Expert Insights: Fescue Selection Strategies: Building Resilient Golf Course Fairways

With experts predicting that droughts like the one in UK 2022 are likely to become more frequent turf managers will be looking for ways to reduce the impact on their surfaces, while maintaining sward health and density during prolonged periods of hot and dry weather. Looking at golf courses in particular, many clubs have made major steps forward since the last major drought incidence, but what can they do now to further mitigate the impact in future? Stuart Yarwood MG, Regional Technical Manager at DLF and Anne Mette Dahl Jensen Product Development Manager at DLF explores how drought-tolerant Fescues are fundamental in effective fairway management.

Lessons from 2018: Strengthening Golf Course Fairways with Drought-Resistant Fescues

The drought experienced in 2018 provided valuable lessons. The perfect storm of prolonged, intense heat combined with extended drought conditions exposed the vulnerabilities of poorly rooted areas on turf grass playing surfaces. When natural rainfall finally returned, these weakened areas lost out to pioneer species like annual meadow grass, resulting in sustained deterioration of the surfaces quality over the long term.

Although the native Fescues successfully regenerated on fairways that were stroke by these hydrophobic ground conditions, the hangover was still visible at some courses around the country even four years later. This was particularly pronounced during 2022, another recorded drought episode, which appeared to be more severe than the one experienced in 2018.

Many clubs have indeed wisely invested in irrigation upgrades, utilised wetting agents, and increased the frequency of aeration operations to improve root development and moisture management. However, it is still important to perform recovery overseeding over the next few months to further strengthen turf resilience.

Fescue Selection Strategies: Adapting to Spring and Summer Drought Challenges

It is important to understand the effects of different types of drought. Spring droughts occur when, despite the lack of rain, water remains available in the deeper soil layers, necessitating the use of deep-rooting species like Fescue. Combine this with challenging night temperatures and east winds this results in low growth potential and stressed plants. Hence, selecting the right sustainable and high-quality cultivars becomes extremely important.

During a summer drought, even the deeper layers of the profile can run dry and the simultaneous higher temperatures mean the grass above ground has to be able to withstand dehydration from extended ET rates. In 2018 we lost grass as it was too hot for too long, and modern thinking went on to explore other species of Fescue such as Sheep’s and Hard as well as established Fescue species such as Slender, Strong and Chewings.

Choosing the Perfect Blend: Fescue Species for Quality and Resilience

Fescue, with its rolled, protected leaves and deep rooting, is likely to be the dominant species on most golf course fairways. Promoting the growth of naturally-occurring grasses, particularly Fescue, aligns with best practices. Fescue stands out as a sustainable species that is versatile, hard wearing, deep rooting with low nutrient demands, aesthetic appeal, and remarkable drought tolerance.

When selecting grass species, it’s crucial to match them with the specific growth characteristics you require. Choose a mixture of Fescue species and cultivars that will deliver quality and performance across the board.

Slender and Strong Creeping Red Fescues are excellent choices for autumn recovery due to their creeping rhizomes, which aid in regenerate worn areas. Chewings that are visually attractive with good colour and grow in an upright nature offer excellent turf density and disease tolerance. Hard Fescue, characterized by its dense growth and robust upright leaves, complements Sheep’s Fescue, which is both upright and drought-resistant, making it ideal for closely-mown areas and especially suitable for poor soils under tournament mowing conditions.

There has been a swing in a lot of mixture formulations to including Sheep’s and Hard fescue because of their hard-wearing properties, low requirement for nutritional inputs and tolerance to a range of environmental stresses.

At DLF, we research and test all of our cultivars to ensure we only put the best into the market. Looking at the graph results from our Radimax Drought Tolerance testing (pictured), you will see that Slender, Hard & Sheep’s can be grouped into the red box of High Drought Tolerance.

Figure: Drought tolerance of turfgrass species during 2012 and 2013 as indicated by visual merit score

“Fescue Blends for Golf Course Resilience: Johnsons Sports Seed Range”

Reinforcing the benefits of a blend, most of the DLF mixtures available from the Johnsons Sports Seed ranges comprise a variety of fescue species for improved sward quality and sustainable management.

Johnsons J Fescue, The leading greens Fescue mix, combines three slender and three chewings fescue cultivars to create a high quality sward that requires lower input of water and fertiliser.

Johnsons J Fairway is a sustainable blend of Chewings, Slender, Strong, and Hard Fescues, top rated for visual merit and improved drought and disease tolerance

Johnsons J Links is a pure rhizomatous Slender mix designed for maximum drought recovery

Johnsons J Premier Fairway Supremely suited to fairways and tees, provides the ultimate formulation of chewings, slender, strong, sheep’s and hard fescue – with four of the seven cultivars included topping the BSPB charts.

J Sustain-Fairway has been designed to suit golf clubs looking to significantly boost the population of more resilient Hard and Sheep’s Fescues – known for their increased tolerance to a broad range of turf stresses. With a natural foundation of strength, this fairway mix allows for reduced nutrient, water and chemical inputs all while maintaining exceptional turf quality.

