Golf Course Management

APR 2018

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

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70 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 04.18 Jack Fry, Ph.D. jfry@ksu.edu The grass at the Masters Development of high-quality perennial ryegrass cultivars has helped give Augusta National the aesthetic appeal it has today. (through the green) 1967. The Beatles released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Gas was 33 cents a gallon, and it cost a little more than a dol - lar to go to the movies. Most important, the first improved cultivar of the turfgrass spe - cies that graces the fairways, tees and roughs of Augusta National Golf Club was released. Augusta, Ga., is in bermudagrass country — hot, humid summers and mild winters. Nev - ertheless, the timing of the Masters requires high-quality turf early in the spring, and ber - mudagrass wouldn't yet be in pristine condi- tion in northern Georgia. As such, a cool-sea- son grass is needed. Bermudagrass is there on the property. It's just undercover. Under the cover of its cool-season counterpart, perennial ryegrass. Horses, cattle and sheep have been reaping the benefits of perennial ryegrass for hundreds of years, as it was first used as a forage grass. Early perennial ryegrass cultivars, such as Linn, didn't produce high-quality turf. Mow - ing shredded the leaf blade because its vascu- lar tissues are tough. After mowing, the torn, dried leaves of Linn made the turf appear more white than green. In 1967, the New Jersey Ag - ricultural Experiment Station released Man- hattan perennial ryegrass as the first turf-type perennial ryegrass cultivar with high quality and good mowing characteristics. This effort was the result of the hard work of renowned turfgrass breeder and Rutgers faculty member Reed Funk, Ph.D., who followed Manhattan with many more ryegrass cultivars and im - proved varieties of other turfgrasses as well. The textbook "Turfgrass: Science and Cul - ture" by James Beard, Ph.D., was published in 1973 and listed seven cultivars of perennial ryegrass. Since then, breeders have worked to develop hundreds of cultivars. The National Turfgrass Evaluation Program's most recent perennial ryegrass cultivar evaluation includes 114 entries from 29 companies. It's likely that a blend of cultivars is used across Augusta, but the quality of the surface is impeccable. The turf matches the jacket. Perennial ryegrass, also referred to as Eng - lish ryegrass in the literature, has several ap- pealing characteristics. It's quick to germinate after seeding, and seedlings are often visible after as few as four or five days. It produces a dense turf, and the narrow leaf blade has a glossy underside. The glean of the backside of the leaf provides the obvious striping pat - terns so often visible at golf facilities and ath- letic venues. By midsummer, perennial ryegrass in Georgia is on the decline, and the bermu - dagrass takes advantage of the hot, humid weather. Thus, the turf at this spring's Mas - ters will be treated as an annual, and the next crop will be planted sometime in autumn. In more northern regions of the U.S., perennial ryegrass is used as a true perennial. In warmer, humid regions of the transition zone, a regi - men of fungicides is a necessity to maintain the quality of the ryegrass throughout the summer, as it is quite susceptible to infec - tion by fungi causing brown patch, Pythium blight and gray leaf spot (GLS). Gray leaf spot had been a disease most common on St. Au - gustinegrass lawns in the South but of little concern to those growing perennial ryegrass. In the mid-1990s, GLS showed up on rye - grass on golf courses in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions, and took out fairways and tees in a matter of days. This alone has led many golf courses that previously used peren - nial ryegrass to convert to creeping bentgrass, which is not disease-free by any means, but is free from the GLS plague. Turf breeders have worked to address the GLS problem, releas - ing several ryegrass cultivars with at least some level of tolerance to the disease. Couple the breeders' improvements in perennial ryegrass with the latest irrigation, mowers, sprayers, fertilizer and plant protec - tants — along with university-trained golf course superintendents, assistants, equipment technicians and interns — and the result is what you see at Augusta National. The in - dustry has come a long way since 1967, and the development of high-quality perennial ryegrass cultivars has helped give Augusta Na - tional the aesthetic appeal it has today. Jack Fry, Ph.D., is a professor of turfgrass science and the director of the Rocky Ford Turfgrass Research Center at Kansas State University in Manhattan. He is a 21-year educator member of GCSAA.

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