Turf for the Transition Zone
The "crabgrass belt" was what Dr. Ian
Forbes, former agronomist at the Department of Agriculture, termed the transition
zone (Forbes and Ferguson, 1948). The transition zone stretched from Kansas
to Maryland without defined boundaries. Both cool-season and warm-season turfgrasses
are present in this area due to the great variability in climate. Although
many are present, few turfgrass species are well adapted to this challenging
Turfgrass adaptation is primarily determined by temperature
and moisture. Plants that are well adapted to a particular area can usually
withstand high and low temperatures as well as wet and dry periods. Even though
both cool-season and warm-season grasses grow in the transition zone, golf
courses primarily have cool-season grasses such as annual bluegrass, Kentucky
bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass on the fairways. Golf course superintendents
in this region have a great deal of trouble maintaining cool-season grasses
during the summer due to excessive heat, water requirements, disease pressure
and golfer traffic. These grasses decline, causing poor golfing conditions
in spite of superintendents spending countless hours and dollars to maintain
acceptable playing surfaces.
However, there is a potential solution: bermudagrass and
zoysiagrass. Bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.) and zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica)
both produce excellent fairway turf in the transition zone. During summer
months in the transition zone, bermudagrass and zoysiagrass are actively growing
and during the cool periods of the year, they enter winter dormancy. Both
grasses are cost effective and environmentally friendly to maintain.
Bermudagrass is an introduced grass species to the United
States. Originating in Africa, bermudagrass is a warm-season turfgrass species
that is well suited for golf course greens, tees, fairways, and rough. Two
species of bermudagrass are used on golf courses, hybrid bermudagrass (Cynodon
dactylon x. C. transvaalensis) and common bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon).
Establishment of common bermudagrass is by seed, whereas hybrid bermudagrass
must be established by sodding or sprigging. Once established, bermudagrass
creates an aggressive turf with high shoot densities (Beard, 1973).
Bermudagrass is best adapted to southern regions of the
transition zone, the warm arid zone, and the warm humid zone. When bermudagrass
is planted in the transition zone, it can be seriously thinned by low temperature
kill during the first year of establishment (Philley and Krans, 1998) and
again every four to five years depending on the severity of the winter (Anonymous,
Zoysiagrass is also an introduced grass species to the
United States. Zoysiagrass, named after Austrian botanist Karl Von Zois, was
introduced into the United States in the early 1900s (McDonald and Copeland,
1997). Originating in East Asian coastal areas, zoysiagrass is a warm-season
turfgrass species well suited for golf course fairways, tees and bunker faces.
Once established, zoysiagrass creates a dense, high quality turf (Beard, 1973).
Zoysiagrass performs especially well on golf course fairways
and finds its greatest niche in the transition zone. Unlike bermudagrass,
dormant zoysiagrass fairways remain highly playable for golfers. Zoysiagrass
has excellent cold tolerance and is the most winter tolerant of the warm-season
grasses adapted to the transition zone (Rogers et al., 1977; Turgeon, 2002).
Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass are commonly used in the
transition zone due to difficulty in the management of cool-season turfgrasses.
Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass require fewer inputs than do most cool-season
fairway turfs making them less expensive and more environmentally friendly
to maintain (Williams, 2001). The following section outlines the cost of maintenance
on a cool-season fairway versus a warm-season fairway in the transition zone.
When compared to warm-season grasses, cool-season grasses
require more N/1000ft2 per year in the transition zone. This increase in
fertility is due to a longer growing season of cool-season grasses. Typically,
perennial ryegrass requires between 0.4-1.0 pounds of nitrogen (N) per growing
month depending on the intensity of the culture, which equates to 4 lbs.
of N/1000ft2 per year in the transition zone (Beard, 1973). On the other
hand bermudagrass and zoysiagrass in the transition zone require between
0.5-1.5 pounds of nitrogen (N) per growing month depending on the intensity
of the culture, which equates to about 3 lbs. of N/1000ft2 per year for bermudagrass
and only 2 lbs. of N/1000ft2 per year for zoysiagrass (Beard, 1973)
While cool-season turfs must be fertilized with
slow-release fertilizers at certain times during the year because of agronomic
reasons and potential for fertilizer burn, quick release fertilizers are
often used on the warm-season grasses due to their low burn potential. Since
quick release fertilizers are cheaper than slow-release fertilizers, the
cost of fertilization can potentially drop with the use of warm-season grasses.
