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Adding native grass areas to a course? Any experience?

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Jim Thompson:

We are very happy with our various native wetland and prairie areas.  I would however offer two caveats.  

The first is to inform the customer base of your final intention as some stands / varieties may take a few years to reach the beautiful stage.  Most native grasses and varieties do not require fert or irrigation and only begin to grow above ground once they are fully established relative to root depth.  So in the "grow-in" stage you may literally be looking at weeds, particularly if the area you are converting has water or has unused nutrients.  The exception being wetland areas that need to be burnt off then seeded with native wet species.

The second would be to avoid the temptation to pursue a mono-stand.  Use various grass types and to maximize color and pop through out the season and recognize that not everything you want and plant will grow.  Its the just part of the native God decides what grows here picture.

As for maintenance; in the first years you may find yourself mowing at various heights and times of year to minimize seed heads from unwanted invasive plant materials like thistle.  Second selective and planned burning is a part of successful native management in most cases and you’d best make sure that the smoke and what not are ok with the neighbors.  Timely burning and proper annual mowing can eliminate and/or drastically reduce the presents of undesirable critters as well.

Have plenty of patience!  Explain the goal to the customer and explain the timeline so they can have as much patience as possible as well.  Native areas are not for those with a need for instant gratification.

We used a native specialist and have eight different custom mixes on our sight each specific to soil type, sun, water, etc.  Avoid the “wild flowers” for forbs where possible, the result is more natural and over the long term a better bang for the buck!



congrats on what sounds like a comprehensive and detailed plan at Angels Crossing, that you brought to fruition Jim. ;D


I've no real idea what the overall "look" of your course and it's area is but up here in the Northeast on many of our courses the idea and inclusion of "native areas" (fescue and mix) has been a virtual disaster on some courses and clubs. It was basically responsible for a membership revolution on an otherwise excellent restoration at Aronimink.

We considered it in our restoration, as Gil Hanse proposed it in basically "off play" areas but the committee turned down the idea rather quickly. In restrospect I think that decision was a good one.

We, at first, thought the fact that those areas would not have to be mowed was a good thing but our superintendent convinced us that really wouldn't be a cost saving seeing as what would probably have to be done to establish fescue native areas properly over time and then maintain them properly.

But my feeling about some of the courses up here in the Northeast is many of them are basically of the "parkland" style of architecture and that very interesting "look", type and style of golf course does not look right and is in no way traditional with fescue rough native areas.

I was absolutely astounded to see an entire photo book at NGLA with photos that must have been 80-90 years old of a golf course, probably in England (although it may have been in the States) that was the classic "Parkland" look and how extensive the mown areas were! (They seemed to go on forever through the trees and allees and the thought certainly occured to me how and with what they actually mowed all that area that long ago).

I like "native areas" in some locals and on some types and styles of golf course but in the classic "parkland" style course, in my opinion, it should never be used and not the least reason being it just looks completely out of place in that particular overall setting!

We began our program at Briarwood more than 20 years ago and have expanded it over the years.  Our greenkeeper viewed native plantings as a way to naturalize the course while reducing maintenance.  We are fortunate to have as a member an individual involved in prarie restoration who consulted on the types of grasses.  They are generally out of play and add beauty and "texture" to the course.  An added benefit is that they create habitat for smaller animals which helps draw other types to the area.  Thus in the Chicago urban area we have created a 170 acre mini ecosystem complete with deer, fo, coyote, red tailed hawks. a predatory owl, heron, egret etc.  So much for the negative effect of golf on the environment.  I would further emphasize making sure you become educated on the types of plantings best suited to your area and the proper placement and treatment of the grasses once planted.

In the MN area, I think the Chaska Town Course has used natives well. At this course they used truly native plants, not unmowed fescues. The grasses get anwhere from 3 to 7 feet tall, and are completely unplayable. The flowers bloom in spring and summer, and the grasses turn a beautiful red in the fall.

They work hard at maintaining the prairie by burning it every spring. This work is getting easier, because the plants are dense enough to get a good fire going. This wasn't the case in the beginning.

I think the biggest reason prairie works in Chaska, is that large areas are set aside as prairie. There is probably a three acre area between three holes that is all prairie. I don't think it would work as well with smaller areas dispersed throughout the course.


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