considered the most attractive turfgrass, velvet bentgrass may
possess many cultural advantages over creeping bentgrass.
breeding techniques produced unimpressive cultivars with weak
seed production that may have limited the appeal of velvet
are developing new velvet bentgrass cultivars.
putting surfaces. Greater tolerance of wear, drought, heat,
disease and shade. Lower fertility requirements. Compared with
creeping bentgrass (Agrostis palustris), the
characteristics of velvet bentgrass (Agrostis canina) seem
to be superior. So why is velvet bentgrass not used on more golf
courses in the United States? The answer is complex and related to
the evolution of the golf course industry and maintenance
practices in the United States and evolution of the turf seed
Velvet bentgrass has long been
appreciated for forming a uniquely beautiful turf surface with its
fine texture and high shoot density (3,13). In 1932, 10
professional golfers selected it as the best putting surface when
invited to putt on greens at the Arlington (Va.) Turf Gardens,
which featured the top vegetative creeping bents, colonial bents (Agrostis
tenuis) and velvet bentgrasses (6). Researchers described the
turf as "luxurious green velvet" (13).
The species purportedly demands
intense maintenance, however, and it allegedly cannot grow
anywhere but temperate-oceanic climates such as New England and
the Pacific Northwest (2,14). At least one expert disagrees
somewhat, noting the species's good tolerance of heat and low
temperatures and its superior tolerance of drought compared with
other bentgrass species (1).
Early trials (8,11) revealed that
velvet bentgrass is more tolerant of acidic soils than other
bentgrasses and that velvet bentgrass was the most shade-tolerant
of the bentgrasses (12). Others observed that velvet bentgrass
does not spread as rapidly as some other bents but is very
persistent once established (13).
Velvet bentgrass was introduced to
many U.S. turf sites from seed harvested in Europe and imported as
South German bent, which usually consisted of about 75 percent
Rhode Island bentgrass (now known as colonial bent), 15 percent
velvet bentgrass, 1 percent creeping bent and many impurities
Some evidence suggests, however,
that velvet bentgrass may be a native North American species in
portions of its distribution (5,15).
bentgrass (right) is not only finer than creeping bentgrass
(left), but is also more tolerant of many stresses that weaken
creeping bentgrass cultivars.
Whether from Europe or North
America, over time the few adapted ecotypes segregated out and
spread vegetatively. This process produced the early vegetative
cultivars of creeping bentgrass, such as Arlington and Toronto,
and certain superior genotypes of velvet bentgrass, which were
selected by early golf course superintendents and turf researchers
and increased vegetatively for planting on additional golf
These early varieties included:
Piper velvet bentgrass, selected by the USGA Green Section;
Merion, a selection from the Merion Cricket Club, Ardmore, Pa.;
and Kernwood, a selection from the Kernwood Country Club, Salem,
Other early selections included
Mountain Ridge, from the USDA; Highland velvet; Yorkshire, from
Yorkshire, England; Newport velvet, from Washington Co., Ore.;
Valentine No. 2 from Joseph Valentine at Merion CC; Acme, from the
USGA Green Section and USDA; Wykagyl, from Wykagyl Country Club in
New Rochelle, N.Y.; Nichol Ave. Nos. 1 and 2, from Rutgers
University, N.J.; Cunningham, from the USGA Green Section; and
Elizabeth, from Elizabeth, N.J. (8).
In the 1930s, Rhode Island farmers
also produced some seed from Piper and Kernwood (9), which may
have been an additional source of velvet bentgrasses still found
on older golf courses. Unreliable seed supplies were the primary
reason velvet bentgrass was not used more extensively (9,13).
According to these early reports, velvet bentgrass seed produced
in North America came primarily from naturalized stands in Oregon
and Prince Edward Island, Canada (8). These sites may have
included native ecotypes of velvet bentgrass, but the record is
In addition to evaluating
vegetative velvet bentgrasses, the early researchers also produced
self-pollinated seed and evaluated the progeny for uniformity and
plant characteristics (3). In 1930, turf researcher H.B. Sprague
planted all available varieties and developed the seeded variety
Raritan released by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station
in 1940 (4). Unfortunately this variety was lost during World War
Later, the seeded variety
Kingstown (Kingston) was released by C.R. Skogley and J.A.
