Golf Course Management

JUL 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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30 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 07.18 What is kikuyugrass? A noxious weed, or a fairway grass that offers spongy lies? A drought-tolerant gift to arid Western states, or the scourge of mowers? With kikuyugrass, which has been described as "warm-season Poa annua" and "bermudagrass on steroids," it seems superintendents and golfers either love it or hate it. A native of East Africa, kikuyugrass (Pen - nisetum clandestinum) derives its common name from the Kikuyu people, who live in the area around Mount Kenya. It has been in - troduced in many areas across Africa, North and South America, Australia, Asia and the Pacific. Kikuyugrass has an aggressive growth habit that has led to its classification as a nox - ious weed by the U.S. federal government and several states. Nonetheless, kikuyugrass seed is still produced in California, Arizona and Texas — albeit with some restrictions — and seed and sod can be planted in nine counties in Southern California. It is well-adapted to a Mediterranean-type climate and thrives on golf courses, particularly in Southern Califor - nia and in inland valleys and coastal areas as far north as San Francisco. e history of kikuyugrass in the U.S. is somewhat unclear. e Nov. 16, 1925 issue of the USGA's Green Section Record states that kikuyugrass was first introduced to the U.S. by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1915 and tested in California in 1916. How - ever, the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, places the introduction of kikuyugrass to the state in 1918, when it was planted to prevent erosion on ditch banks. In any case, kikuyugrass was let loose in the landscape, and the Record de - scribed it as thriving in "dry, semi-arid condi- tions, and in flooded, swampy places, … in light, sandy loam and in stiff adobe." In 1934, it found its way to the golf course, when Riv - iera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., planted it on the slopes of the "Barranca," more or less ensuring that the course would have kikuyugrass for years to come. e aggressiveness and competitiveness of kikuyugrass is storied and can present defi - nite maintenance challenges for golf courses. Stephen Cockerham, former superintendent of agricultural operations at the University of California-Riverside, wrote that he knew of a park where "stolons grew in one door of a small building and out the other." Cockerham (and others) conceded that "(golf ) balls sit up nicely on closely mowed kikuyugrass with minimal thatch," but playing out of taller ki - kuyugrass in the rough "is a formidable task for golfers of any ability." So formidable that golf course architect Paul Jansen wrote in his blog: "Golfers have been known to break their wrists playing out of kikuyu rough." Because kikuyugrass is not commonly used on golf courses, little research has been done, and much of the available information is from observations by university Coopera - tive Extension personnel and superintendents. In 2010, more than 25 superintendents from golf courses in Southern California joined four scientists and USGA West Region director Pat Gross for a Kikuyu Summit at Mission Viejo (Calif.) Country Club to share their knowl - edge of the ins and outs of kikuyugrass man- agement. Frank Wong, Ph.D., then a specialist in Cooperative Extension at the University of California-Riverside, summarized the sub - stance of the meeting: "e good things about kikuyugrass include color retention under cool Out of Africa (turf) Teresa Carson Twitter: @GCM_Magazine Kikuyugrass, which is well adapted to the Mediterranean climate of Southern California, is used on more than 25 golf courses in the area. Photo courtesy of Stover Seed Co. weather, aggressive growth and drought toler- ance. e bad things include the need for regu- lar vertical mowing and thatch removal and its susceptibility to diseases like gray leaf spot, (ki - kuyu) decline, and large patch." Larry Stowell of PACE Turf, who was also at the summit, ex - pressed his opinion: "If you like gray leaf spot, brown patch and decline, you'll love kikuyu - grass." Superintendents at the summit reported some advantages of kikuyu, including low fertilization requirements, greater shade tol - erance than bermudagrass, and drought tolerance. Although kikuyugrass is drought- tolerant, superintendents reported that efflu - ent water can overstimulate growth in a grass known for being aggressive. e natural den - sity of the turf also means that heavier reels are needed for mowing, and deep-tine aera - tion can be difficult. Frequent treatment with a PGR is necessary to prevent scalping. Every turfgrass presents some challenges, and a few golf courses have embraced those presented by the African grass that has made its home in California. Teresa Carson is GCM 's science editor.

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