Selective Overseeding: Caring for Our Biggest Asset

I’m not a golfer, but I’m glad that a portion of my monthly HOA assessment goes toward careful maintenance of the two courses we are fortunate to have in our community. For me, they are our most significant “amenity.” I appreciate their scenic beauty as landscaped greenbelts and a habitat for animals; I know their value to control flooding (they act as catch basins during a wet winter or summer monsoon season); and I believe they make our community a more desirable place to live, adding to our property values. And, certainly, a well-manicured course generates more revenue.

When I learned that our Board had decided not to overseed the roughs on the South Course this fall – as the Golf Advisory Committee had recommended – and heard that the HOA and Golf Operations staff wanted an article about this to appear in the View, I volunteered to write it. I remember the concerns that residents expressed two seasons ago, the last time the roughs were left dormant and turned a golden color that contrasted markedly with the emerald green of the tees, fairways, and holes. At that time, the then Board announced that this “selective overseeding” would probably occur every four years. So I wondered why the schedule was moved up.

What problems do we face?

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Just one of the many "hotspots" on the South Course: Hole #9 South, May 2014

As the cliché goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And the one below, taken in May 2014 after only a few days of hot weather, dramatically demonstrates the problem. You don’t even have to look closely to see the large bare patches where the winter ryegrass has already died because of the heat and the dormant Bermuda grass is not “transitioning” well to green up for the summer.

Unfortunately, we face some unique challenges in our community. First, when the South Course was being constructed, the developer planted a new type of hybrid Bermuda grass (TifSport) that agronomists were then touting as a much better alternative to traditional varieties typically used here. Although TifSport has a number of advantages, only belatedly was it discovered that TifSport also has a huge drawback: it requires high humidity, and thus a lot more water, to do well.

Other courses in the Valley that had also planted TifSport (including Stone Eagle, SilverRock, and Classic Club) have since removed it and substituted other turf. But we have not because of the substantial expense and downtime this would require.

A second concern is the soil in our area. It is some of the poorest in the entire Coachella Valley because of its very high clay content. The clay runs through the soil almost in ribbons, creating areas where drainage is poor and making it hard for turf to establish itself. These conditions are particularly evident on the course’s back nine.

Another difficulty is the high salt content of the canal water that is a major source for irrigation of the South Course. Salt chokes the roots of turfgrass, making it very difficult for the plants to take in water, air, and food and fertilizer.

Why does selective overseeding help?

An important consideration is the health of the course’s turf. Overseeding ryegrass onto the Bermuda weakens the roots of the Bermuda grass during the winter, when it goes dormant and the ryegrass is growing actively. As temperatures rise and the ryegrass dies, the Bermuda struggles to come back. Sometimes it does not react to water and/or fertilizers, resulting in turf loss. Foregoing over-seeding thus gives the Bermuda a better chance to thrive.

An independent, not-for-profit turf advisory service – the US Golf Association’s Green Section, which has over 100 years of experience – has strongly endorsed our Board’s decision to do selective overseeding. In fact, USGA agronomists are recommending that we continue this practice “indefinitely.”

For us allergy sufferers, there is also a nice corollary benefit: less severe “scalping” of the turf is necessary in the fall. This brings a dramatic reduction – up to 60 percent – of the airborne grass particles that trigger sneezes and itchy, watery eyes.

Selective overseeding will also mean a significant savings of water, critical at a time when California is in a severe drought. Golf courses have been asked to reduce consumption by 10 percent. Our estimated savings this season will be about 800,000 gallons.

Finally, there is also a sizable cost savings. This will be approximately $185,000 for water as well as seed, fertilizer, and manpower.

What will our South Course look like?

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Google Maps Photo
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View from the #10 green bank and the #11 Tee

Until about early December (when the first frosts come), the roughs will remain relatively green with nice “striping.” Then the Bermuda will go dormant and turn a golden brown. You can get an idea of the appearance from this aerial photo, taken in January 2012, and the accompanying ground-level photo (also taken in early 2012). 

The roughs will be treated with a mild chemical pre-emergent to discourage weed growth and maintain as uniform a color as possible.

The Bermuda will begin to green up again in mid-March, when the first hot days arrive and the ryegrass succumbs. The strengthened turf should look significantly better, like it did after the last selective overseeding two years ago.

What about aesthetics and property values?

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The famed links at St. Andrews in Scotland

Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but Golf Operations General Manager Tony Chavez estimates that about a third of Valley courses practice some sort of selective overseeding. However, neighboring Sun City Palm Desert – where courses are planted with a more “traditional” Bermuda – does not. In surrounding areas with arid climates, notably in Arizona and Nevada where water is far scarcer than here, many courses are sparsely irrigated except for the tees and greens. For example, in Sun City Anthem (just outside Las Vegas), courses show significant brown all year. The look is also strikingly similar in fall and winter to the famed links in Scotland, where golf was born.

Hard evidence is again difficult to pinpoint but, according to Chavez, studies that have been done in neighboring areas with similar climates have not identified an impact on property values. In an unscientific sampling, local realtors with whom I spoke also did not report a decline in sales and prices in our own community during the last round of selective overseeding once they explained the reasons to buyers.

A final word

Our Board, and the Golf Operations staff, hope this article will help to explain the Board’s decision more fully. They thank all our residents for their understanding and support so that we can ensure the health of our course for years to come and do our part to reduce water consumption.

Thanks to Lee Powell, Author of this article which was originally published in the September VIEW.