Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Cold weather, seeding strategies leave Tampa Bay area courses with green and brown grass

On the USF Golf Course’s 11th hole, the fairway at left is green and the rough at right is brown. Generally in the winter, bermuda grass fades, so greens and fairways are overseeded to promote new growth.


On the USF Golf Course’s 11th hole, the fairway at left is green and the rough at right is brown. Generally in the winter, bermuda grass fades, so greens and fairways are overseeded to promote new growth.

If you're just getting to the Tampa Bay area looking to play golf, or if you're a local getting on a course for the first time this winter, you may have one question: What happened to the courses? They sure don't look like the pictures on their Web pages. But before you start berating the course superintendent, know that nothing is wrong with them. Bermuda grass, which grows on Florida courses, generally goes dormant during the winter. Throw in a deep freeze in early January, and the grass looks brown and unattractive. To combat the dormant grass, most courses overseed fairways and greens with winter-tolerant grasses such as rye. That has left most courses with strips of green fairways and greens with brown grass framing it. Don't worry. They may look uninviting, but it won't last.

"(Cold weather) doesn't really kill the bermuda or bahia grass that's out there,'' said Brooksville Country Club director of golf Roger Eppley, whose course survived several mornings of weather in the teens.

"What it does is just knocks it back and becomes dormant until the weather warms. It will all come back. It's a lot more evident this year because we've had such cold weather for a long period of time.''

Kevin Burnsworth, head professional at Heritage Pines Country Club in Pasco County, has a good description of what area courses look like now.

"It kind of gives it an Arizona effect, which is pretty cool,'' Burnsworth said. "It looks like you're playing golf in the desert.''

What is overseeding?

When the days get shorter and the temperature dips, bermuda grass starts to fade. Bermuda grass loves summer and full sun, which is why Florida courses are green from April through November.

But when the air gets cooler, bermuda slowly goes dormant. To prevent courses from becoming totally brown, grounds crews will overseed the greens and fairways. That means they will lay grass seed, usually rye grass, on top of the existing grasses to promote new growth. The rye grass will take over while the bermuda grass lays dormant underneath.

"The key to bermuda grass is the 150 rule,'' said USF Golf Course assistant general manager Drew Petersen. "It's a combination of the daytime and nighttime temperatures. If they equal 150, then the bermuda is going to flourish. If it's under that, then the rye grass will stay strong.

"In the spring, the bermuda and rye will fight for food, and it's kind of a transition period.''

The overseeding is usually done in November. The idea is to get the rye growing just as the bermuda grass goes dormant. The result is the green fairways and tee boxes prevalent at most courses. And greens stay green with a variety of seeds, usually ultra dwarf, which is used at USF to keep its greens carpetlike.

The rough is especially brown because it's bermuda or bahia grass.

"We've got green fairways and greens," Eppley said. "But it would be cost prohibitive to overseed your entire golf course.''

Keeping a course green is a big selling point for area courses. Courses could opt to keep bermuda year-round, and they would play the same in summer or winter. The greens would actually be "browns,'' or "purples,'' but Burnsworth said they would still roll the same.

"If you didn't have (overseeding), the whole course would be dead and the greens would turn a purpleish color,'' Burnsworth said. "You can still play on it, but the average person is thinking that if it's green, it's good.''

Making up for lost time

Though the courses survived this year's freeze, the weather did wreak havoc on the bottom line. For more than a week, frost covered area courses and limited morning play. In most cases, courses were closed because of frost until at least 11 a.m., especially in the northern counties.

For courses that usually start tee times at 7 a.m., that's nearly four hours per day of lost revenue.

"We were fine, except for the fact that nobody wants to play golf when it's 17 degrees in the morning,'' Eppley said. "You lose revenue that you never regain. That's the bad side of it. It knocked golf for a loop.''

Those lost tee times don't come back. So area course general managers are crossing their fingers and hoping the weather stays warm.

"We've had 13 straight days of frost up here, so we lost a lot of our morning times,'' Burnsworth said.

"When you're talking about 120 people out in a morning times 13 days, that's a significant loss of tee times. Public and semiprivate courses suffer big time at the cash register. It could be as much as $30,000 in a month.''

Cold weather, seeding strategies leave Tampa Bay area courses with green and brown grass 01/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 9:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jones: Koetter-Winston exchange highlights latest 'Hard Knocks'


    There are certain things that make HBO's Hard Knocks must-see television.

    Jameis Winston, left, has an exchange with Dirk Koetter that highlights Hard Knocks.
  2. Trevor Plouffe is DFA'd by Rays, Kittredge recalled for now


    INF Trevor Plouffe didn't do much with the opportunity the Rays gave him, and time ran out Tuesday when he was designated for assignment after the game.

    Plouffe hit just .178, with one homer and two RBIs, in 31 games for the Rays, his primary playing time from starting at first or third against lefties.

  3. Rays journal: Offense shows signs of waking up in win over Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The drought was so severe that it's still probably too soon to say the Rays are out of it, but scoring a half-dozen runs in Tuesday's 6-5 win over the Blue Jays was another promising sign.

    Corey Dickerson high-fives Wilson Ramos after hitting a solo home run in the third inning, putting the Rays up 2-1.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Blue Jays game

    The Heater

    C Wilson Ramos, coming off right knee surgery, often takes it easy on the bases, though it's not always a good look. But he hustled when he needed to Tuesday and got the Rays a run by beating out a two-out infield single, finishing with three more hits.

  5. Rays are full of ideas they'd like to share when commissioner visits

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Commissioner Rob Manfred is coming to the Trop today. Hmm. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg will be there to greet him. Hmmmm. And they have a scheduled joint media session. Hmmmmmmmmm.

    Commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t expected to say anything definitive about the Rays’ stadium situation when he visits the team today.