Sugarloaf Golf Club took on a three-year, $20 million renovation project, which included resurfacing all the greens, tees and fairways. The result earned the club first place in the 2020 Renovation of the Year competition from Golf Inc. Magazines. Course superintendent Kyle Worthy anticipates the varietal shift from GN1 Bermudagrass to NG Turf’s Zeon® Zoysia for the tees and fairways will help solve previous challenges, while calling for a new set of maintenance protocols.
About the Course
Prior to the renovation, the GN1™ Bermudagrass had been struggling due to shade on several tees, so the decision was made to switch those tees to Zeon zoysia, for its superior shade tolerance. Worthy says the switch gave the club an opportunity to audition the premium zoysia before investing in the re-grassing of an entire course, “and it seemed to perform really well.”
Worthy came to Sugarloaf in 2018 from a previous position at TPC Sawgrass near Jacksonville, Florida. The Pines had already been renovated and The Meadows project was underway. “I had seen pictures and heard stories, and some of the areas they always struggled with were definitely seeing better stands of turf year round with the Zeon.”
Another problem the club sought to eliminate stemmed from overseeding. “They used to overseed the GN1 Bermuda in the wintertime, and because of that overseed, they would have a lot of transition issues come springtime,” Worthy explained.
In order to maintain a high quality playing surface, the seed was a major expense in the fall, and then in the spring, fresh sod had to be brought in for repairs, following the transition from the ryegrass back to Bermuda. “In some of the worst years, they had to bring in 20 trucks of sod to resod some fairways, but it was always a minimum of a few trucks a year.”
Since Zeon spends less time in dormancy, the courses no longer plan to overseed, providing a significant cost savings over time. However, the decision did require an initial investment in moisture mitigation. “That overseed was taking up a lot of the moisture from the rain that we experience in the winters,” Worthy said, “so we had to add a substantial amount of drainage to the fairways.” The enhanced drainage will prevent the zoysia from declining in areas that tended toward wet conditions.
Additional Zeon Benefits
“Zeon has proven to be one of the better zoysiagrasses, providing a good, dense playing surface,” Worthy pointed out. “A little bit thinner leaf blade, it just makes a really good surface on the fairways, a really tight lie.”
Because it is slower growing, Zeon is also a lower maintenance grass. It outperforms Bermuda with lower mowing and fertility requirements. At only half to one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet, it will provide savings each year. It was developed for low thatch production and higher shade tolerance compared to other zoysias as well.
“There are a lot of attractive things about the Zeon,” Worthy pointed out, “such as holding its color longer through the winter and greening up a little quicker in the spring, all the while being able to survive the winters with its cold tolerance and still allowing us to manage it at a really high level.” He also appreciates the improved wear tolerance. “It will take more of a beating than the GN1 Bermuda.”
Of course, the switch from Bermuda to zoysia has come with a learning curve. “I think it’s a superior turf to the Bermudagrass once you figure out what to do to manage it properly,” Worthy said. “This is the first place I’ve ever worked with zoysia, and luckily I’ve got some support from our regional agronomist who’s dealt with zoysia a lot.” With enhanced protocols to manage disease pressure and longer recovery times, Worthy keeps the courses in top condition.
In addition to the re-grassing of the tees and fairways, the greens got an upgrade as well, replacing bentgrass with Bermuda for better heat tolerance. Work on the The Stables, the third and final stage of the project, fortuitously wrapped up in the fall of 2019.
“We had everything renovated and established, almost a brand new golf course, and then the pandemic hit. The renovation got us back in line with other high end clubs in the area and, by pure luck, positioned us perfectly for the sudden spike in golf.”