the more common bluegrass and bentgrass varieties that line Great Parks’ fairways. It’s also much “greener” from a maintenance standpoint. Zoysia grass requires considerably less water, which means it requires less electric to run irrigation pumps and pump stations. It also requires minimal pesticide and fertilizer applications. And since it grows slowly, it doesn’t need to be mowed as often and further reduces fuel usage and pollutants.

Golfers tend to like zoysia grass. During the warm season, the grass has a nice light green color that clearly defines it from the rough. The turf is typically in great condition when golf season is in full swing, because it has few known pests and it enjoys the heat. Perhaps the most appreciated perk of having zoysia fairways is the way the leaf blades stand up, providing a “teed up” shot almost every time.

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Zosyia grass in the summertime at Hyde Park Country Club

Although zoysia grass is predominantly grown in the South, a lot of research and engineering has been put in to make it more adaptable to our area. It was tested at Spring Grove Cemetery in the 1930s as a low-maintenance grass that would survive the hot Cincinnati summers. It’s no stranger to golf courses in the Cincinnati area either. Hyde Park Country Club made the switch from bentgrass to zoysia in the early 1980s, where it has thrived. Devou Park, Friendly Meadows, Aston Oaks, Sugar Ridge and Deer Track are a few other local courses that have converted or are in the process of changing to zoysia grass. Interestingly, the current Olympics golf course has a variety of zoysia on its fairways, as well as the end-of-season PGA Tour Championship course.

Zoysia grass sounds too good to be true, and it does have a few minor drawbacks. Zoysia turns brown shortly after the first frost, and it doesn’t green up again until soil temperatures warm back up in the spring. (Don’t let the color fool you, though – it’s still playable.) Zoysia seed is also very expensive, costing about 10 times more than the average seed.

Zoysia grass in the wintertime at Hyde Park Country Club

Zoysia grass in the wintertime at Hyde Park Country Club

Great Parks’ golf courses currently feature more 115 acres of bentgrass and bluegrass fairways. The majority of those acres are irrigated and treated with fertilizer and pesticides. By taking steps to convert at least some of these acres to zoysia grass, Great Parks can reduce our carbon footprint and move us closer to our goal of long-term sustainability. Brown can be our green!

Dean Brown, Park Manager, Little Miami Golf Center