During the 2015 Golf Industry Show in February, GCSAA TV Live interviewed three zoysiagrass experts with Team Zoysia — Dr. Milt Engelke, David Doguet and Arthur Milberger. The experts were attending the Show as hosts of the “Zoysia as a Game Changer” event, held on February 23.
The “Game Changer” event was designed to promote the use of zoysiagrass on golf courses. The day’s activities included a panel discussion among the nation’s top zoysiagrass experts, as well as tours of Bladerunner Farms (the world’s largest independently owned zoysiagrass breeding facility) and the Golf Club of Texas (which will reopen this spring after a renovation project that includes re-grassing the greens with LF1 Zoysia, tees with Zeon Zoysia and fairways and roughs with Jamur Zoysia).
To watch the 11-minute video, click here, or see below for a transcript of the video. For a PDF of the informative brochure about the event and its panel of experts, as well as the mission of Team Zoysia, click here.
GCSAA Host (not identified by name on the video): “And, welcome back to GCSAA TV Live, presented in partnership with Lebanon Turf. We are once again coming to you from San Antonio and the 2015 Golf Industry Show. Now, we’re going to talk a little bit about zoysia. I am joined by Dr. Milt Engelke, David Doguet and Arthur Milberger. Gentlemen, welcome. Thank you for joining us.”
GCSAA Host: “So, I first wanted to talk about a little about the session on Monday. We had a field trip out to Bladerunner Farms. Talk to us about what that entailed and what the takeaways were from that.”
Doguet: “I am Bladerunner Farms, and we were very happy to sponsor this event and put it on. We were really worried with the weather, that there wouldn’t be a lot of people, and I think 255 people showed up. So, we were very happy. I think 20-something states, 20-something countries [were represented]. And the feedback, from what we get in the exhibit hall [here], is very good. So, [we’re] very pleased.”
Milberger: “Especially with a high of 36 degrees! If I would have been them, and didn’t have to talk, I would have been inside the bus. So, they were troopers.”
GCSAA Host: “Very good. Well, let’s talk a little bit about zoysiagrass in particular. It’s been used in golf for decades. But what’s happening in the breed now that’s making such a big impact?”
Dr. Engelke: “The thing with zoysiagrasses is that it is probably one of the most broadly adapted warm-season grasses that we have. We like to talk about it as being between the 45s — 45 degrees north latitude to 45 degrees south. And we have some wonderful, very strong biological characteristics in it that allow it to adapt to very many different environments, with very little input to it. And this is one of the reasons why zoysias today are becoming so important, because the game of golf, as an example, has gotten to be very expensive. By bringing in grasses that require less nutrition, require less water, deal with poor-quality water, can really survive in many soil types — we really feel that we are changing… that’s why we talk about it being a game changer. We’re going to change the way it is in the future. And future golf courses that are going to survive are going to be zoysia.”
GCSAA Host: “And where is some of the research being done that’s led to some of these improvements?”
Doguet: “Our research is private, but we do a lot of work with Texas A&M University, with the University of Georgia, a little bit with the University of Florida. So, there are several universities working on zoysia, and we try to work with all of them to find out what’s going on and what the best varieties might be.”
Dr. Engelke: “This is not a casual event either. Most of these — David’s breeding program; I led the breeding program at Texas A&M for over 30 years — these are long-term processes. It takes a long time to be able to sort through and identify and bring together the right parents to create the characteristics that we want. So, David really identified the key elements. Bladerunner Farms has the largest private plant-breeding program in zoysiagrasses in the world, Texas A&M, and now I work with Bladerunner Farms. We really do rely on the universities also for the science — in entomology, physiology, soil science — to dovetail with us because it requires knowledge in all those particular areas to be able to identify those grasses that we want to bring forward. David, as an example, has gone through over 50,000 separate grasses. We would be similar in it to pair them down to just one or two or three and throw the rest of them away. We don’t throw everything else out there [in the marketplace] — we give you only the best.”
Milberger: “David is a little modest on what he’s done and what he’s accomplished. As Milt says, he has the largest breeding program of selections of zoysia in the entire history of the zoysia business. It’s private, but he’s way ahead of the public universities, the land-grant universities. So, what he’s been able to establish, no public university has established. David, from a friend standpoint, he left the normal sod-production business 30 years ago and said, ‘I’m through with these grasses that we can’t sustain.’ He went down to south Texas to start growing zoysiagrasses and started the breeding program. These are some of the fruits of his efforts after 30 years, and rightly so, especially with the Rio 2016 Olympics putting David’s zoysia, Zeon Zoysia, in. It’s a great tribute to his long, long commitment.”