You can also find DLF Fescue mixtures designed for golf courses in countries beyond the UK. The specific composition and varieties included in these mixes may differ from those specified in the Johnson mixes.

“Maximizing Fescue Overseeding Benefits: Best Practices for Golf Course Maintenance”

To maximize the benefits of fescue overseeding, it’s essential to follow proper maintenance practices. Ensuring good soil contact and optimal soil temperatures is paramount. With soil temperatures remaining favourable well into November, this period offers an excellent opportunity to introduce Fescues to your course. During these cooler time, of limited drought and heat stress  mowing heights will be higher, frequency of cut reduced, and therefore protecting the newly hatched seedlings from damages.

As with most operations, be sure to communicate well with golfers and committees. Clearly explain why this overseeding work is being undertaken and emphasize the advantages it will bring when the new playing season arrives. This proactive communication fosters understanding and support for the maintenance efforts.

It important to choose the right species and cultivars of grass for your site, your agronomic direction and budget. Please also consider the commercial availability on grass seed mixes as demand for seed can peak through these stressful times, leaving stocks and greenkeepers/contractors seeding machines running low.

Once the seed is in the ground, when conditions allow, encourage deep rooting with low disturbance frequent slitting or Vertidraining on the fairways. Targeted hollow coring for any particularly compacted or problematic area, prior to seeding will be beneficial. If budgets permit, utilise Seaweed tonics & penetrants on the fairways over the winter to maximise moisture movement through the profile, thus restoring moisture retention to hydrophobic areas.

If fairways are de-compacted, traffic managed, and enjoy sustainable nutrient & moisture levels, along with good agronomic husbandry, then Fescues will naturally flourish.

Hopefully the team at DLF can help you understand how the incorporation of Fescue fits into the broader operations and management of the course and help you plan and create success through future climate change, whatever the weather may bring.

DLF launch J Sustain-Fairway for unrivalled sustainable fairway management

Market demand for a blend of resilient Fescue cultivars and high percentages of native Hard Fescue has seen the introduction of J Sustain-Fairway from DLF. J Sustain-Fairway is the latest in a strong line up of fairway mixtures from Johnsons Sports Seed which already includes J Fairway, J Rye Fairway and J Premier Fairway, offering a range of sustainable options to suit all needs and budgets.

J Sustain-Fairway has been designed to suit golf clubs looking to significantly boost the population of more resilient Hard and Sheep’s Fescues – known for their increased tolerance to a broad range of turf stresses. With a natural foundation of strength, this fairway mix allows for reduced nutrient, water and chemical inputs all while maintaining exceptional turf quality.

Ideal for links and heathland venues, J Sustain-Fairway contains 20% Dumas and 20% Crystal Hard Fescue, together with 15% Quatro Sheep’s Fescue. Hard & Sheep’s Fescue provide exceptional drought recovery, salt tolerance and natural support against some common turf pests & diseases – with anecdotal evidence highlighting the benefits of Hard Fescue in an integrated pest management (IPM) program. Found naturally on shallow infertile soils, these varieties are perfect for sustainable turf management, requiring very little in the form of artificial inputs to maintain an outstanding playing surface.

Crystal and Quatro are two of four number one rated cultivars from the BSPB list included in this blend. Adding further sward strength and density the formulation is 20% Rossinante Strong Creeping Red Fescue and 15% Nigella Slender Creeping Red Fescue, both renowned for their unmatched salt, Dollar Spot and Red-Thread tolerance, as well as 10% Orionette Chewings Fescue which demonstrates excellent spring growth and contributes to a robust and hard-wearing turf even under heavy traffic.

Commenting on its introduction, Amenity Sales and Marketing Manager for DLF Derek Smith said, “The team at DLF have worked very closely with a number of turf managers and some of the industry’s leading advisors to develop the optimal formulation for J Sustain-Fairway. This new mixture is perfect for course managers looking for a high performance, fine-turf fairway formulation equipped to withstand the environmental challenges of the future.”

Sustainability Solutions for Golf Course Fairways: Harnessing the Power of Fine Fescue Grasses

Golf course fairways, the lush and sprawling canvases upon which the game is played, face an array of sustainability challenges that demand innovative solutions. The pursuit of pristine fairways often comes at a cost, with significant irrigation needs, chemical inputs and energy consumption. However, a promising avenue to address these challenges lies in the strategic integration of fine fescue grasses into the fairway management approach.

Cardigan Golf club west Wales. Photo by Stuart Adams Head Greenkeeper Cardigan GC

The Sustainability Challenges:

The allure of vibrant fairways often results in intensive water use, creating strain in regions grappling with water scarcity. The overreliance on irrigation not only depletes local water resources but also exacerbates water shortages, impacting ecosystems and communities.

Furthermore, maintaining the ideal fairway appearance requires the application of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Improper usage of these chemicals can lead to soil and water pollution, disrupting local ecosystems and wildlife.

Energy-intensive activities like mowing, aeration, and irrigation contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, reflecting a need for more sustainable maintenance practices.

