Creeping bentgrasses for the masses
Fast-forward 40-50 years and a significant proportion of the UK greenkeeping profession still believes that to be true. But there are a growing number of greenkeepers and advisors who have successfully embraced the latest generation of ‘superbents’. Paul Moreton of Germinal invited independent golf consultant Kevin Munt to discuss his experiences with creeping bent over the last 40 years and to add some impartial weight to his advice that creeping bent is the best option to convert your greens away from poa annua.
“In the 1970s there was a trend amongst golf course architects to specify creeping bentgrasses in an attempt to replicate the high-quality greens that had successfully been created in the States and Spain,” Hampshire-based Kevin Munt of Kevin Munt Golf Consultants explains.
“These new courses were looking for a competitive advantage and believed that creeping bentgrasses would guarantee a quality putting surface. Unfortunately, the necessary greenkeeping skills, equipment and manpower required to manage and maintain varieties such as Penncross and PennLinks simply weren’t available to the majority of UK clubs, resulting in those first-generation cultivars tarnishing the reputation of subsequent varieties for several decades afterwards.”
“The greenkeeping community still struggles with the preconceived misconception that creeping bentgrasses are an alien species that need to be managed more intensively than alternatives such as browntop bents or fescues, but that’s simply not true,” Paul Moreton continues. “The latest generation of creeping bents are much better suited to UK conditions, with cultivars such as 007 DSB easily able to cope with a range of climatic conditions including extreme cold. As an industry we readily accept the improvements in machinery, fertiliser, chemicals and other seed varieties, so why do we still view creeping bent with the same suspicion as we had in 1970s?”
Throughout his career, Kevin has travelled the world researching the best practice use of creeping bents and building up the knowledge which led him to being employed as a consultant in many major course builds. “I’d like to think anyone giving advice on any product will have put as much time and research into it as Kevin has,” Paul adds. “Golf courses, now more than ever, need to embrace modern trends and look at all options to ensure they stay future proof.”
The way golf courses are managed has advanced significantly since the 1970s and 80s, with the current generation of greenkeepers already adopting the type of nutrient, over-seeding, mowing and aeration practices that creeping bentgrasses require.
“There really is no requirement for the majority of clubs to invest in any additional time, machinery or inputs to make varieties such as 007 work effectively on their greens,” Paul continues. “Most greenkeepers are already knowledgeable enough to make creeping bentgrasses a viable option, but there’s still this unsubstantiated fear that they’ll need to treat creeping bents differently and that they’ll be more costly to maintain.”
By following a few simple steps, Kevin believes that many UK courses could use creeping bents to improve the quality of their greens: “The most important thing is to be clear about what it is you’re trying to accomplish and, once you’ve decided to introduce creeping bents, to stick to that decision. It makes no sense to try a new species unless you’re 100% prepared to commit to that decision and give the species a proper chance. Chopping and changing from one species to another every other year is a false economy as you’ll never achieve a complete species conversion and the greens will suffer as a result.”
Kevin also recommends getting the club committee’s full support before initiating any changes: “Write down a three to five-year plan explaining how you intend to improve the course’s putting surfaces and present that to the club committee so that they understand what you want to achieve and how you propose you’ll implement those changes. Get their buy-in from the start and it should be much easier to overcome any hurdles you encounter further down the line.”
Kevin also advises any new converts to creeping bentgrass to take relevant agronomic advice, or where that is lacking, to seek peer group support: “Whilst there’s a lack of validated agronomic support for creeping bentgrasses in the UK, the number of greenkeepers who have successfully adopted the species to good effect is increasing. Use your contact book along with social media and the internet to do your homework and to the learn from those who are already using creeping bents successfully.”
Paul Moreton agrees with this sentiment: “I’m already working with more than 40 golf clubs in the North West of England where 007 DSB has been introduced successfully. A good proportion of these greenkeepers are happily sharing their tips and advice with each other and are an excellent source of knowledge for future converts.”
Many of the greenkeepers Paul is working with have based their decision to introduce creeping bentgrass on the results of their own trials: “A lot of my customers were quite cautious at first, so they trialled 007 DSB on their putting green to see how it performed under their specific management regimes. The vast majority have subsequently gone on to over-seed their main greens using 007, having been impressed by how quickly it establishes, how rapidly it out-competes other species, and how it still thrives even under the extra stress we’re putting on greens these days with height of cut and extended playing seasons.
“The misfortunes of creeping bentgrasses in the 1970s, 80s and 90s should be a dim and distant memory, but they’re not,” Paul continues. “Fortunately, those failures happened a long time ago and greenkeeping practices and seed breeding have advanced a lot since then. For modern courses and forward-thinking greenkeepers, new varieties such as 007 DSB are undoubtedly much better suited to UK conditions, yet they require little or no extra resource to manage than any other species.”