However, superintendents may choose to use a slow-release fertilizer on their
warm-season fairways in the transition zone in order to provide a slow feed
and reduce the potential for fertilizer burn at the interface with a cool-season
rough (Healey, 2002). Regardless of strategy, warm-season grasses require
less annual fertility in the transition zone (see Table
Currently, the only major diseases that affect bermudagrass
in the transition zone are spring dead spot (ophiosphaerella spp.) and dollar
spot (Sclerotinia homeocarpa), while zoysiagrass only suffers from Rhizoctonia
large patch disease (Rhizoctonia solani) (Anderson et al., 2002; Anonymous,
2002; Tisserat, 2002). Conversely, cool-season grasses can be affected by
numerous diseases including anthracnose (Colletotrichum graminicola), dollar
spot (Sclerotinia homeocarpa), gray leaf spot (Pyricularia grisea), pythium
blight (Pythium spp.), Rhizoctonia blight (Rhizoctonia solani), and summer
patch (Magnaporthe poae) (Couch, 1995). Disease susceptibility drives up
maintenance costs and reduces environmental soundness of cool-season grasses.
Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass in the transition zone are
less susceptible to insect pests compared to cool-season turf. Most of the
insect pests that affect bermudagrass and zoysiagrass are located in the
warm-arid regions of the country, south of the transition zone. The armyworm
(bermuda) and the hunting billbug (zoysia) are capable of causing damage
(Potter, 1998). However, few reports of damage to warm-season turf are reported
in the transition zone (Bullerdick, 2002; Healey, 2002; Lampkins, 2002; Robbeloth,
2002; Will, 2002). Unlike cool-season turfs, which are often damaged by white
grubs and other insect pests, bermudagrass and zoysiagrass suffer little
damage in the transition zone.
Whether growing cool-season or warm-season turf, every
golf course has occasional weed problems. Most superintendents in the transition
zone will use pre-emergence herbicides for the control of annual grassy weeds
on both cool-season and warm-season fairways. The dense cover of zoysiagrass
and bermudagrass may help reduce weed populations, and in general the weed
control budget of a warm-season turf will be slightly less than a cool-season
stand. Perennial and winter-annual weeds are controlled on dormant bermudagrass
or zoysiagrass with a single application of a non-selective herbicide in
the winter. On the other hand, on cool-season turfs perennial weeds and winter-annual
weeds are often controlled in two separate applications. This extra application
and the more expensive post-emergent selective herbicides increases weed
control costs in cool-season turf compared to warm-season turf.
Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass have excellent heat and
drought tolerance when compared to cool-season grasses (Christians, 1998).
Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass are better adapted to the hot, humid summers
in the transition zone than cool-season turfs. Using either of these grasses
on golf course fairways in the transition zone will reduce irrigation requirements
resulting on lower irrigation costs (Biran et al., 1981).
Mowing fairways take a considerable amount of time. Usually,
superintendents utilize their best employees for this task. The amount of
time spent on fairway mowing varies by species. Time spent mowing fairways
from greatest to least is annual bluegrass/perennial ryegrass, bermudagrass,
and zoysiagrass. Annual bluegrass/perennial ryegrass fairways usually more
total mowing because they actively grow from March to November. Bermudagrass
requires a great deal of mowing during the summer months but will only grow
from May to October in the transition zone. Zoysiagrass is the slowest grass
of the bunch, and may only need mowing two to three times per week from May
Another benefit of bermudagrass and zoysiagrass
use in the transition zone is wear tolerance. Since bermudagrass and zoysiagrass
are warm-season turfgrasses, they are actively growing during the greatest
period of golfer activity and offer better wear tolerance than cool-season
species (Youngner, 1961). In fact, most courses with bermudagrass or zoysiagrass
fairways actually instruct the golfers to keep golf carts in the fairway
and out of cool-season roughs during the summers. In review, the benefits
of bermudagrass and zoysiagrass include reduced fertilization, reduced fungicide
and insecticide costs, reduced irrigation requirements, reduced annual mowing,
and increased wear tolerance (see Table
The disadvantages of warm-season species compared
to cool-season species in the transition zone are few, but include winterkill
potential, winter color, thatch, and establishment costs (see Table
Winter hardiness is a concern of most superintendents
in the transition zone. Bermudagrass is less winter hardy than zoysiagrass
and can potentially winter kill every few years (Rogers et al., 1977). Zoysiagrass,
although more cold tolerant than bermudagrass, can also winterkill in the
transition zone. Increasing potassium fertility may increase winter hardiness
(Beard, 1973), but the best cultural practice for decreasing winter damage
is to remove traffic from fairways during the winter (Reicher, 2002). Despite
possible loss of warm-season turfs every four or five years, annual ryegrass/perennial
ryegrass fairways face this risk almost every summer.
