Turf may boost efficiency

Two horticulture researchers are testing a new grass that may cut golf course costs.

Associate Professor of turfgrass breeding and genetics Eric Watkins evaluates turf plots for disease resistance on Wednesday in St. Paul.

Associate Professor of turfgrass breeding and genetics Eric Watkins evaluates turf plots for disease resistance on Wednesday in St. Paul.

Raj Chaduvula

Two University of Minnesota researchers say new grass they’re testing at Les Bolstad Golf Course near the St. Paul campus could set a standard for the rest of the country.
 
Turfgrass science professors Brian Horgan and Eric Watkins, who produce grass and then study it in the field, say the fine fescue grass at Les Bolstad could make golf courses and turf fields more water-efficient and environmentally friendly.
 
Fine fescue grass usually requires less water, fertilizer and fewer mowings, the researchers said. The grass could potentially be used in many environments, like lawns and roadside grass, but it grows slowly, and its low density can lead to runoff.
 
Horgan’s and Watkins’ research develops strategies for grasses to be as efficient and environmentally conscious as possible. In addition to fine fescue, the researchers examine other kinds of turf that have the potential to require less water, pesticide and maintenance.
 
Watkins, who has worked on the project for the past 11 years, said his role is to develop varieties of grass that use fewer resources. Then, Horgan takes the turfs Watkins produces and measures how much water, pesticides and fertilizer they need. He also determines the grasses’ impact on the environment. 
 
For example, if the grass was installed next to a body of water, the researchers would look at how watering and the use of pesticides, fertilizer and mowing would affect the water.
 
Horgan said golfers at Les Bolstad shouldn’t be concerned about the grass he’s testing.
 
“The look of the golf course may be different, but the function will stay the same,” Horgan said.
 
Jon Steadland, associate to the deputy chief of staff for policy and initiatives in the office of the president, said the University’s golf course is in a unique position to promote research because it gives access to researchers’ work in ways that private and municipal golf courses can’t.
 
“[Les Bolstad] works as a living laboratory,” Steadland said.
 
University leaders met with community members in July to discuss the possibility of displacing some of Les Bolstad to make room for new track and field facilities. At that time, Steadland said it would be a priority to not disturb existing grass research on the course.
 
The golf course is set to undergo a renovation this fall.