Bermudagrass is Gaining Ground
or Tift 94, was developed by USDA/ARA
geneticist Dr. Wayne Hanna and his
research group at the University of
Georgia Coastal Plains Experiment
Station in Tifton, Georgia. This is
the same breeding program initiated
by Dr. Glen Burton, the program
responsible for Tifgreen, Tifdwarf
and TifEagle and for Tifway 419,
the longtime standard for fairways,
sports fields and home lawns.
As Dr. Hanna puts it,
"We identified a number of characteristics that we felt were key
for athletic fields and golf courses, as well as for high -end
landscapes and lawns. We wanted a grass with superior color, cold
hardiness and disease resistance. We also knew that rapid recovery
from injury was vital, so we concentrated on turf density, turf
strength and turf quality. And last but not least, our new variety had
to be able to tolerate frequent, lower mowing heights.''
New varieties aren't
developed overnight. Before its release in the spring of 1998, Dr.
Hanna put TifSport to the test in thirteen experiments at seven
locations. TifSport performed to the standards it was bred for:
excellent cold tolerance, color, texture and density; improved pest
tolerance; earlier spring green-up; and aggressive establishment.
After sixteen years of research and evaluation, Dr. Hanna and his crew
were ready to introduce their new variety.
Strict Controls Ensure
Mindful of the purity
problems that had begun to surface with Tifway, Dr. Hanna and Dr. Earl
Elsner, director of the Georgia Seed Development Commission put their
heads together to develop a set of safeguards for TifSport They came
up with a very simple but effective plan: control the source, control
propagation, control the sale.
1n addition to being
protected by a USDA patent, TifSport can only be grown and sold as
genetically certified sod or sprigs, and only by licensed members of
the Tift 94 Growers Association--a select group of 24 certified sod
producers who have agreed to adhere to the strict management standards
set by the Georgia
Commission. Elsner sums it up: "Is our program picky? Sure. But
folks who install TifSport on their fields or fairways today can count
on a match when they by TifSport five or ten years down the road.
So I think our customers
are going to really appreciate picky."
Early adopters of the new
variety confirmed that prediction in interviews with a GSDC
representative in August 1999. Joe Kennedy, of the famous "Little
Course" at Aspen Grove; Terry Porch, head grounds keeper at
Adelphia Coliseum; Bill Randles, Sports Turf Manager at Vanderbilt
University, and Rod Lingle, course superintendent at the Memphis
Country Club, reported their experiences with TifSport in "real
The Little Course at Aspen
The Little Course at Aspen
Grove was created by renowned golf course architect Bob Cupp as a kind
of living laboratory where turfgrass can be researched and studied
under actual playing conditions. Currently there are about 80
different grass varieties that have been seeded, sprigged, or sodded
on its fairways, greens, tees and roughs. TifSport debuted there as
one of Dr. Hanna's experiments.
Joe Kennedy, who oversees,
The Little Course, is also Director of Golf Maintenance at the Legends
Golf Club in Tennessee. "Ive been looking at TifSport and
Tifway 419 side-by-side on Aspen Grove number six fairway going can
five years now,"' Kennedy reported. "TifSport not only has a
much darker green color than the Tifway, it stays green longer, a good
2 weeks longer, and it greens up much earlier in the spring. It 's got
a lot better density, too, so the ball sits up higher. Our players
tell me they're getting better lies with TifSport."
Kennedy also gives
TifSport high marks for cold hardiness. "That's the number one
reason why I think TifSport is going to replace Tifway in the
Nashville area. We've had two consecutive winter kills on our 419, and
it didn't even faze the TifSport."
Titans Import Sod from
Kennedy spent the better
part of 1999 on loan to the Tennessee Titans as a consultant, so he
accompanied GSDC's interviewer to Adelphia Coliseum to introduce Terry
Porch, the young man responsible for taking care of both the new field
there and the three practice fields at the Titans' training compound.
Porch got into the groundskeeping business back in 1981 in Kansas
City. He worked for George Toma on the Chiefs' and Royals'
fields. "They had
artificial turf back then," he laughed, "but I knew that
Toma could teach me everything I needed to know about grass. George
has done every single Super Bowl.
groundskeeper, my job is to maintain this grass. Anything, to do with
the game field is my responsibility. All of the irrigation, the
fertilization, the mowing, pre-game activities, concerts. I have to
look out for the best interests of the grass, because, come Sunday,
you want to make sure people are seeing the best possible product you
can give them."
Joe fielded a question
about how the Titans decided on TifSport, because he was involved from
the outset. "At first we looked at zoysia, but soon decided on
Bermuda. In fact, the field was originally scheduled for 419. That's
when I asked if they would consider a different Bermuda variety if I
could show them a better grass. I wrote a letter outlining my reasons.
We ran the TifSport idea by George and Chip Toma and several other NFL
veterans, and they all concurred that TifSport was the up and corning
grass for sports fields. I've got to say that I think it was a pretty
gutsy move on the Titans' part to be the first NFL team with TifSport
But I also think is was a very smart move."
