The grass is grass, right? Actually, in golf, no it isn’t. The type of grass on your course will affect your game. In this article, we are going to look at the different kinds of golf greens and the varieties of grasses.
The more we understand about the characteristics of the grass on the courses we play the more edge we will have. Why does it matter? The speed and the roll of the ball can change a lot with different types of grass.
Landscaping and course design
Back in golf history, in the origins of the game along the Scottish coast, the grass was just what grew naturally. (These courses are called links, by the way, links being the link between the farmland and the sea). Tough grass and windy conditions were the norms, and they still are. It’s what makes these courses so challenging to play.
As golf developed as a game, commercial golf courses came into being. The growth of commercial golf courses means landscaping and maintenance. Both of these things determine what type of golf green you will be playing on.
It is on the fairways that you will see the most variation in types of grass. In the United States, Perennial Ryegrass or Kentucky Bluegrass have traditionally been the most common. They are very popular with golf club managers and owners as they are low maintenance and hardy and robust. They can stand up to a lot of golfers’ feet and golf balls before they need reseeding or relaying.
These types of grass do have some competition from newer grasses on the block. The understanding of how different greens behave in different climates has come on leaps and bounds in the past few decades.
In colder climates, a variety of grass called Creeping Bent grass has become increasingly popular as it tolerates close cutting, which gives a fast surface for play. Further south, where dry conditions and high heat are the norms it is likely that you will find yourself playing on Zoysiagrass.
The grass in the rough is longer and tougher than that on the fairway. It is usually Kentucky bluegrass or Perennial Rye which grow well to longer lengths. This type of grass, especially when it is allowed to grow longer, makes it harder to hit the ball, which is why golfers try to avoid getting stuck in the rough.
A smooth green where the ball runs true is what we all want on the green. The critical characteristic of grass on the greens in that it is short and smooth. This means a type of grass which tolerates regular short cutting.
Bentgrass or Bermuda grass is the contemporary favorites for this, with Bent grass being more common in the north and Bermuda grass in the south. Older or less well-maintained courses may use ryegrass or annual bluegrass, which are hardier but tend to give a bumpier surface.
If you play regularly on such a course, you will become very practised at putting on an uneven surface, which is a skill in itself.
If you play on a southern course, where rainfall is sparse, you may have seen the brown look of some of the grass as the summer moves on. Golf course managers hate this, as do golfers. Bermuda grass is the answer. It grows in the driest of climates and will tolerate long droughts. In fact, it thrives best in hot weather. It is often paired with Zoysia grass, another variety which does well in drought conditions. It is slow growing, so is most often used on fairways and tee boxes, where its hard-wearing nature is most appreciated. You will rarely see these grasses further north. They do not tolerate freezing temperatures and will die if exposed to below zero for very long.
If you play on a coastal course or in more temperate climes, you will probably be playing on Bent grass. This is a durable grass which can be mowed short and will still behave even when trampled upon by a significant number of golfers. It does not need a lot of water and will maintain a healthy green color throughout the summer. Another favorite grass for these locations is Ryegrass. This is most often used on fairways and on the rough. It is fine and smooth when closely mowed and hard-wearing, while still being flat enough to give a fast surface. It will not tolerate freezing conditions though so you will rarely see it in regions where the temperature drops below zero over the winter.
How to play on different types of golf greens
You may be saying, “this is all very interesting, but why should I care?” All golfers should care because it will affect your game. Different grasses have different characteristics, and if you know this, you can vary your shots and adapt your game accordingly. Then you will have the advantage in competition rounds or even in friendly play.
Playing on Bent grass
The blades of Bent grass are soft and pliable so they will not affect the roll of the ball as you putt towards the hole. The smoothness of this grass means you will get a true roll. This grass is quite fast, so you may need to work on controlling the speed of the ball, especially if you are pitching out of a hazard and onto the green. You may also consider varying your grip to accommodate the faster surface. The general rule is to lessen the pressure of your grip when on a fast surface.
Fast greens can be especially challenging to play when you are under pressure. Work out some routines for yourself to slow down your play. Rehearse each stroke in your head before you play the stroke. Stop and consider which club to use and take your time. Everything which slows the tempo will benefit your game.
Playing on Annual Bluegrass
This grass is also called Poa Annua. You may be able to identify it by the little flowers which grow on the top. These look very sweet but are little demons. They can change the roll of your ball much more than their size would suggest. They can even make the ball bounce when you want it to roll smoothly. To get the better of the bluegrass, you will need some defensive and cautious play. You will need to pay attention to the line and the break of your putts. Here is some good advice to get you doing this:
Playing on Bermudagrass
Bermudagrass is durable and sturdy. It is also smooth, so your putts should roll true. The distinctive thing about this type of grass is that it changes its characteristics at different times of the day. You need to understand your particular green before you even attempt to play your putting shots.
The crucial thing is to notice the direction in which the blades are facing. The grass itself will give you clues. If it looks shiny, it is facing away from you. This makes the surface very fast. If the grass looks very dark, then it is facing towards you. This will make your putts much slower. Another clue is to look at the position of the sun. Bermuda grass will generally face the sun.
Grass and golf course designers
We have been speaking about the natural qualities of different types of grass up until now. However fellow golfers, there is another factor we need to consider. Golf course designers change and cut the grass to increase the difficulties and challenges of their course.
Golf course designers pay more attention to the psychology of the game than most of us realize. They will use grass to create challenges for even the best players.
The fashion is to mow less and roll more. This makes the greens faster. Short grass can be a hazard as well as a help. A swathe of smooth grass can create a feeling of indecision in even the best golfers. A mowed bank can take a mis-hit shot way out of the range of where you wanted the ball to go.
These are two typical examples of how golf course designers use grass. There are many, many more. Set yourself a golfing challenge the next time you play on your regular course. Ask yourself at each hole what the golf course designer has done to challenge players like you. The best golf course designers work at different levels. They will design a course which a high handicapper can play and enjoy but build in challenges for the low handicapper as well.
If you are new, welcome this. One day you will be able to get the better of that smooth, deceptively easy-looking green.
Enjoy your golfing!