GCSAA Host: “Absolutely. Zoysia has been in some fairly high-profile projects as of late. You mentioned the Rio course, the Olympic course there, but what are some of the other ones that have been going through?”
Doguet: “Under construction now that we’re doing the work on is the new Tiger Woods course — it’s in the Houston area, Montgomery, Texas — and that one is being planted now as we speak. I think they have four holes completed and hope to finish the course sometime mid-summer. We’re doing the new Trinity Forest course in Dallas — Coore & Crenshaw are the architects — and the Byron Nelson Tournament will be moving there, and SMU will also be using it as their training facilities. We have a course here in San Antonio that we’re remodeling that’s called the Golf Club of Texas — that one was bermudagrass, and it’s now going to be 100% zoysia, even on the greens. We believe it’s the first course in the United States to be 100% zoysia.”
Milberger: “I guess Tiger will have a little time now to build that course.”
Dr. Engelke: “I’d like to also add, in that process… You mentioned the high-end courses, but we’re also seeing an awful lot of zoysiagrasses being used in the renovation process. David’s doing a complete restoration in one of them, but not just the high-end golf courses. Everybody thinks of zoysiagrass as expensive. It may cost a little more to put in, but the savings that are realized in the management post-planting is as much as 75% of what previous costs were — 75%. And we have pretty good documented evidences of that. So we want to make sure people understand that zoysiagrass is not just a high-end grass. That’s why we call it a game changer. We’re going to be able to resurrect some of those golf courses that have not been able to make it because of excessive budgets. We’ll bring that back.”
Milberger: “Courses today with a $1 million budget, they’re not going to be sustainable, as we all know. And we have the opportunity with some of Bladerunner’s varieties now to maybe reduce those down to $300,000, $400,000. That’s remarkable. And some folks have already done that; they’re in the process. That’s why you see this huge renovation going on. It’s basically another evolution, or revolution, whatever you want to call it, in the golf business. You know, back in the 1960s and 70s, in Georgia, they came out with hybrid bermudas, and that changed the playability of golf and the game of golf. Now, with David’s collections, we’re looking at changing the game again, and hence, it’s a game changer because we’re finally dealing with a grass that’s sustainable — in other words, you can have the beauty, greater or at least better value, greater looks than these hybrid bermudas. But, you can also do it in a manner that’s friendly to the environment without all the pesticides, water, insecticides. So, we really are at another evolution in golf just like they were many years ago.”
GCSAA Host: “Sure. So, you guys are all at Team Zoysia here, and we have the logo up there. Tell us a little bit about Team Zoysia. Who are you, and what’s your mission?”
Dr. Engelke: “Team Zoysia was the brainchild of David. He said, ‘We really need to have a group of people who are working together for a common cause.’ And I embrace that common cause; everybody does. So, we have a group of people, a mission, if you will — producers, equipment people, scientists, everybody else — that become resources to be able to support the game of golf, to support the use of zoysia on the golf course. So, when we work with somebody out there, we want them to know that [when] you buy the grass, you get an awful lot else that goes with it. Our members, again, are the producers of the grasses that we have (Bladerunner is part of it); Team Zoysia International (Arthur and I are that team; we handle the international market for intellectual property); Jacobsen has joined the group because of the mowing equipment that they have that will really do what we need to do. We identify people out there that are dedicated to it, so not only is it Team Zoysia, but the sea around it is our customer. And anybody that’s going to work with us on this particular project and wants to be part of the Team Zoysia has to be committed to the customer and delivering the right product to it. So, a new superintendent or somebody else that starts using zoysia and has questions, they have a whole resource of people to work with. We have the entomologist, the pathologists, the soil scientists. We’ve got the equipment people to work with; we’ve got the breeding program; we’ve got the sources of material. It’s a new business concept, and it’s one that is really taking hold. This week, we’ve had as many as four or five additional companies that have intentionally come to our booth and asked, ‘How do we participate? How can we be part of you?’ So, Team Zoysia will be growing tremendously, and we’re pretty excited about it.”
GCSAA Host: “And if folks do want to join Team Zoysia, how would they go about that?”
Dr. Engelke: “Contact one of us, and work with us. We have a few questions to ask about their business approach. It’s not right for everybody; not everybody needs to belong to it. We’re not a marketing arm for everybody out there. We’re a marketing arm for the zoysiagrasses, and if they can support the zoysias, we want to talk to them.”
GCSAA Host: “Well, gentlemen, obviously a lot of great things for zoysia to come. We thank you for your time here today, and we thank the audience at home for sticking with us. We’ll actually be back this afternoon at 2 o’clock for our final segment of GCSAA TV Live, presented in partnership with Lebanon Turf. So, log back in at 2 o’clock to see more.”