Another negative aspect of warm-season turf is its tan
winter color during dormancy. Zoysiagrass remains very playable in the winter
months despite its dormancy with stiff leaves that produce a great lie all
year long. However, this is not the case with bermudagrass. Bermudagrass
loses much of its canopy during the winter months and is often worn down
to bare soil. In order to maintain excellent playing conditions all year,
bermudagrass may need to be over-seeded with perennial ryegrass. This is
a popular practice in southern regions of the United States but is avoided
by most superintendents in the transition zone due to increased cost and
delayed spring transition.
Due to the stoloniferous and rhizomatous habit of bermudagrass
and zoysiagrass, these species may require more frequent aerification to
decrease thatch build-up. More frequent aerification may require new equipment
and will increase labor costs. However, aerification will not only reduce
thatch, but also reduce disease in warm-season fairways (Anderson et al.,
2002; Tisserat, 2002).
A primary drawback to the warm-season grasses is
establishment cost. Bermudagrass is relatively inexpensive to establish,
either by sprigging or seeding, but is more expensive to solid-sod. Zoysiagrass
is generally more expensive than bermudagrass to establish. Zoysiagrass can
be established by seeding, sprigging, strip-sodding and solid-sodding. All
methods can be effective in the long-term, but certain methods will be much
more advantageous in the short term (see Table
Traditionally, warm-season grasses have been established
vegetatively, not by seeding. Vegetative establishment is expensive relative
to seeding. For instance, sprigging bermudagrass is estimated at approximately
$1000/acre and solid-sodding zoysiagrass may cost $15,000/acre whereas seeding
cost for bermudagrass and zoysiagrass are less than $1,250 (Williams, 2001;
Will, 2002). Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass establishment by seed is not only
more cost effective than vegetative establishment but is also less labor
Dr. Dave Williams, at the University of Kentucky, is one
of the principal investigators of seeded warm-season grasses. According to
Williams, although seeded bermudagrass and zoysiagrass have not been frequently
used on golf course fairways in the past, new varieties are making seeding
more popular due to the improvements in texture, color, growth habit, and
winter hardiness (2001). National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) data
show that several seeded bermudagrass and seeded zoysiagrass cultivars display
characteristics similar to vegetative varieties (2001; Williams, 2001). NTEP
tests in Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Southern Illinois,
and Virginia have identified seeded bermudagrass and zoysiagrass cultivars
that will perform well in the transition zone (Williams, 2001).
Despite the data on seeded varieties, many superintendents
still use vegetative methods for establishment. Researchers at Purdue University,
the University of Kentucky, Kansas State University, and the University of
Arkansas are currently working on defining the best methods for seeded warm-season
grasses. Although few superintendents are currently using seeded bermudagrass
or zoysiagrass, the data is convincing, and superintendents may ultimately
begin using seeded varieties.
Many golf courses across the transition zone have already
established either bermudagrass or zoysiagrass on their golf course fairways.
The following section details three superintendents and their experiences
with establishing warm-season fairways in the transition zone.
Valley View Golf Club, Floyds Knobs, Indiana
In the fall of 1999, Valley View Golf Club superintendent,
Kelly Robbeloth, and the board of directors decided it was time for a change.
They decided to convert the existing perennial ryegrass fairways to bermudagrass
because of the high maintenance budget of the perennial ryegrass fairways.
Valley View Golf Club, located in southern Indiana near the Ohio River, is
an area that stays hot and humid during the transition zone summers. Kelly
had problems maintaining his fairways due to lack of an adequate water source
and outbreaks of gray leaf spot. Valley View wanted a turfgrass that was
better adapted to the summer heat and humidity.
