Golfers and golf courses benefit from use of native grasses in roughs

Golf Courses Benefit From Native Grasses
Golf Course with native grass roughs

Golf Course with native grass roughs

If you’re a golfer the chances are that you like the look of a well-manicured and highly maintained golf course. I’m pretty sure that you also like extremely green grass that's cut short because it’s easy to play off.  However, two recent studies from the University of Illinois indicate that a more natural landscape that includes native grasses not only benefits biodiversity, but also saves money by reducing both pesticide and labor costs. At the same time the research shows that courses using native grasses are likely to be just as challenging. Matthew Mechenes a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences who conducted the studies states: "One benefit of using native plants is that they are perennial. Because they return year to year, there's no need for reseeding or replanting. They have fewer insects or disease problems than some exotics, they are more heat and drought resistant because they evolved in Illinois so they are very well adapted to the environment; they attract wildlife for food and forage for many native species; and also they are attractive and colorful." Mechenes stressed the economic advantages of using native grasses for golf courses. "Establishing natural areas can reduce water consumption, mowing, pesticide use and labor. It doesn't eliminate them all together, but it can reduce them and golf course managers like to save on costs." Mechenes' overall aim was to determine which native grasses to use on roughs (those areas along the sides of the fairways or greens having slightly taller grasses). According to Mechenes, "many golf courses don't have any natural areas as roughs so we are trying to encourage them to consider incorporating them into the course landscape in order to make the course more challenging, but also to improve the setting by providing a more natural look rather than a highly manicured non-native setting." The two grasses examined by Mechenes were blue grama and the Cody variety of buffalo grass as both are native to Illinois. "We also used a combination of the two grasses because in previous research done at the University of Illinois it was shown that these two grasses had great promise for use in un-mowed roughs," said Mechenes. Mechenes’ first study, examined blue grama cultivars to determine which type provided the best coverage for the plots at the Landscape Horticulture Research Center in Urbana. Each of the plots had either 11 or 13 treatments of blue grama, buffalo grass or a combination of blue grama and buffalo grass. Each trial was repeated three times. Mechenes went out to visually inspect the plots and rate them by percent of coverage on a weekly basis. The plots had minor irrigation needs and were mowed and applied with herbicide to reduce weed invasion. The first study was planted in the 2006 growing season and was repeated in June 2007. Mechenes said that the study in 2006 didn't receive a pre-emergent herbicide application and consequently had a lot of weed competition. The study in 2007 received a treatment of the herbicide Plateau and was much taller, greener, healthier-looking grass. The second study’s goal was to discover which seeding rate provided the best cover using 4 different seeding rates and then repeated 5 times in each plot. 10, 20, 25, and 30 pounds of seed per acre. "The results showed that blue grama and Cody buffalo grass had the best coverage – thick and beautiful - and that the plots using 30 pounds of seed per acre established quicker but by the end of the study there was no difference in the coverage between the 20 and 30 pounds. So, the recommendation is to use 20 pounds of seed per acre because it's less seed, costs less and uses less labor to plant," said Mechenes. Mechenes plans to create a website which will include information about numerous native grasses that would be appropriate for golf courses as well as information about non-native grasses which are currently used on most golf courses. Other advantages to planting native grasses mentioned by Mechenes were that they solve some site problems such as areas that have erosion problems which native plants are more adapted to; and, it may be a public relations advantage when golf courses invite school children or scouting groups to come out and observe the natural wildlife, because the native grasses attract more birds and butterflies.

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