Monday I played in a golf tournament at Chateau Golf and Country Club. The greens were very quick and rolling pure. However, that is also when I noticed that the Bermuda grass had gone dormant. When that happens on Bermuda grass greens the speed can get slightly out of control. This led to me wondering if it is too early to overseed or if they choose not to just to keep the greens quick.
What is the difference between dormant greens and overseeded greens?
Dormant Greens - The grass is not dead, it goes into hibernation. This happens when temperatures get below a certain level. The plant uses a defense mechanism that results in the loss of the green color. This usually results in a thin layer of grass on the greens and many times will leave mud on your golf ball. The golf ball will roll as it is on smooth concrete or a marble floor. This also causes ball marks a slower recovery time, especially if unrepaired by golfers.
Overseeded Greens - The process of overseeding happens after Bermuda grass goes dormant. This is usually a Ryegrass that can tolerate cooler temperatures and gives the golf course its green color again. Overseeded greens usually mean those greens will play slower and in a sense feel stickier. Pat attention to ball spin. On stickier overseeded greens the ball will stop faster or may spin back more than you are used to. This process also helps protect the Bermuda grass root system that is dormant underneath the overseed.
Which is better?
There actually is no cut-and-dry answer to this. One looks better and protects the golf course while the other doesn't look as good but will play firm and fast. The real determination comes down to the golf course budget and maintenance staff. Some golf courses may not be able to afford to overseed their greens so they let everything go dormant and rely on maintaining the golf course more during the colder months. Other golf courses that can afford to overseed will always do so mainly due to the coloring the golf course achieves, and let's face it we all love a green golf course.
The main reason every golf course should overseed is simply how that overseed protects the golf course. The overseed acts like a blanket protecting the Bermuda underneath. This allows for the Bermuda grass to come back faster and healthier when the temperatures get warmer again. This is especially a good thing if we ever get any truly cold spells close to freezing temperatures. Without that barrier of the overseed the Bermuda grass could completely die out and cause long-term problems. However, if the golf course has a good maintenance staff with a superintendent that knows his trade then the budget or whether they overseed or not is irrelevant.
The type of Bermuda grass will also determine which way is better for a golf course. Some types of Bermuda can tolerate some colder temperatures and it may be better to just let them go dormant than to overseed them. This is a typical practice in South Florida where temperatures rarely get too cold for the grass.
On the other side, this is also determined by each individual golfer as to which is better. Some golfers will prefer the green look, slower playing conditions, and softer greens. Yet, others will want those fast and firm conditions that dormant Bermuda causes. Tee shots will bounce and roll further and to many golfers that is a good thing. However, if it rains, a dormant golf course may become muddy and not as playable as an overseeded golf course.