In the summer of 2003, 30 acres of fairway turf along
with 15 acres of green banks and intermediate rough were sprigged with 'Midland'
bermudagrass after a non-selective herbicide application. The areas completely
filled-in and the course were reopened by the end of the summer. Kelly and
the board of directors were very please with the results. The only complaints
came from senior golfers who had a difficult time plying from the bermudagrass
rough. With the new bermudagrass, Kelly accomplished one of the club's goals
of reducing water use. In the summer of 2001, he did not have to turn on
the irrigation system once. According to Kelly, the only major drawback to
bermudagrass is mowing. The new bermudagrass fairways hold their morning
dew longer, forcing Kelly and his crew to mow later in the day during high
golfer activity. In addition, the rapid growth rate if bermudagrass keeps
them busy mowing and blowing off fairways four days a week.
Despite more mowing, the cost of establishment was well
worth it. Kelly kept track of the expenditures during the renovation process.
The cost of spriggs, sod, (zoysiagrass around the greens to reduce bermudagrass
encroachment), chemicals, and fertilizers during the establishment process
totaled $98,000. One year after the renovation was complete; Kelly compared
the 1999 perennial ryegrass budget of $133,000 with his 2001 bermudagrass
budget of only $49,000 and found an annual savings of $84,000. When asked
what he might do different if he were to do it over again, he said he might
consider using seeded zoysiagrass, but he was very happy with the bermudagrass
Bloomington Country Club, Bloomington, Indiana
Bloomington Country Club, in Bloomington, Indiana, is
located at the northern edge of the transition zone. When Bruce Bellerdick,
CGCS, first took the job at Bloomington Country Club in 1990 he was maintaining
18 holes of annual bluegrass/perennial ryegrass fairways. These fairways
were situated in heavy clay soils, and irrigated by an inadequate system
with purchased city water. Soon after taking the job he quickly learned of
the memberships desire to implement zoysiagrass fairways. After discussing
the potential cost savings with Bruce, the committee decided on zoysiagrass.
The committee wasted no time in getting started. In 1991,
the back nine was solid-sodded with ‘Meyer’ zoysiagrass transported
from Arkansas. While the conversion was being completed on the back-nine,
the members continued to play on the front-nine until it was renovated later
in 1992. In all, 20 acres of zoysiagrass was planted at Bloomington Country
Club. After the project was completed, the only complaint from the golfers
was that it was more difficult to hit the ball off the fairway when playing
other golf courses.
When I asked Bruce how he felt about the zoysiagrass,
he said, “We don’t have enough of it!” Bruce felt the only
major drawback was that zoysiagrass was difficult to mow and difficult to
keep the mowers adjusted properly to cut the stiff leaf blades of zoysiagrass.
Rhizoctonia large patch was also one of his concerns. However with spot treatment,
he estimates that he only spends about 2,000 dollars a year controlling this
disease. Bruce also raised the fairway mowing height from 1/2 to 5/8 of an
inch and in doing so he observed a decrease in the severity of the disease.
When asked if he would do anything differently, Bruce answered, “I
wouldn’t do anything different.” Due to increased play, increased
revenue from 50 new members, and decreased costs, he calculated that the
cost of establishment was recuperated in only two and a half years (Bullerdick,
McDonald Golf Course, Evansville, Indiana
Evansville, Indiana, often termed the tri-state area,
is located in the tip of Indiana between Southern Illinois and Kentucky.
The McDonald Golf Course, located in Evansville, IN, is a nine-hole municipal
golf course. Like most municipal golf courses the budget does not allow for
high expenditures. In 2000, Bill Lampkins, superintendent of McDonald Golf
Course, decided to give zoysiagrass a try.
In 1999, the fifth hole at McDonald Golf Course was redesigned
to improve drainage, add a pond, and change the layout of the hole. The new
580-yard par 5 was then seeded in the fall with perennial ryegrass to provide
some coverage. That next summer Bill decided to try zoysiagrass. Since his
budget was limited, he decided to strip-sod ‘Meyer’ zoysiagrass
into the new fifth fairway instead of solid-sodding. The sod was stripped
into the existing perennial ryegrass fairways. Since the installation, he
has stopped applying any fungicides to the fairway to give zoysiagrass a
better chance to spread and fill in between the strips. After two years Bill
plans on spraying an application of a non-selective herbicide on the dormant
zoysiagrass in order to kill the remaining ryegrass and allow the zoysiagrass
to fill in the remaining areas.