Sod vs. Sprigs
Construction began in
mid-February. They moved in the dirt, began taking it down to grade,
installed the drainage and irrigation systems, and finished up with 4
inches of pea gravel and l2 inches of a sand-peat-moss mix. According
to Porch, the soil conditions in south Texas were the best match for
Adelphia's sand-based field.
"About the first of
May, no more than a couple of days after the field was finished, we
started installing the sod," Porch said. "We brought it in
on refrigerated trucks from Thomas Brothers in San Antonio, a 22-hour
trip. One hundred and five thousand square feet of TifSport!
"S.W. Franks was the
contractor. I think they applied about a quarter pound of nitrogen per
week during grow-in. Everything else was based on soil tests and
tissue analysis. They also specified the sand, which included a
preplant fertilizer and a typical micronutrient package for this area.
When we took the field, we basically continued weekly soil and tissue
tests, and, for the most part, we fertilize accordingly.
"During this dry
spell, we've been watering the field every morning for about 15
minutes," Porch explained. "It's holding its color very
well. We're also mowing daily to maintain the half-inch height Coach
Fisher wants for Monday night's game. That'll change depending on who
we play, but mowing down is certainly a lot easier than going
The Vanderbilt Conversion
Bill Randles graduated
from the University of Tennessee with a degree in ornamental
horticulture and landscape design. He signed on with Vanderbilt
University fourteen years ago as a turf specialist to manage their
sand-based intramural fields. Now he's in charge of grounds care for
the entire university.
"'Artificial turf was
installed here at Dudley Stadium in 1984. When we decided to put in
real grass again last winter, I knew it was going to be Bermuda,
probably Tifway 419, which we already had on our practice fields. But
then I started reading and hearing a lot about a new variety, Tift 94.
It's now called TifSport. I talked at length to Wayne Hanna and UGA
turf specialist Gil Landry, and I was impressed with the research
behind TifSport. Fortunately, Joe Kennedy had a test plot in one of
his fairways up at The Little Course at the Legends. Thats where I
first saw TifSport. I just fell in love with the color. It was planted
right beside Tifway, and it was a much darker green. I'm from Kentucky
and it almost looked like Kentucky bluegrass to me. This was in
October, so I was extremely impressed with the quality of the grass,
"In January of
1999," Randles continued, "our artificial turf was ripped
up. Up also came four inches of asphalt base. We then re-worked our
sub grade to an 8-inch crown, put in drainage ditches on twenty foam
centers utilizing a herringbone design, and topped off our sub-grade
with 3-inches of pre-washed pea gravel. This field is designed to perc
at 20 inches an hour."
In fact, the entire field
was rebuilt to USGA golf green specifications.
"Next carne a l0-inch
mix of 95 percent sand and 5 percent peat moss," Randles said.
"We brought in over 9 million pounds of sand. We also tilled
polyethylene Sport Grid strips into the top four inches of sand. John
Hubbs of Stabilizer, Inc. handled this for us. Sport Grids are a
shorter version of turf grids, but are easier to manage and do a
better job of stabilizing the sand and grass.
"We sprigged in the
TifSport on May 13 at the rate of 2,000 bushels per acre, which is on
the high side. I told the crew I wanted this field green when they
drove off of it, and I swear, it almost was! We row planted and
broadcast all of the sprigs in the same direction, rolled the field
with a standard paving roller, and then turned on the
Bill's irrigation system
is also unique. "We decided to go with water cannons versus an
underground system. We didn't want any problems with broken pipes or
leaks stopping play. 'These are Nelson Water Cannons -
Number 100s. They put out
100 PSI at the nozzle and can deliver up to 200 gallons a
As for fertility,
"The day before we sprigged we incorporated in one pound of
46-0-0 per 1,000 square feet. It was Agricoturf II by Lange Fertilizer
Company. Right now we're fertilizing twice a week with a granular
12-12-24 and a seaweed based 28-5-20 liquid called Panacea, which
helps promote root development."
Randles likes TifSport's
density and sod strength. "TifSport is very, very dense, which we
feel will help our players' footing a lot. Our guys wear half -inch
cleats, the max, allowed by the NCAA. We started out mowing at 3/4 of
an inch, increased that to one inch, and are now at an inch and a
quarter, the height we'll probably maintain for games. We've had no
problems at all.
"I'm surprised at how
dense TifSport's rhizome layer is after such a short time," he
continued. "I can't tell you how it's going to hold up under real
game conditions yet, but we had a scrimmage here last Saturday, and as
you can see there was very little damage."
Randles planned to
overseed in mid September, and to cover the field after the season.
"We use a poly fabric material that keeps the field six to eight
degrees warmer than the outside air. It lets in water, light and air
but still does a good job of protecting the grass from freezing
Memphis Country Club
Rod Lingle grew up around
golf. "I played a lot as a junior and liked being outside, so
when I heard about the turf management program at Mississippi State I
transferred over there. I graduated in 1974 and went to the
Hattiesburg Country Club."
Lingle took the head
superintendent position at the Memphis Country Club in 1979.
