Haha. Typical Yahoo headline. But the whole story on overseeding can be found below. \From the WSJ.
There are some contentious issues here and disturbing to me is the idea that the rich folks who go southwest for winter golf 'require' green, not brown.
Why Brown Is the New Green
Overseeding—Used to Keep Warm-Weather Layouts Verdant in Winter—Gets an Overhaul
When snowbirds from colder climes travel to the desert Southwest this winter to play golf, they might not realize that most of the courses here have grown a special crop of grass just for them. Each fall, grounds crews overseed cool-weather grass, usually rye, on top of the hot-weather Bermuda turf that is just going dormant. If they didn't, the fairways—during the region's high golf season—would be as brown as the desert sands.
Environment-minded folks, as well as bean counters in golf-course managers' offices, might well say: That sounds great. Dormant turf requires no water, no fertilizer and limited maintenance. And it's an excellent playing surface. Howard Twitty, the three-time PGA Tour winner, who grew up and still lives in the Phoenix area, told me last week that golf balls sit up beautifully on dormant fairways: "You get a perfect lie almost every time."
Grayhawk Golf Club
This view of the Talon course at Grayhawk shows green, overseeded fairway, and dormant rough next to it.
But aesthetics trump all when it comes to luring winter golfers, and traditionally they want to see green. "Courses here get 65% to 85% of their revenue during high season," said Justin Wood, executive director of golf for Fairmont Hotels, which includes the Scottsdale Princess Resort and its associated TPC Stadium course. "If you're a high-end course, the expectation is you'll overseed. If you don't, you can't charge the rates you need and your business will go elsewhere."
Even so, overseeding practices in the Southwest have changed dramatically in the last five to seven years, as the golf industry's overbuilding boom went bust and put pressure on bottom lines. The cost of water in the region has risen 40%, according to Brian Whitlark, regional agronomist for the U.S. Golf Association, and fertilizer costs have tripled. Most courses now only partially overseed. The good news is that golfers so far seem fine with that downsizing. The question is how much more they will accept.
(Some courses in the southeastern U.S. also overseed, but they aren't as dependent on the practice because winter isn't the prime playing season there. Courses in the north don't overseed, because grass doesn't grow there in the winter. Courses in most of Florida also don't overseed, because the grass there doesn't stop growing in winter.)
The two courses at Grayhawk, a deluxe 36-hole daily-fee facility here, are typical of where overseeding stands today. The superintendent, Ernie Pock, overseeds the fairways, greens and tee boxes but not the rough. I visited last week, played the Talon course (the other is called Raptor) and it was fine. The contrast between the rough, which will get even more golden as the season progresses, and the green fairways was visually appealing. The distinction makes it easier for golfers to know where they should be hitting and actually helps speed up play.
Rough can be 30% to 60% of a course's total acreage, said Whitlark, the USGA agronomist. Limited watering of that much turf for four or five months can save tens of thousands of dollars in Arizona. But water isn't the main savings. The seed alone can cost $100,000 per course. Fuel costs mount from frequent mowing and water-pumping. The labor costs of overseeding are also significant. Courses usually have to shut down for two to three weeks to let the new grass grow in, which hurts green-fee revenues. Overall, Pock estimates, overseeding costs can run as high as $350,000 to $500,000 a year for a high-end course.
It also weakens the Bermuda turf, as it and the winter rye duke it out for dominance. After overseeding, the summer turf is slower to grow back in and may stay scraggly into midsummer. That's the reason that Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, which will host the 2014 U.S. Open, has stopped overseeding entirely: It wants its Bermuda fairways as strong and healthy as possible for the big event. It does, however, paint the dormant fairways green each winter, so that many resort visitors don't even notice.
Painting fairways is just one of the tricks that course supers can use to cut down on overseeding. The latest paints, with so-called fractured pigments, allow the plant leaves to breathe normally and also keep them warmer, thereby helping the turf green up faster in the spring. Advanced new species of Bermuda grass, most notably ultradwarf on the greens, can tolerate more traffic without damage when dormant, reducing the need for overseeding them at all. (The handful of bentgrass greens in the desert Southwest also don't need to be overseeded.)
A few progressive courses are pursuing alternative overseeding strategies. Phoenix Country Club did "reverse" overseeding this fall: allowing its fairways to go dormant, but overseeding the rough. The rationale, according to course superintendent Charlie Costello, is partly to reduce the club's carbon footprint by using less fertilizer, fuel and water. For members, an added advantage—this one more fun—is that drives roll out on the firmer, faster dormant turf an extra 30 to 50 yards.
At Desert Mountain, a private residential enclave in Scottsdale with six Jack Nicklaus courses, two courses each year are not being overseeded, on a rotating basis. The practice gives the Bermuda turf a year to recover from its annual battle with the rye, and creates a window for groundskeepers to eradicate the unwanted poa annua grass that threatens to creep onto the greens.
"It can be a tough sell, but attitudes are definitely evolving," said the USGA's Whitlark, who has sat it on several meetings at clubs across the Southwest at which greens committees have tried to persuade members to overseed less.
Given the progress that researchers are making on new, hardier grasses and agronomic techniques, Pock, a third-generation Arizona golf-course expert, expects more courses to move to minimal overseeding in the years ahead. At first they may drop overseeding for just one year every two or three, while judging member and customer reactions. "In the old boom days, when we were printing money out here, nobody cared," he said. "But we've learned a lot recently about how to create good playing surfaces at much less cost. I don't know if high-end clubs will ever get there [to no overseeding at all], but they might." Meanwhile, they can always bring out the green paint.
—Email John Paul at email@example.com.
A version of this article appeared December 15, 2012, on page A14 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Why Brown Is the New Green.