The only major downside of zoysiagrass according to Bill
is the increased need of fairway aerification to prevent thatch accumulation.
When asked how golfers felt about the strip-sodded fairway, Bill said, “They
don’t seem to mind, they just roll their ball onto the lie they want.”
The long-term plan at McDonald Golf Course is to strip sod one or two fairways
a year until they are all done. As he finishes the remaining holes, Bill
said he would not do much different except to make sure the fairway contours
are outlined carefully before zoysiagrass installation. Although the fifth
hole is the only current hole with zoysiagrass, Bill estimates that once
the project is done he will save about $30,000 a year on his 13 acres of
fairways (Lampkins, 2002).
These are only a few examples of bermudagrass and zoysiagrass
in the transition zone. The best source of information on their management
and establishment is the superintendents who manage these courses form day
to day. Whether a golf course is public or private, everyone can enjoy the
long-term cost savings, excellent playability, and environmentally friendliness
of bermudagrass or zoysiagrass in the transition zone.
List of References
1. Aderson, M., A. Guenzi, D. Martin, C. Taliaferro,
and N. Tisserat. 2002. Spring Dead Spot: A Major Bermudagrass Disease. USGA
Green Section Record 40(1):21-23.
2. Anonymous. 1960. Winter kill problems with bermudagrass. Mid-Continent
Turfletter, USGA Green Section No. 3. pp. 1-2.
3. Anonymous. Feb. 27, 2002. Dollar spot of Bermudagrass.(http://msucares.com).
4. Beard, J.B. 1973. Turfgrass Science and Culture. Prentice Hall, Inc. Englewood
5. Biran, I., B. Bravado, I. Bushkin-Harav, E. Rawitz, 1981. Water consumption
and growth rate of 11 turfgrasses as affected by mowing height, irrigation
frequency, and soil moisture. Agronomy Journal 73:85-90.
6. Bullerdick, B. 2002. Personal interview. Superintendent at Bloomington
Country Club. Bloomington, Indiana.
7. Couch, H.B. 1995 Diseases of Turfgrass. Krieger Publishing Co., Malibar,
8. Christians, N.E. 1998. Fundamentals of Turfgrass Management. Ann Arbor
Press, Chelsea, Michigan.
9. Forbes, I.J. and Ferguson M.S. 1948. Effect of strain differences, seed
treatment, and planting depth on seed germination of Zoysia spp. Agronomy
10. Healey, C. 2002. Personal interview. Horizon Construction, Evansville,
11. Lampkins, B. 2002. Personal interview. Superintendent at McDonald Golf
Course, Evansville, Indiana.
12. McDonald, M.B. and L.O. Copeland. 1997. Seed production: principle and
practice. Chapman Hall, New York.
13. National Turfgrass
Evaluation Program (NTEP). Feb. 18, 2002.
14. Philley, W.H., J.V. Krans. 1998. Turf performance of seeded bermudagrass
cultivars. Golf Course Management 66(11):62-66.
15. Potter, D. 1998. Destructive Turfgrass Insects: Biology, Diagnosis and
Control. Ann Arbor Press, Chelsea, Michigan.
16. Reicher, Z. 2002. Personal interview. Associate Professor, Turfgrass Extension
Specialist, Purdue University.
17. Robbeloth, K. 2002. Personal interview. Superintendent at Valley View
Golf Club, Floyds Knobs, Indiana.
18. Rogers, R.A., J.H. Dunn and C.J. Nelson. 1997. Photosynthesis and cold
hardening in zoysia and bermudagrass. Crop Science 17:727-732.
19. Tisserat, N. Feb. 19, 2002. Large Patch Disease of Zoysiagrass –
Rhizoctonia solani. (http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/dp_hfrr/extensn/largptch.htm).
20. Turgeon, A.J. 2002. Turfgrass Management. Prentice Hall. Upper Saddle
River, New Jersey.
21. Will, C. 2002. Personal interview. TenBarge Seed Company, Haubstadt, Indiana.
22. Williams, D.W. 2001. Defining Optimum Seeding Dates for Establishing Bermudagrass
and Zoysiagrass Fairways in the Transitional Climatic Zone. 1999-2000 Turfgrass
Reseach Summary, University of Kentucky.
23. Youngner, V.B. 1961. Accelerated wear tests on turfgrasses. Agronomy