The Swedish Golf Federation (SGF) is working to support and develop the uptake of red fescue (Festuca rubra) as the dominant grass species on golf courses throughout the country. This initiative stems from the SGF’s commitment to enhancing golf’s environmental compatibility and to reducing the industry’s reliance on intensive styles of management involving high inputs of water and chemicals.
The red fescue group
In 2009, the SGF established the ‘red fescue group’; a forum for managers of red fescue courses to share good practice, further understanding and develop and promote the use of this turfgrass. There are currently 12 member courses; eleven from Sweden and one from Denmark. Participants receive consultative advice and support from SGF staff, while biannual focus group meetings are held at one of the participating courses to review and discuss progress. As the initiative moves forward, the SGF are working to develop practical guidance, advice and support to demonstrate that the management of fescue is a feasible, desirable, achievable and sustainable option for golf courses in Sweden.
Why fescue in Sweden?
For many years, the choice of grass species for golf greens in Sweden had been somewhat restricted, with an almost exclusive reliance on creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera), a relatively high input cool season grass. Ever more stringent regulations on water and pesticide use, combined with the current economic downturn, led to the SGF reviewing their advice and recommendations concerning species selection and formally moving towards the promotion of fescue. Encouraged by over a decade of success with fescue in Denmark, a number of new courses and refurbishment projects in Sweden have now opted for red fescue, which is a natively occurring species of the country, and have begun to see the benefits of the transition.
The SGF’s growing promotion of fescue to course managers is based on a number of different factors:
Cost. Fescue, in the right environment, needs less water, fungicide and fertiliser than other species commonly used on golf courses. Fescue is also slower growing and therefore requires less frequent mowing; a notable saving in staff time, fuel and machinery wear on fairways and semi-rough. With this slower growth rate, fescue also lays down organic matter at a much reduced rate compared to other grasses; thatch management programmes involving aeration and top dressing do not, therefore, need to be anything like as intensive as for other species.
Compliance with regulations. All grass species currently used on golf courses in Sweden can be managed, to varying degrees of success, in compliance with water and pesticide regulations. However, with ever more stringent legislation always evolving, this may not always be the case and there is now growing pressure across Scandinavia for golf courses to reduce their water, pesticide and fertiliser inputs to levels at which it will prove increasingly difficult to produce playing surfaces for golf. Fescue’s low requirements make it an ideal grass to comply with these foreseeable changes to regulations, while simultaneously developing and maintaining good playing surfaces.
Playability. Given the right growing environment (dry with little shade) and when maintained accordingly, fescue produces excellent surfaces for play, right across the golf course. Simply by adjusting the height of cut, fescue supports high quality putting surfaces, green surrounds, fairways, tees and rough. The firmness and bounce provided by fescue turf also offers a wider variety of shot-making possibilities, therefore giving golfers more options to demonstrate their skills. Fescue surfaces can enable high chip shots, low pitch and run shots and even putts from green approaches and surrounds where other grasses would only allow a single type of shot to be successfully played.
Revenue. The low management inputs required to sustain healthy fescue translate into an extended duration of the playing season. Fescue has been shown to be amongst the best turfgrasses in Sweden to survive harsh winter conditions, meaning earlier opening and less impact from disease scarring coming out of the colder months. The natural resilience of the species allows golf courses to be kept in good health and available for play for as much of the year as possible.
Marketing. Fescue offers golfers a different experience to what they have become accustomed to in Sweden. As a grass characteristic of Scottish links and ‘the running game’, fescue offers an engaging alternative to the widespread style of ‘target golf’ built around soft and overly receptive playing surfaces. The connotations of fescue with the classic origins of the game can, therefore, offer a valuable marketing advantage.
The R&A conducted tours of southern Sweden, which were organised by the SGF, in May and August 2011 to visit a selection of new golf courses that have followed the fescue pathway and are now experiencing the benefits of their decision.
PGA of Sweden National
Situated outside the city of Malmö, the two courses at the PGA of Sweden National complex were designed by Kyle Phillips, with greens built to USGA Recommendations.
