There’s been much discussion lately on the subject of water conservation within the golf course industry, and for good reason. As water demands outweigh water supplies in many areas of the country, several courses are starting to feel the pinch and are looking for ways to cut back on irrigation needs.
Methods such as rainwater harvesting have shown huge potential for water conservation in golf course management. Although rainwater harvesting is a great way to provide a free, steady, and sustainable supply of water, it’s only one side of the irrigation coin. Not only do we need to be able to supply a sustainable supply of water, but we need to consider using turfgrass species that don’t require much water to begin with.
One such alternative grass species that’s gained popularity in golf course use during recent years is Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides). Buffalograss is a North American native common to the Great Plains region, and can be found stretching from Manitoba and Saskatchewan (although rare) all the way through 22 American states and on down into Mexico. Not only does it have a large natural habitat, but Buffalograss can adapt to work well throughout most of the west and even as far east as Virginia.
This warm-season native has been praised for its very low irrigation requirements, natural resistance to pests and disease, and slow growth rate. Weed suppression is another attribute, as a healthy stand of Buffalograss usually has no problem overpowering competing weeds. On top of all this, Buffalograss has a low need for fertilizer, responding very well to light applications of nitrogen at the rate of ½ to 2 pounds per growing season.
That’s all well and good, but what about its quality and playability on the golf course? Buffalograss is naturally a low growing grass, usually getting 4-7 inches tall. For many years, the use of Buffalograss on the golf course seemed limited to roughs due to its poor performance at mowing heights under one inch. But with recently developed cultivars such as ‘Prestige’, the potential for Buffalograss to transition from a rough grass to a fairway grass has never been better. Developed by the University of Nebraska, ‘Prestige’ requires only about one inch of water per month, is resistant to most turf insects and diseases, and can be cut to height of 15.6 mm, or approximately ½ inch.
Just how much water can a Buffalograss golf course save? In a 2001 article by James T. Snow, the National Director of the United States Golf Association's Green Section, he states:
“Several improved cultivars of buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides), a native of the American Great Plains, have been developed by turfgrass breeders at the University of Nebraska. This grass can replace high water use grasses on fairways and roughs in a large geographic area of the Mid-West, resulting in water savings of 50% or more.”
It’s important to remember it’s not a miracle cure-all grass. There will be a few drawbacks to consider when thinking about Buffalograss for golf course use. For one, Buffalograss will go dormant in the cool winter months and will take longer in the springtime to green up than traditional cool-season grasses.
It does not tolerate shady conditions or over-watering, and some consider Buffalograss to be a lighter green color than traditional grasses. It’s important to analyze your unique conditions, climate, and irrigation requirements to see if Buffalograss would be a smart investment for your course.
Many golf courses have dramatically reduced their water, fertilizer, and pesticide use by replacing traditional turfgrass with Buffalograss. Together along with other sustainable practices such as rainwater harvesting, it is possible to dramatically reduce the large amounts of input required to maintain a professional golf course while still retaining the aesthetic value and playability that makes golf the beautiful (and in my case, humbling) sport it is.
From his earliest days growing up in a small northern Utah town, Skylar could always be found in the great outdoors. He developed a great love of nature and appreciation for beautiful landscapes, both natural and manmade, which led him to pursue a career that would allow him to spend as much time outdoors as possible. With an educational background in Horticulture from Utah State University, Skylar’s many years of experience in the landscape/turf industry has taught him much about working with nature. This in turn led him to realize that the future of this industry rests upon sustainability and responsible agricultural practices. He works for Naturesfinestseed.com, a company that believes strongly in the principal of sustainability.