Jumeirah Golf Estates Loch 18

More golf courses operate without overseeding

More and more top-golf courses operate without overseeding: The Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates, the annual venue for the DP World Championship, will now be played for the second time at the season finale without overseeding for the winter months. According to the DP World Tour, this has saved 20 million liters of water to date, a significant step towards greater sustainability. For the operators of Jumeirah Estates, however, dispensing with overseeding not only means savings on water, but also on grass seed, fuel, time and labor. The Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates therefore also stands as an important counter-example to all advocates of the overseeding process, who argue that the quality of the courses is significantly better when the Bermuda grass is replaced by grasses for cooler temperatures in the winter months. Overseeding was never carried out on the neighboring Jumeirah Estates Fire Course anyway.

Turning point not yet reached

“We are definitely seeing a slight movement away from overseeding,” says Simon Doyle, Vice President of Agronomy at Troon International, the world’s leading golf course greenkeeping service provider, when it comes to the international trend. “The tipping point has not yet been reached, but we are receiving more and more questions from our customers who want to find out more.” In this context, Doyle refers to the Costa Navarino resort in Greece, for example, which has four golf courses. “We are now entering our second year without overseeding and are very satisfied with the results of the first year.”

New color scheme on US-courses

In the USA, too, the shift towards more sustainability in the maintenance of golf courses is easily recognizable: during the winter months, golfers encounter a visually fascinating mixture of deep green tees, greens and putting surfaces next to light brown fairways on many a course. Just 15 years ago, overseeding was standard because both native US golfers and tourists expected deep green playing surfaces from golf courses in Florida, California or South Carolina. Therefore, for the winter months, rye or blue grass was sown in the fall on the fairways with their Bermuda grass, which turns brown and “sleeps” over the winter due to the cool nights. This also ensured deep dark green on the playing surfaces from November to March.

Times have changed: especially in the private clubs in southern America, overseeding is rarely an issue. According to Chris Hartwiger, Director of Advisory Services for the Green Section of the United States Golf Association, the recession in 2009 and increasing sustainability standards have already caused many golf courses in the southern states to significantly reduce overseeding.

$50.000 Golf Incentive

In California, a state with a permanent water shortage for more than two decades, municipalities and water suppliers even went so far as to offer golf courses compensation if they gave up the water-intensive process. The Palm Spring City Council, for example, at times paid places 50,000 dollars if they took larger areas out of the overseeding process.

Regardless of the economic and climatic conditions, one question is still crucial for golf course operators: “How do golfers react to the fact that they are playing on less green grass during the winter months? “The whole thing is a learning process,” says Simon Doyle from Troon. “Golfers have to get used to the color change”. The American Express Championship on the Pete Dye Course in La Quinta now also takes place on a course that is not overseeded and is part of the PGA Tour. The TV broadcast proves to the golfer that not overseeding does not mean a loss of quality. In this case, increasing sustainability also means that golfers are slowly familiarizing themselves with new greenkeeping methods.

Significant cost reduction

Cost arguments often make it easier to convince people: On private courses in South Carolina, California, Georgia and even in Florida, over-seeding is avoided to a large extent because almost all the members on the course are their own anyway, and they quickly become accustomed to the new color scheme. The cost savings are enormous. The total cost for an average site of 60 hectares is calculated to be at least 600,000 dollars.

Even the very best systems now dispense with the water-intensive and costly sowing process. This applies to top private clubs like Yeaman’s Hall near Charleston (pictured above), which is one of the 100 best courses in America, but also to the high-end resort of Pinehurst with its nine golf courses. There, in 1997, an economically difficult year, a change in the care program began. First, the rough was taken out of the overseeding program and stayed brown. Other areas followed over the years. The resort’s communication with regard to the new look was clearly positive: the waiver of the overseeding program was also celebrated as a return to a more traditional and historical form of golf.

In the meantime, America’s golfers have long since gotten used to the brown winter courses, while many an international guest may be surprised at the colors at first sight. After the first round, however, the skepticism is overcome. As far as winter Bermuda grass play quality goes, it’s top-notch. The pitches play tighter, the balls keep running. “Firm and fast” is the approach that the architects of golf courses such as Pinehurst or Yeaman’s Hall already pursued at the beginning of the 20th century, when golf had to be possible with few means, without an excess of water, fertilizer and staff. It still works perfectly today.