"Being a head superintendent right out of school got me a lot of
The MCC fairways are now
zoysia, but up until 1998 they were all common Bermuda. As Rod
explained, the hybrid Bermudas in the Memphis area are all 419, and
they all experience lots of problems with winter kill. My common, on
the other hand, was holding up extremely well. In twenty years, we
only lost about six acres to cold weather. I think our common
Bermudagrass actually adapted genetically to the cold. But heck, this
course has been here since 1905. Besides, I saw no reason to switch to
419, given the problems other courses were having. Winter kill can
wreck your whole golfing season.
TifSport on the other
hand, is the first hybrid I've seen that rivals the cold tolerance of
the old common Bermudas. I wouldn't put it in the same category as the
zoysias, but in a transition area like Memphis, I think
if people are interested
in planting Bermudagrass fairways, TifSport would be my
recommendation. TifSport has a good six to seven-year track record. In
fact, the research I've seen shows about 50 to 60 percent less winter
kill in side by side tests with 419. It's the root system on Bermuda,
the rhizomes and stolons, that gets you through the winter, and
TifSport has a superior root system."
Rod recommends gradually
raising mowing heights on Bermudagrass starting in September.
"We'd go from a half inch to an inch on up to an inch and a half.
It did a world of good come spring,"
The Memphis Country Club
converted its fairways to Meyer zoysia in June. "We also
renovated our first and tenth tees. We put in TifSport. We also put
TifSport in on part of our number one fairway - from the tee out to
about 150 yards. This area doubles as a practice range, and I didn't
feel like the zoysia could handle a ball pick-up machine. We also did
something a little unusual on the approaches to our greens. We stopped
the zoysia about 10 yards short and put in TifSport. The front
entrances to our greens are all real narrow, so we were having real
problems using our fairway-mowing units. We could only cut in one
direction. With the TifSport we can use a walk behind mower, cut
closer, and maintain good density. I think these little chip and putt
TifSport aprons are going to work real well for us."
The MCC practice area is
also TifSport. "We installed the TifSport here in late February.
It greened up beautifully when it came out of dormancy. We have a
small practice area, which takes a terrific beating." Then he
explained, "This course is a Donald Ross course, and back in 1905
when it was built, they didn't put in practice tees. Nobody practiced.
Ben Hogan was actually the first pro to hone his skills on any kind of
a regular basis. After he became a practice fanatic and started
winning, other pros and even weekend golfers
started practicing. That's
why our practice area is so small and why we have to have a grass that
can take such punishment. We had 419 here, but the TifSport is going
to be a lot better. It has a better color, better texture, and will do
a better job for us in the winter.
"Prior to planting, I
talked to several people in the consulting business, and they all
thought that TifSport was going to take over the Bermudagrass market
in this area, and even further south. Unless it's a monetary thing, I
can't see how anybody would consider 419 over TifSport. 419 is not
going to be protected, either, not like TifSport is. There's been a
lot of 419 sold that wasn't pure 419. With TifSport and TifEagle
you've got growers' associations with very strict requirements."
Rod compares TifSport
favorably to 419, finding its density slightly better, with a
resulting increase in sod strength. "TifSport is a notch finer
than 419, so I think it will tolerate closer mowing heights. We're
going to try to cut our TifSport collars down to three-eighths after
this first year. TifSport is more upright than 419. It gives a better
lie. I've talked to some folks who are even considering it for their
roughs for this very reason. For drought tolerance, for disease
resistance, for playability, TifSport is right in there with zoysia.
In fact, a lot of professionals don't like zoysia grass because you
can't hit down on it very well. With a lot of these new grasses,
they're just trying to reinvent the wheel, and a cold tolerant
Bermudagrass like TifSport is going to run them right out of business.
Drs. Hanna and Elsner
Both Dr. Hanna and Dr.
Elsner are pleased with the acceptance of TifSport. According to
Hanna, "TifSport is
being most widely used in
the transition area through the upper South and central part of the
United States. Folks like the density, improved spring and fall color
and improved winter hardiness. In the southern US, TifSport offers
improved color, mole cricket non-preference and improved
Dr. Elsner reports that
even installation crews are recognizing the TifSports high sod
strength is a big advantage. There are fewer scraps and places to
repair while the sod is being laid. TifSports good rhizome and root
system also promotes fast growth and better stress tolerance during
He also says that the
Growers Association has been a big help in identifying research needs.
"The Certification requirement for TifSport has been a
challenge," he adds, "but is definitely worth the effort.
TifSport and TifEagle are the first Bermudagrass varieties ever
released that have genetic purity as a prerequisite before sprigs or
sod can be sold. Most other varieties ever released that have genetic
purity as a prerequisite before sprigs or sod can be sold. Most other
varieties are distributed with little or no quality control oversight.
The growers of TifSport are wiling to stand behind the genetic purity
of their grass, whether grown in GA, NC, CA, or Argentina. We feel
confident this will pay off in the long run, for both the growers and
Reprinted with permission
TURF, The Magazine for Turf Care Professionals
P O Box 449
659 Bay Street
St. Johnsbury, VT 05819
to TifSport Bermudagrass