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A University of Minnesota turf research plot

A University of Minnesota turf research plot

U turf researchers help golf courses stay green

By Bruce Erickson

Published on June 1, 2005

It's that time of year again; college students prepare for life after graduation, farmers get ready to plant their crops, and golfers dream of sinking the first putt of the season. With help from University of Minnesota researchers, golfers suffering from cabin fever may chase their dreams on winter-hardy, disease-resistant greens using a turf variety developed on the St. Paul campus.

Poa annua is a grass species that makes up a major component of the golf course turf in cooler areas of the world. According to Eric Watkins, assistant professor of horticultural science, it is highly competitive, especially on greens, where it often pushes out the more common bentgrass. However, Poa annua is susceptible to disease and refreezing and is prone to seeding continuously in the spring and fall, leading to brown, bumpy greens.

So rather than trying to beat Poa annua, University researchers decided to improve it and turn it into a useful golf turf. Now, thanks to 30 years of breeding work, the University of Minnesota has patented a turf variety of Poa annua and licensed it to DLF International Seeds, which is selling it as True Putt creeping bluegrass.

Created by Donald White, professor of horticultural science, this new creeping bluegrass is nothing short of a revolution in turf grass. The turf is very adaptable for multiple uses, but where it really shines is on golf greens. Compared to Poa annua, it is more disease resistant, has an improved color, and resists stress better. In addition, and of most interest to golfers, the vertical growth habit of the turf means that greens not only stay green but that golf balls roll better.

In cooler climates around the world like the Pacific Northwest, this new creeping bluegrass is taking root. "The feedback from golfers and the constant compliments on the density, color, and speed of greens makes True Putt the obvious choice for our putting surfaces," said Matt Peltier, head superintendent of Springhill Country Club in Albany, Oregon. Springhill is just one of several golf courses in Oregon and Washington using the turf.

Other courses using the University-developed variety include Pebble Beach and Riviera Country Club in California. In addition, DLF International is testing True Putt in England and Europe.

University researchers continue to work on improving turf varieties like Poa annua as well as other species like Kentucky Bluegrass, which is used in home lawns and athletic fields. "Much of the turf grass research at the University is focused on reducing inputs like fertilizer, pesticides, and water by developing better management practices and improved turf grass varieties resistant to various stresses," said Watkins.

If only these researchers could improve putters' aims on the greens at the same time, then we really would have something.

From Gateway to Research & Inventions, a publication of the Office of the Vice President for Research.