During Southern summers, many golfers arrive at the course in the morning, hoping to avoid the brutal heat and humidity of trying to get a loop in on a July or August afternoon.
Turns out the grass doesn’t like those conditions so much either.
The Farm has become one of the latest in a number of high-profile courses across the South to switch its greens from bent grass to MiniVerde Bermuda. The greens on the front nine of the private course in Rocky Face were re-sodded with a more heat-friendly putting surface in June; the renovated back nine reopened Friday.
“Everything has been coming really well,” said Deck Cheatham, director of golf at The Farm. “The greens have filled in nicely, and it is going to be interesting to see. The main thing is we can provide our membership with excellent playing surfaces throughout the playing season, whereas before you would have some down time in July and August because of the heat. We can provide a better product throughout the season.”
The shift to MiniVerde Bermuda, a hybrid, is available because science has improved grass strains. In 2008, East Lake Golf Course in Atlanta — the home of The Tour Championship — switched its greens from bent to MiniVerde. Another high-profile course, TPC-Sawgrass, near Jacksonville, Fla., has changed over its greens to the same variety.
The further south one travels in Georgia, the more strictly Bermuda greens a golfer will find. Bermuda is a hardy variety that allows for year-round play in the heat, even if smoothness and firmness of the putting surface is sacrificed to an extent. With the MiniVerde Bermuda, those sacrifices aren’t in play.
“We chose MiniVerde because of the color and the texture and playability,” Cheatham said. “If there were a Bermuda that was as close to bent grass as you can get, this would be it. If you go up North with bent you are fine, but it just isn’t really a Southern grass.
“(MiniVerde) is just improved on the Bermuda that you grew up with 30 years ago. They have improved it to the extent that you can get a really great playing surface.”
The course will get its first significant test this week as The Farm plays host to the Carpet Capital Collegiate Classic. The annual 54-hole tournament, which is hosted by Georgia Tech, begins Friday with a 15-team field that will include several Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference programs.
“This year, I don’t expect a lot of change in scores, but next year I do,” Cheatham said. “These kids have played on this grass and have been places where it has already matured, so they are a little more used to it, but they aren’t used to it here. The golf course will play a little bit differently because of the greens.
“This year will be the easiest because the greens will be the easiest that they will be. Next year, it will be a bear. It will be difficult.”
Even though the front nine was installed just two months earlier, Cheatham said there will be a difference between the outward and inward nine. While the back nine is still firming up from its installation, the front nine is already way ahead.
“Bernmuda-hybrid grasses over time tighten up, and that makes them a little firmer (as time goes on),” he said. “Good players always like firm greens so it is a challenge for them, but it does make the golf course play differently, so how you place hole locations really says a lot about the type of field that you have.
“You don’t want to be impossible, so you have to be fair. There are some places on this golf course where if you put the pin there, it really becomes unfair, and we are not going to do that.”
For the member at the course who doesn’t have an elite game, Cheatham said they will find that iron shots that held the green before might end up off the back. There will need to be an adjustment on chipping and putting.
“I think the average golfers really have to adjust in the short game area,” he said. “An old rule of thumb might be to chip the ball halfway to the hole, but you might want to land it a third of the way to the hole now, because you are going to get a lot more rollout.
“It will be a matter of adjustment in learning how to play in a little different way, and once they learn how to do that, it will be all right.”
Despite the time involved, Cheatham said the process of switching over has been remarkably smooth.
“This has been one of the easiest projects that we have ever done,” Cheatham said. “I wouldn’t even use the word challenge. It has been fine.”