Turfgrass Notes from Iceland
Monthly Turfgrass Roundup (September 2013)

What are the best grasses for links golf?

I'm often asked about grasses that will look like fine fescue, or will produce the playability characteristics of fine fescue, in a tropical or subtropical climate in Asia. I've written about this in the January 2013 issue of Golf Course Architecture in an article entitled Achieving the warm season links. And I am motivated to write about this again, because the grasses that are usually chosen for new courses or renovation projects in South China, Southeast Asia, and South Asia, tend to be species that cannot produce those playability characteristics, or, if the grass is to produce the desired surface, it can only be accomplished with high maintenance expenses.

There is a general consensus that fine fescue produces an ideal playing surface for links courses in climates to which these species are adapted. We can find these fescue grasses growing wild in various places, including in rocks beside the sea.

Fine fescue at Heimaey in Iceland

I find it useful to study which grasses grow wild in a particular area, and to study what type of environment the various grasses are growing in. Fine fescues are stress tolerators, meaning they will live in areas of high stress and low intensity disturbance. Without going into extensive discussion of plant biology, the defining characteristics of stress tolerators are just what one wants in a turfgrass to produce links surfaces.

Fine fescue growing in an environment of high stress and minimal disturbance at Hafnarfjörður, Iceland

When we go to tropical Southeast Asia, we find one grass growing in environments analogous to those in which we find the stress tolerating fine fescue growing in cool climates. This grass is manilagrass (Zoysia matrella).

Manilagrass growing in an environment of high stress and minimal disturbance at Ishigaki, Japan

Manilagrass is a stress tolerator, with the same desirable characteristics for links surfaces as those found in fine fescue: slow growth rates, long-lived leaves, low nutrient requirements, and superior shade tolerance. In short, manilagrass is the fine fescue of the tropics. 

Manilagrass growing in rocks beside the ocean at Ishigaki, Japan

Even though manilagrass is the grass most similar to fine fescue in its survival strategy, when it comes to new golf courses in South China or Southeast Asia, manilagrass is rarely used. Rather, seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) or bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.) are the most common grasses planted.

To read more about this topic, see:

Correcting a common misapprehension about seashore paspalum

Grass selection for golf greens and fairways in Asia

Asian Turfgrass Climate Charts, a website with information related to climate and its influence on turfgrass selection and turfgrass performance

Grime's Evidence for the Existence of Three Primary Strategies in Plants and Its Relevance to Ecological and Evolutionary Theory

Grime's Plant Strategies and Vegetation Processes

Universal adaptive strategy theory

Why manilagrass (Zoysia matrella) is the best choice for links-style golfing surfaces in East and Southeast Asia

Manilagrass photo gallery


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