Fine Fescue Grasses: Pioneering Sustainability:

Fine fescue grasses, which include varieties such as chewing fescue (Festuca rubra ssp. commutata), slender creeping red fescue (F. rubra ssp. littoralis), strong creeping red fescue (F. rubra ssp. rubra), sheep fescue (F. ovina), and hard fescue (F. trachyphylla syn. Festuca brevipila), constitute a group of cool-season grasses renowned for their adaptability to various environmental and management conditions. These grasses have earned a reputation for their exceptional tolerance to shade, drought, salt, and cold, and for being well-suited for locations with minimal resource inputs. Specifically, they thrive in settings with low requirements for fertilizer, water, and pesticides, making them an optimal choice for golf courses emphasizing resource conservation.

Fine fescue grasses offer an sustainable solution for golf courses rooted in their unique attributes.

Water Conservation: Fine fescues’ are drought tolerant which reduce the need for frequent irrigation. This sustainable trait helps preserve precious water resources, a cornerstone of responsible golf course management.

Reduced Chemical Dependence: Fine fescues naturally exhibit higher resistance to diseases and pests compared to other turfgrass varieties. This inherent resilience translates to decreased reliance on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, curbing environmental harm. This is extremely important looking into a potential pesticide ban.

Nutrient Efficiency: The lower nutrient requirements of fine fescue grasses result in reduced fertilizer usage. This not only saves costs but also prevents nutrient runoff into water bodies, safeguarding aquatic ecosystems.

Energy Efficiency: The relatively lower maintenance demands of fine fescues translate to reduced mowing and equipment use. This decrease in fuel consumption directly contributes to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Fine Fescue Variety Traits:

While the fine fescue group shares common characteristics, it’s important to note the distinctiveness of individual species, which greatly enhances their utility when blended together.

In terms of salt tolerance, slender creeping red fescue stands out with the highest level of tolerance, just below to tall fescue (F. arundinacea). On the other hand, chewing fescue boasts the highest shade tolerance among fine fescues, although as a group, fine fescues as a whole exhibit significantly greater shade tolerance compared to Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne).

Generally red fescue, thrives across diverse environments. Sheep’s fescue excels in low-maintenance settings, making it ideal for water-conscious landscapes. Hard fescue’s ability to thrive in poor soils and tolerate shade and drought positions it as an exemplary choice for sustainable landscapes.

Strategic Implementation: While fine fescue grasses boast impressive traits, prudent selection tailored to climate, soil conditions, and course usage is imperative. Consultations with turfgrass experts and agronomists ensure that the chosen approach aligns with desired sustainability outcomes.

In conclusion, the challenges facing golf course fairways are not insurmountable. By embracing fine fescue grasses, we bridge the gap between tradition and innovation, crafting a sustainable path forward. These grasses, with their water efficiency, reduced chemical needs, energy savings, and compatibility with diverse environments, encapsulate the very essence of a greener, more sustainable future for golf course management. As stewards of the green, it is our responsibility to shape fairways that harmonize with nature, ensuring a legacy of golf that thrives in balance with the environment.

Disease watch by DLF

The Significance of Engaging with End-Users: DLF’s Disease Survey Initiative

DLF, the world’s largest turf & amenity seed breeder has embarked on a groundbreaking journey, conducting an extensive disease survey, with responses from turf professionals from all sectors around Europe.

This ground breaking initiative engaged with turf users around Europe, undertaking different turf disciples from municipalities, sod production, golf to high end football stadiums, hoping to gain critical insights into modern disease prevalence.

DLF, as stewards of our landscapes, recognizes that understanding disease characteristics and how they affect your turfs playing quality is paramount. This knowledge and feedback gained from the highly skilled and experienced turf sector, empowers us to tailor our grass breeding research and cultivar screening and support the unique needs of our customers.

Whether it’s Dollar Spot in Holland, or Fusarium in Finland, with climate changes, potential pesticide bans, and the emergence of new, uncharted diseases not evaluated on European recommended lists, the importance of this survey becomes even more evident.

By meticulously identifying prevalent diseases, DLF and their breeding programs are working hard to offer sustainable solutions at a time when there is a growing demand for environmentally friendly practices combined with disease tolerant cultivars.

Surveying the Landscape

The survey gathered responses from 366 participants, representing diverse European countries. Notably, 257 respondents hailed from golf courses.

The golf segment, offered invaluable insights into disease distribution across greens, tees, and fairways, shedding light on geographical variations. These results and disease trends, some expected, and some surprising to us, will seamlessly integrate into DLF’s breeding program and marketing strategies. Armed with this newfound knowledge, DLF is committed on follow-up expeditions to specific golf courses willing to provide additional information on maintenance, grass selection, and more.

This strategic engagement working with enthusiastic and conscientious turf professionals, empowers DLF to refine its breeding programs and cultivar screening.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and with the impending restrictions on how we manage our turf, we must all work together to enhance our turf health, increase playing quality and redefine industry standards whilst communicating with our stakeholders, and improving and protecting the environment we all share.

would like to express our sincere gratitude to all the golf courses that took part in this survey. Your valuable input is greatly appreciated.