Golf Course Management

OCT 2013

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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gcm ex t ra cifc region can be combined into highperforming blends (several cultivars of perennial ryegrass, for instance) that are then marketed to that region. "Kentucky bluegrasses are each unique, and their individual attributes really stand out in regional trials," says Paul Hedgepeth with Columbia River Seeds, NTEP Policy Committee member representing the American Seed Trade Association, Lawn Seed Division. "The use of region-specifc data gives seed producers an excellent tool to use when picking cultivars for their client base. NTEP's data provides the frst step in making educated decisions on the regional adaptability for any given cultivar and the ability to pick multiple bluegrasses for blends, mixtures and specifc turf applications." New realities, new focuses In NTEP trials, turfgrass quality is rated by university scientists using a 1-9 scale, where high-performing cultivars receive scores of 8 or 9 refecting a deep rich color, high density, excellent mowing quality and fne leaf texture. Well-experienced turfgrass scientists can be surprisingly accurate using this standard NTEP rating scale, and continuous monitoring of turfgrass quality by many university cooperators and the labor of dedicated turfgrass breeders have yielded steady improvement in the quality of turfgrass cultivars over the years. Historically, trials have been maintained under optimal or non-limiting conditions — given plenty of irrigation, fertilizer and weed control, and mowed at optimal frequencies and mowing heights. However, trials maintained under optimal growing conditions have been critically termed "beauty contests" by some because the lush growth under optimal growing conditions produces beautiful turfgrasses but doesn't refect the more stressful conditions of the golf courses, athletic felds and home lawns where those grasses end up. The economy demands that emphasis be placed on reducing inputs required for maintaining turf. Water for irrigation has become much more lim- 76 GCM October 2013 Historically, NTEP trial plots have been kept under optimal or non-limiting conditions, but an effort to make trial conditions more realistic has led to more "trait-specifc" trials. Photo courtesy of Kevin Morris ited, the cost of fertilizer has risen signifcantly, and the cost of pesticides continues to escalate. It was argued that more stressful growing conditions for NTEP trials might be more realistic and valuable in producing grasses capable of persisting with fewer inputs under less-than-ideal growing conditions. In response to feedback from the seed industry, NTEP is refocusing cultivar trials from non-limiting conditions to "trait-specifc" trials. "In the early days of turf there were very few improved cultivars on the market, so much effort was placed by turf breeders on improving aesthetic traits, such as color, texture and density. Now, however, with hundreds of turf cultivars on the market, there are many dark green, dense, fne-textured grasses to choose from," says Morris. "What is needed now is improvement in drought tolerance, salt tolerance, specifc disease resistance, traffc tolerance and low maintenance, while keeping the high aesthetic quality and other desirable traits in modern turfgrasses. NTEP is testing those specifc traits to give breeders and seed companies an opportunity to develop grasses with those traits, as well as the aesthetic quality consumers have come to expect." "Each new NTEP trial requires a marketing decision for the seed company. Do we have new varieties that we need to test?" McClain says. "Without NTEP data, selling seed in today's professional market is diffcult. The frst question from our customers is, 'How did the variety perform in NTEP?' With NTEP data available to our customers, they can then market to the end user on very specifc performance data identifed in the trials. In order to compete in the professional turfgrass marketplace, it has become necessary for the seed companies to enter their material in NTEP." Through it all, NTEP cooperators across the nation will continue to grade cultivars to fnd high-performing grasses at the top of their class. You can be assured that after they make the grade, these new high-performing cultivars will easily fnd their way to golf courses. GCM Jeff Nus, Ph.D., is the former research manager for the USGA Green Section and also previously served as the director of research at GCSAA.

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