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Don’t Sleep on Rhizomes, USGA Central Region Update

Posted on October 16th, 2020
October 16, 2020

Zach Nicoludis, agronomist, Central Region

Kentucky bluegrass, like bermudagrass, has the ability to recover from belowground rhizomes, which can make it a good candidate for use on practice tees.

As any golf season progresses, many superintendents become hard-pressed to find an area of the practice tee where each hitting station can be set up in a location with complete turf coverage. Generally speaking, practice tees are undersized for the use they experience over the course of an entire golf season. While there are multiple factors that play a role in divot recovery on a practice tee, the turfgrass variety certainly has a major impact and it is something that superintendents have control over.

In locations where both cool-season and warm-season grass can be grown, some facilities have converted the practice tee to bermudagrass for rapid recovery during the summer when the range is busiest. Not only does bermudagrass thrive in summer, but viable plant tissue also remains throughout each divot that allows for faster recovery.

Another strategy that has been gaining popularity for practice tees is establishing new varieties of Kentucky bluegrass that can tolerate low mowing heights. Through plant breeding, Kentucky bluegrass varieties have been developed that have improved tolerance to summer stress and summer patch disease. They are an excellent option for practice tees in the northern portion of the transition zone as well as colder climates where bermudagrass is not able to survive.

Seeing divots healed before a previously used part of the practice tee is put back in play is a welcome sign during any golf season.

Similar to bermudagrass, the rhizomatous growth of Kentucky bluegrass often results in viable plant tissue remaining throughout a divot. Rather than having to wait for seed to germinate or turf to grow from the edge of a divot, new growth will initiate from the remaining rhizomes shortly after a divot is taken.

It is understandable that some golfers want the same turf that is being maintained on the tees and fairways to be established on the practice tee, but when divots are being taken at a rate faster than the turf can recover the quality of the practice tee will inevitably decline. Consideration must be given to establishing a turfgrass that will produce the best hitting surface on the practice tee, even if it is not the same turfgrass being maintained on the golf course.

Central Region Agronomists:

John Daniels, agronomist – jdaniels@usga.org

Zach Nicoludis, agronomist – znicoludis@usga.org

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