DeFrance from an inbred selection (4).
This early breeding work may have
weakened the species's appeal for the next several decades. Seed
production problems arose, perhaps from breeders' utilization of
inbred material or because infertile progeny resulted from crosses
with other bentgrass species. Kingstown was also lighter green
than many other bentgrasses, which may have contributed to
excessive fertilization. Heavy thatch development, disease
outbreaks and Poa annua encroachment followed, which led
to the misconception that velvets produce a high-maintenance turf.
Skogley, of University of
Rhode Island, never stopped working with velvet bentgrasses. With
germplasm at the university and material from old golf courses, he
sought improvements in velvet bentgrasses, emphasizing color,
disease resistance and turf quality. In cooperation with Seed
Research of Oregon, the variety SR 7200 (Avalon in Europe) was
released. A difficult task lay ahead of having this variety
properly evaluated and brought into use. Many golf courses had
been moving to lower fertility, however, and newer varieties of
creeping bentgrasses had led to the development of improved
techniques for thatch control. The University of Rhode Island has
continued to work on evaluation and breeding of velvet bentgrasses
under Bridget Ruemmele, Ph.D.
Rutgers University has been
instrumental in helping evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of
velvet bentgrass outside of the traditional New England area. As
part of their turfgrass breeding program they have a new
experimental velvet bentgrass, developed from a velvet planted 20
years ago in an old turf trial. This velvet persisted and spread
over many years of reduced inputs. In addition, turf researchers
at Rutgers have been collecting germplasm of velvet bentgrasses
from many old courses in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.
They have planted many experimental turf plots at both fairway and
greens height and maintained them at lower fertility to help
evaluate existing and experimental varieties for reduced
maintenance. On many of their trials, they have also applied wear
to look at this important characteristic. These trials have not
only helped examine current varieties, but they also will help
develop new varieties of all bentgrasses with reduced input
bentgrass stands out in this naturalized stand.
SR 7200 (Avalon) velvet
bentgrass and new experimental varieties have demonstrated
excellent resistance to many turfgrass diseases, including dollar
spot (Sclerotinia homoeocarpa) and brown patch (Rhizoctonia
solani). In early and recent trials, collected germplasm has
shown variable reaction to these diseases.
Piper was fairly susceptible to
brown patch, but most selections offered good resistance.
Improvement in this species has emphasized selecting germplasm
with excellent disease resistance.
Copper spot has traditionally been
associated with velvet bentgrass, but SR 7200 has shown fewer
incidences than many creeping bentgrasses. Pythium
diseases have been observed to attack seedling velvet bentgrass
more than creeping bentgrass, but mature velvet appears to be
highly resistant to this disease.
Initial reports from the 1998
Bentgrass Greens NTEP Trial suggest Pythium problems may
have reduced the stands of the velvets in this trial at some
locations during the seedling stage before turf managers noticed.
It has occasionally shown take-all patch (Gaumannomyces
graminis avenae) in the initial year or two in the Pacific
Northwest, but has shown good resistance to fusarium patch (Microdochium
nivale). At Rutgers in the fall of 1999 the velvet bentgrasses
suffered some damage by fusarium patch in an area with poor air
Velvet bentgrass in trials at both
the Sports Turf Research Institute in Bingley, England, and at
Rutgers University has shown improved wear tolerance compared with
many creeping or colonial bentgrass varieties (7). The high shoot
density of velvet bentgrass may contribute to this wear tolerance.
These trials were both at lower fertility levels, and results may
change if high fertility is used, which tends to favor creeping
bentgrasses. In the England trial, SR 7200 was also the most
drought-tolerant of the bentgrasses.
fine texture and good quality of velvet bentgrass turf (center)
stands out from other bentgrasses in these plots.
The area of adaptation on
velvet bentgrass for permanent turf is not as limited as some
literature would suggest. The success at Rutgers University and at
early trials at Arlington Turf Gardens suggests this species can
be used successfully farther south than commonly perceived.