The Links Course was sown wall to wall with a variety of cultivars of Chewings and slender creeping red fescue and was opened in 2009. After some initial problems with surface water retention - the result of including an inappropriate amendment in the root zone - the greens are now performing exceptionally well. This is not a heavily used course but the presence of the Lakes Course, opened in 2011, at the same venue will provide the opportunity to examine the differences in cost (financial and time) incurred for the management of different species of turfgrass, as the greens of the Lakes have been established with creeping bentgrass (A1, G2 and G6 varieties).
Although both courses are still very young, there are already notable differences in management. The Links greens receive 50 to 60 kg/ha of nitrogen a year (mown at 5 mm), the Lakes up to 120kg/ha per year (mown at 2.75 to 3 mm). A lot more attention to thatch management will be needed to the creeping bentgrass greens in the future.
With 95 bunkers on the Links and 1.5 hectares of sand hazard on the Lakes, the playing season staff level of 30 (for 45 holes and a driving range) is kept busy. This number is reduced to 10 full-time staff over the winter.
The SGF and The R&A will be maintaining contact with the PGA of Sweden National management team to monitor cost requirements of the two different types of turf over coming years.
Vallda Golf & Country Club
25 miles south of Gothenburg, the Martin Hawtree designed course at Vallda was opened for play in 2009.
The greens were built to USGA Recommendations and sown with a pure fescue mix, incorporating a blend of Chewings and slender creeping red fescue cultivars. The grass cover is dense yet the greens provide for consistent, smooth, true and well-paced surfaces. Targets have been set for the performance of the greens, including an open season from 15 April through to 31 October, green speed of 10 feet (+ 1 foot), thatch depth to be no more than 5 mm and for the greens sward to be 100% fescue. To date, all of these objectives have been readily achieved.
The site is clay-based and although a pipe drainage system was installed beneath the fairways, local wet pockets have been colonised by annual meadow grass and other species. Where the ground is dry, the turf is dominated by fescue. Plans are in place to continue to deal with these issues through a combination of aeration and sand dressing.
Vallda expects to take a total of 30,000 rounds in 2011and markets itself as providing a different golf experience to the other courses in the area. Vallda is promoted as being “a taste of Scotland”, with its 900 members and 10,000 visitors (2010 figures) enjoying the running conditions and variety of shot making opportunities.
Located on the island of Gotland, Visby’s 27 holes sit right on the shoreline of the Baltic Sea. Remodelled by Pierre Fulke, Visby Golf Club hosted the PayEx Invitational on the Nordea (Scandinavian) Tour, even though the greens were only fully opened in 2009.
With a large membership of 2,040 (with many based off the island), play is further elevated by a large host of summer visitors. It is estimated that the 18 hole course receives 35,000 rounds over the season from April to October, with most of these being played between July and September.
The coastal setting, maritime climate (providing one of the longest playing seasons in Sweden) and calcareous limstone soils, make Visby an ideal location for fescue. At the start of the season the greens look healthy, yet the young greens do suffer from the high levels of play, with very slow recovery of pitch marks, and this is not helped by the deteriorating quality of the irrigation water supply as the dry spring and summer months (March to September usually only sees 10% of the 450 mm annual rainfall) take their toll. The irrigation reservoir is supplemented by water from ponds which are filled by rain and snow, yet as the levels drop through the summer, brackish water can seep into the supply. The club is currently investigating whether the use of this increasingly salty water is impeding nutrient uptake so it can take steps to address this problem if necessary. Despite the stressed look to the greens at the end of the summer, they still provide very good putting surfaces.
One of three courses belonging to Landeryds Golfklubb, Vesterby displays firm and dry fescue surfaces characteristic of classic links golf. This may be surprising considering that the course is actually located in the centre of southern Sweden; the nearest town of Linköping being almost equidistant between Stockholm and Gothenburg as the crow flies.
The USGA Recommendation greens were constructed in 2004 and sown with a mixture of fescue and browntop bentgrass. Top dressing with pure sand every third week has developed an extremely uniform soil profile with deep fibrous rooting and no thatch.
