By John Kim
There are some serious questions that are lingering in my mind about how golf is going to work in the Olympics. How will teams be established? What will the format be? What about the alligators on the course?!
But one topic that seems to be a sure hit will be the turf used at the Gil Hanse designed course outside of Rio de Janiero.
Why? Because people are testing out the Zeon Zoysia strand at Cordillera Ranch just north of San Antonio.
Zeon Zoysia is supposed to be drought resistant, a perfect grass for the fairways and tee boxes at the Jack Nicklaus designed Cordillera Ranch. The course currently under construction near Rio de Janeiro will also use the same strand for its fairways, tee boxes and its rough. (Cordillera has Bermuda rough and A-5 bentgrass greens.)
What’s more, both courses are supplied by Bladerunner Farms in Poteet, owned by turf-grass expert David Doguet. Zeon Zoysia was developed by Doguet, and Bladerunner is the largest privately held zoysia breeding facility in the world.
“Our members love it because the ball sits up on it like a tee,” says Cordillera Ranch Director of Agronomy Mark Semms. “It is the most playable fairway turf on the market because of its blade density.”
One impressed member is PGA Tour player (and recent Frys.com champion) Jimmy Walker.
“We’ve been to the most premier golf courses in the country and we just marvel at what an amazing facility that Cordillera is,” says Walker. “There’s nothing like it in the country.”
Last spring at a corporate outing, one golfer dropped a ball onto the practice tee and swung a 3-wood, making easy and pure contact. He turned around in amazement and remarked, “Wow, that zoysia is phenomenal.” That golfer – Hall-of-Famer Greg Norman.
But having favorable lies is only an ancillary benefit of Zeon Zoysia, says Semm.
“We selected the grass because it assimilates perfectly to the climate of this region,” he adds. “It uses between 30 and 40 percent less water and fertilizer, is drought tolerant and able to persevere through extreme conditions.”
The turf’s protection against cold weather and long periods without water is dormancy. Normally a translucent green, Zeon Zoysia will “dim out” to a muted green and ultimately, light brown. It only takes a few consecutive days over 75 degrees, however, to restore it to its native grandeur.
“Zeon Zoysia is very environmentally friendly,” Doguet told Golf Course Industry earlier this year. “The grass needs very little water, and very low amounts of nitrogen fertilizer, while still looking and playing great. The grass will create a world-class playing surface for the Olympics, and for many years to come.”
PGA, LPGA, and European Tour players encounter nearly every type of turf during the season – bentgrass, Bermuda, fescue and even the invasive Poa annua. Due to its limited growing range, however, zoysia grasses aren’t as prevalent at tour venues.
“Most of them have played on it at some point, but not necessarily Zeon,” says Semm. “They are going to be pleasantly surprised and with the lies they’ll get, it will only make the best players in the world even better.”
Zeon has the same effect on members’ games. But the grass’s dormant periods require an explanation, up front.
“There’s an educational process with new members, but once we explain the environmental and playing benefits, they get it quick,” says Semm. “Eventually, they get spoiled and don’t even want to play on Bermuda fairways anymore.”
So regardless of what country you’re pulling for or any other questions you may have about golf’s glorious return to the Summer Olympics – the one thing that you probably won’t have to worry about is the condition of the course – validated by the reception and performance at one particular club in the U.S. Now those alligators…that’s another story.