Fescue has dominated the course at Smørum Golf Center in Denmark for nearly 20 years, demonstrating that this low input grass can deliver long-term excellence in economic, playing and environmental performance.The main 18 hole course at Smørum was fully opened in 1995, with the greens built to USGA recommendations. Since 1998, the greens have been maintained specifically to promote fine fescues (Festuca rubra spp) and are dominated by these fine, wiry species. As a result, the Center enjoys the superior playing surfaces produced by the grass, namely true, firm, dry and fast running greens. The fairways and rough are also dominated by fine fescues.
Keeping fescue clean
The club management at Smørum were concerned about the gradual ingress of annual meadow-grass (Poa annua) on greens. This was beginning to out-compete the fine fescues which had originally been sown out in 1993-1994.
Fescue-dominated turf was the aim at Smørum for a number of reasons:
- it is a slow growing grass, ideal for a busy 51 hole (plus driving range and practice facility) with a staff of only 7 full-timers
- it is drought tolerant and courses in Denmark are restricted to the amount of water they can use for irrigation each year, which is 3,500 m3 per 9 holes
- it is less prone to disease than annual meadow-grass; an important consideration with Denmark’s stringent approach to pesticide legislation.
The management requirements to sustain fescues on golf green are quite precise, particularly with regard to mowing height, fertiliser and irrigation inputs.
It is all too easy to eliminate fescues simply by cutting too close and/or by applying too much fertiliser and water. The management requirements to sustain fescues on golf green are quite precise, particularly with regard to mowing height, fertiliser and irrigation inputs. Regular mowing below 5 mm and applying over 50 kg/ha of nitrogen per annum to established swards will result in the loss of fescue and the invasion of annual meadow-grass.
In 1996, Smørum adopted a management strategy to give fescue the competitive edge over the annual meadow-grass, which included:
• weaning the greens off nitrogen; a process that saw application levels fall from 249 kg/ha N in 1997 come down to 31 kg/ha in 2001. Nitrogen input has remained below 50 kg/ha per annum ever since
• applying minimal and targeted watering
• cutting no closer than 5 mm during the growing season and 6 mm through the rest of the year
• oversowing with fescue at 20 g/m2 each spring and late summer to maintain sward density.
A win-win with fescue
The restoration of fescue-dominated swards was completed as a result of their tailored management regime.
Inputs to the green, and hence costs, are low. The water and fungicide requirements fall well within government restrictions. Indeed, only one application of fungicide (to manage dollar spot) has been made to the greens over the last 10 years.
Quality putting surfaces are provided whenever the course is open for play. After a hard 2010-2011 winter, golfers were back on the greens by the middle of February, enjoying Stimpmeter readings of 10 to 12 feet! Semi-dormant fairways provided excellent, tight lies.
For the golfer, this translates into year round availability of golf, with the exception of frosty or snowy conditions. The 18 hole course subsequently receives over 40,000 rounds a year.
Smørum is an excellent example of the low-input management approach that is needed to successfully maintain a fine fescue sward.
Aside from the economic, environmental and social benefits of managing this fine-leaved grass, the high levels of playing performance that have been developed, coupled with year-round availability of play, have proven testament to the value of this sustainable approach.