The greens are cut at 4-6 mm, two to three times a week, and rolled up to four times a week. Nitrogen application is kept very low at 30 kg/ha per year, with the same amount applied to fairways every second year. The fairways are cut two to three times a week depending on weather conditions. The club has permission to use water from a surrounding lake for irrigation and they are allowed to abstract 50,000 cubic metres per year if they so desire, yet despite this agreement, the greens receive very little water. The outcome of this approach is very firm and dry putting surfaces which run at between 9 and 11 feet on the Stimpmeter during the playing season, depending on the dryness of the green surfaces.
There is no pesticide use on Vesterby’s greens; the course is surrounded by a protected environmental area under Swedish legislation, greatly adding to the aesthetic value of the location.
Vesterby receives approximately 15 to 20,000 rounds over the seven and a half month playing season. One characteristic feature of the Vesterby design is the large run off areas surrounding the greens. These provide up to 10,000 cubic metres per green of fine, close cut (to 10 mm) turf, which often makes the use of a putter instead of a wedge a better option.
Elisefarm Golf Club
Situated close to the town of Hörby, 30 miles northeast of Malmö, the greens and tees at Elisefarm were sown out to a fescue/browntop bentgrass mix. A Martin Hawtree design, Elisefarm opened for play in August 2005.
Almost 6 years on and the greens support a superb dense, fescue dominated turf with just enough organic matter accumulation to provide resilience to the putting surfaces.
A full case study on Elisefarm Golf Club is available here.
The few trail blazers in Denmark, such as the Smørum Golf Centre, that recognised the potential for fescue courses nearly two decades ago, are seeing an increasing number of sites in Scandinavia turning to this species for a variety of reasons. Southern Sweden is becoming a hub for those wishing to embrace the benefits and opportunities that fescue can provide, including:
- cost savings on materials and mowing time that can be diverted to other on course activities
- compliance with water and pesticide regulations
- enhanced playability in terms of greater access throughout the year and a variation of shot making opportunities for the golfer
- enhanced revenue
- greater marketing advantages
A selection of developers and course architects are now beginning to appreciate the value of fescue in promoting a different approach to playing the game. The opportunities the species gives the designer to be more creative in the shaping of green complexes is due to the relatively high cutting height favoured by the species. This characteristic, along with several other benefits, is behind the growing industry movement to capitalise on the prospects which the fine-leaved species can provide. Course managers are learning how to manage fescue to provide a dense and resilient sward able to withstand high levels of play but without compromising the health of the grass; it will quickly die out if overfed and overwatered. Fescue is a species indigenous to dry, open grasslands and when managed appropriately, it has much to offer to the game of golf in Sweden. The SGF has now identified this fact and are continually working to promote it as a real and sustainable option for golf courses in their country. The red fescue group will continue to serve as an important vehicle for driving this initiative forward, while also demonstrating the benefits which the new approach can bring to courses throughout Sweden.
For further information on the SGF’s golf course support services, please contact Kim Sintorn, Course Consultant, SGF at firstname.lastname@example.org
The spectacular closing hole to the Lakes Course at the PGA of Sweden National complex.
Tight fescue fairway turf on PGA of Sweden National's Links Course.
The challenging bunkers at Vallda Golf & Country Club, ...
... a venue which displays the wide open greens and fairways characteristic of the original links courses.
Vallda therefore offers its golfers the chance to "buy into a piece of Scotland".
Visby Golfklubb sits on Gotland's pristine coastline ...
... and adopts a sensitive approach towards managing fine fescue turf.
The course at Vesterby, one of three owned by Landeryds Golfklubb, is another example of the success which can be had with red fescue in Sweden.
A deep rooted, fibrous, profile taken from a green at Vesterby; indicative of a healthy and well-managed fescue sward.
The course at Elisefarm utilises fine, wispy, rough grassland to bring shape to the fairways ...
... while a flock of sheep is employed to manage the height and density of the roughs, thereby significantly reducing machinery requirements.