Keeping Greens Green

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune (Brutal Chicago winter taking toll on golf courses - by Teddy Greenstein) talks about how poorly many country club greens fared during the harsh winter that is barely over. A local country club whose greens were the envy of much bigger & richer clubs may have to rebuild most of theirs.

Whether or not this damage could have been mitigated with the use of special covers or mulching is a moot point. What is clear that using bluegrass (poa annua) instead of bentgrass is asking for trouble.

I have been a prairie steward for the past seven years and have seen first hand the difference between the way indigenous plants, trees and shrubs and nonnative/exotics tolerate extreme heat and cold. The non-natives, specifically the ornamental varieties, don't do well.

When the goal is to rid a natural area of non-native species you want them to die. But when they make up your garden or golf course, their demise is both painful and expensive.

Some greenskeepers think this past winter is one in a 100, but they are probably wrong. The conditions that created prairies, which at one time covered nearly 70% of the country, may be happening again: hot, dry summers and harsh winters. Human activity is speeding this process up.

So if we want golf courses that look good despite hot, dry summer and cold harsh winters, we have to make different choices about what we plant. Poa annua is non-native bluegrass from Eurasia. Bentgrass is native to the U.S. This choice should be easy.