The primary area of adaption
appears to be a zone across the United States from portions of
Maryland and Virginia, southern Ohio, and across to Columbia, Mo.,
where we have maintained it successfully at fairway height.
In the western United States, it
will do well in many areas, including Oregon, Washington and much
of California. Elevation and microclimates will influence this
area of adaptation. This is also where creeping bentgrasses were
best adapted until breeding efforts moved the area of adaptation
farther south. This area may change as breeders further improve
the species, or we learn how to manage it better farther south.
Velvet may perform well farther
south in shaded locations, because it is the most shade-tolerant
bentgrass. It has been successfully used on shaded tees, where
blending with chewings fescue (Festuca rubra commutata) is
usually recommended for more rapid coverage in divot-repair mixes.
The area of adaptation of
velvet bentgrass suggests another potential use: overseeding of
bermudagrass (Cynodon hybrids) on golf courses in the
southern United States for winter play. The perennial ryegrasses
typically used for this often do not transition well. This has
become a more serious problem on some of the new ultra-dense
bermudagrasses such as TifEagle, Champion and Floradwarf. We have
experimented with SR 7200 combined with Poa trivialis,
chewings fescue and perennial ryegrass in overseeding mixtures.
The velvet bentgrass cultivar provides excellent winter-to-spring
grass and transitions rapidly when the heat comes on, and initial
golf course reports have been favorable.
One problem associated with
earlier velvet bentgrasses was obtaining high-quality, reliable
seed supplies of improved varieties. Newer varieties are developed
with attention to seed production, utilizing multiple clones so
problems with inbreeding do not occur. Care must also be taken to
ensure that outcrossing with other bentgrass species does not
occur. SR 7200 has been in commercial seed production for five
years with yields comparable to that of improved creeping
bentgrasses. Other varieties are just being entered into
Velvet bentgrasses form a
superior turf surface with reduced inputs of fertilizer and
fungicides. Further evaluation and breeding work in this species
are desirable to define the optimal range and management of the
species. It is time for current turf managers to rediscover the
assets of velvet bentgrasses that made early researchers consider
this the grass of the future.
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Science and culture. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
- Christians, N. 1998.
Fundamentals of turfgrass management. Ann Arbor Press, Chelsea,
- DeFrance, J.A., T.E. Odland and
R.S. Bell.1952. Improvement of velvet bentgrass by selection.
Agronomy Journal 44:376-378.
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the grasses of the United States. U.S. Government Printing
Office, Washington, D.C.
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Welton. 1932. Putting tests upon bentgrasses. Bulletin of
the USGA Green Section 12(6):224-227.
- Newell, A.J., F.M.E. Crossley,
J.C. Hart-Woods, C.E. Richards and A.D. Wood. 1997. STRI report
to turfgrass breeders 1997. Sports Turf Research Institute,
Bingley, West Yorkshire, U.K.
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1934. Putting green grasses and their management. Rhode
Island Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 245:1-44.
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J.E. DeFrance. 1938. Lawn grasses and their management. Rhode
Island Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 245:1-36.
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agricultural species of bent grass. Part I. Rhode Island bent
and related grasses. USDA Bulletin 692:1-14.
- Reid, M.E. 1932. The effects of
soil reaction upon the growth of several types of bentgrasses.
Bulletin of the USGA Green Section 12(5):196-212.
- Reid, M.E. 1933. Effects of
shade on the growth of velvet bent and Metropolitan creeping
bent. Bulletin of the USGA Green Section 13:131-135.
- Sprague, H.B., and E.E. Evaul.
1930. Experiments with turf grasses in New Jersey. New
Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 497.
- Turgeon, A.J. 1996. Turfgrass
management. 4th ed. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture.
1999. The PLANTS database. Available at
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, La.
Leah Brilman, Ph.D., is a
breeder with Seed Research of Oregon. William A. Meyer, Ph.D., is
associate director of the Rutgers University Center for Turfgrass
Science and a professor of plant science.