DENVER On June 25, prime time in the Carolinas golf season, Verdict Ridge Golf and Country Club will close for about two months.
The clubs bent grass greens, which have been in good condition for months, will be sprayed with Roundup and die. Whats left will be scalped by greens mowers, and sprigs of a more heat-tolerant grass called Champion Bermuda will be spread across the green complexes using whats called a no-till method.
Nothing will be dug up. One grass, long considered the best putting surface available despite its tendency to wilt and sometimes die in the summer heat, will be replaced by an ultra dwarf Bermuda that is transforming golf in the Southeast.
Eight weeks later - Aug. 25 is the target date - Verdict Ridge will reopen with new grass on its greens that looks as if its been there for years.
We have to have quality greens, and this is the best product out there, says Scott Knox, general manager at Verdict Ridge and son of former Charlotte Mayor Eddie Knox, the clubs developer. It confirmed our decision when two of the top courses around here did the same thing. If you have good greens, people will come.
Verdict Ridge is part of a seismic shift under way throughout the region. This summer, the Peninsula Club, River Run Country Club, River Hills Country Club and Rocky River Golf Club are among the Charlotte-area courses doing the same thing Verdict Ridge is doing.
Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, which will host the PGA Tours Wyndham Championship in August, began the transition in late May. Thats how quickly it can be done. Old Chatham, one of the top-end private clubs in the Triangle area is making the change this summer.
Quail Hollow Club, site of the Wells Fargo Championship, will switch from bent to Bermuda prior to the 2017 PGA Championship, and Pinehurst Resort is making plans to convert the greens on its eight courses to Bermuda in the coming years.
Last year, the Bermuda greens at Atlanta Athletic Club, site of the PGA Championship, and East Lake Golf Club, site of the Tour Championship in Atlanta, drew rave reviews from players. Already, approximately 70 percent of the courses in the Atlanta area have converted.
Wayne Smith, CEO of Charlottes Smith Turf and Irrigation, which provides equipment to courses in four states, said he knows of approximately 50 courses making the transition this year.
I dont think its wrong to say that 10 years from now, there will only be a handful of courses (in the Southeast) left with bent grass, said Pat OBrien, southeast director of the USGAs Green Section, which oversees course conditions.
Perhaps more than the layout or the greens fees, the quality of putting surfaces dictates the success and popularity of golf courses, whether theyre open to the public or private.
For years, courses in the Southeast have struggled to keep bent grass alive in the summer (bent grass can thrive on mountain courses because of the temperature difference). Its a great surface in the spring and fall, but it must be protected through the heat of June, July and August, often leading to slower, softer greens. The past two summers, when temperatures have been above normal, bent grass greens have struggled to stay alive.
They require courses to hand-water the surfaces during the heat of the day to keep them alive. Bent-grass greens also require multiple aerations, which involves punching deep holes in the putting surface to allow air and water in then covering them in a sandy mixture. It generally happens three or four times a year, including spring and fall when demand to play is high, and requires three to four weeks of recovery time each aeration.
The new Bermuda greens require one aeration in the summer, from which the putting surfaces typically recover in two weeks. There are three types of the so-called ultra dwarf grasses: Champion, MiniVerde and Tifeagle, with Champion and MiniVerde the most popular.
The year before last, we spent $50,000 putting in fans (to cool the greens), Knox said. We spent all this money putting down fungicides and raising the mowing level on our greens. We had to pay a kid to hand-water our greens in the heat.
When your greens should be their best, the spring and fall, you have to aerify. Everything bent grass hates, Bermuda loves.
Knox approached the 250 members of Verdict Ridge in January about the conversion. The club requires a mix of dues-paying members and public play. Shutting down for two months in the summer to make the change will cost the club approximately $350,000 including lost revenue when the course is essentially closed. There will be nine temporary holes for members to use.
Most clubs look at this as a new business model, OBrien said. We give a worksheet to all the clubs that lets them compute their costs of bent versus ultra dwarf. In most instances, theres quite a bit of savings.
Before bent grass took over approximately 30 years ago, every course in the area had Bermuda greens, but it was a different kind of grass. It was thick, spongy and full of grain. The new Bermudas produce faster, firmer putting surfaces that can be adjusted by the superintendent to fit what each course wants for its golfers.
The new surfaces also allow superintendents and their staffs more time to work on other parts of the course in the summer rather than fret over keeping the greens alive.
The greens will basically keep themselves alive. Well just define the quality of them, said Joel White, superintendent at Rocky River.
In the winter, when temperatures reach 26 degrees, Bermuda greens must be covered with blankets that take less than five minutes to put on. On average, courses around here will use the blankets 10 to 12 times a winter, OBrien said. Last year, only two nights required blankets on Bermuda greens.
Bud Welch, head pro at Springfield Golf Club in Fort Mill, S.C., oversaw the change from bent grass to Bermuda two years ago. Nearby Waterford Golf Club and Fort Mill Golf Club have made the same change, as did the Golf Club at Ballantyne. In the past, Welch said, play would drop noticeably when the condition of the greens declined, almost as if someone had posted it on Facebook.
I cant exaggerate how great this (Bermuda) is, Welch said. Its not only hearty. We dont have ball marks. We dont have to (hand-water). We dont have to worry were going to lose our greens when its 95 degrees. Our play has been terrific because of the greens.
Welch said representatives of other area courses have been to Springfield to study the putting surfaces.
Ive seen so many groups of three or four men in suits stand on our greens and look at them, Welch said. I just think, Well, theres another golf committee taking a look.
At Verdict Ridge, Knox is ready for the conversion to begin. Its not a trend. Its the new way of life for golf courses in the Carolinas.
Every course we called said theyre thinking about, Knox said. No one said they werent going to do it. If theyre thinking about it, theyre going to do it.