Whilst many of us don’t think too much about the finer details of green-keeping, it is actually a complex subject. The quality of course that we play and the enjoyment we get out of playing them is closely linked to their upkeep. In fact, some of the most important aspects of golf course quality are decided before the green keeper fires up his mower. Of course, course design is king and a great design will always be king. However, what happens to this design is going to make or break the course and what grows on the course is a big part of that. One of the big questions will be what to sow: bentgrass vs Bermuda.
Making the Perfect Green
These two types of grass are what are most commonly found on the green. Of course, there is so much more to creating the perfect putting area than choosing one or the other, throwing down the grass seed, giving it some water and waiting. The perfectly manicured greens that you see on TV are a result of far more than this, from expert knowledge to extremely rigorous care all year round.
In terms of choosing what type of grass to use, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer either. Great course the world over use both and other varieties too. Depending on a host of factors, one or the other might be the best fit. So what are the main differences?
When we talk about bentgrass, this actually refers to a whole group of different but similar types of grass. you might have heard of creeping bent or velvet bent. There are actually over a hundred different varieties within the genus Agrostis (the technical name for the bent grass family).
These different but related types of grass have a few common characteristics which have traditionally made them very suitable for golf greens. Firstly, it has a shallow but very dense root system. This tends to create a thick, uniform green that can be cut very low without risk of destroying the grass. It also makes it very good at self-repair, something that is really important given the passage of golfers around the flag, many of whom will be wearing spikes.
Disadvantages of Bent Grass Greens
While Bent grass is (or at least was) the most popular choice for greens, it does have some draw backs. Firstly, and something that is becoming more and more important with questions about the ecological viability of golf, it does require a lot of water. Given that most bent grass varieties come from slightly cooler climates, this is particularly problematic in the days of global warming. It is becoming extremely difficult to justify the quantity of water needed for a perfect bent grass green. Fortunately, many golf courses are taking a more environmentally-friendly approach to their water use, and the better water management and recycling could make this a moot point.
Maintaining bent grass greens also needs considerable green-keeping know-how from the course maintenance team. From weeds to heatwaves, it will need constant and careful upkeep which adds to both difficulty and cost. It also makes it difficult to have greens that are in good condition all year round, especially without resorting to the use of some of the chemicals that were so wide-spread over the last few decades and are fortunately less common today.
Many of these problems are being dealt with by selective breeding and cloning of the various varieties in order to create bent grass greens that have all the traditional advantages but use less water and are more hardy, particularly in warmer climates.
Bermuda grass is, as the name suggests, far more at home in warm weather. It has a much deeper root system which can make is vulnerable to cold, especially on heavily sanded greens which keeps the temperature somewhat cooler. Bermuda also tends to do better in the face of excess humidity compared to bent grass, which decreases the necessity to aerate the greens continually.
Bermuda doesn’t necessarily have the same type of thick growth/low root structure as bent grass and as a consequence it usually isn’t possible to cut it quite as low without risking damage to the green.
Putting on Bermuda and Bent Grass
Unless you are a gardening aficionado, all you probably care about is what difference it is actually going to make when you putt on Bermuda or bent. Traditionally, Bermuda is considered to produce slower greens than bent grass and tend to have less break (although obviously slope is the main factor here). This is probably unsurprising given that a bent grass green ill be cut lower.
Some people take this too mean that bent grass is simply superior. This is actually not as clear-cut as you might think though. Faster isn’t necessarily better for a start. Some golfers will say that Bermuda actually offers a more subtle test of green reading. This might seem surprising, but because f its deeper root structure, the nap or direction that the grass grows can have a significant effect on the roll of your ball.
Of course, it is really about what you are used to. If you are someone who play mainly in one area, you probably haven’t ever noticed the relatively subtle differences that exist between different types of grass. If you tend to travel around and particularly if you like to travel and golf in different parts of the world, there can be a fairly major difference from place to place and the choice of bent grass or Bermuda on the greens is a not insignificant part of this difference.