Bentgrass versus bermudagrass, what’s the difference?

No, this is not evidence of Big Foot. It’s our golf course research square after existing vegetation has been sprayed out. (Photo by Lydell Mack)
By Lydell Mack

Since the trend to convert putting greens from bentgrass to bermudagrass began in Georgia roughly 10 years ago, there are now more bermudagrass courses in and around Atlanta than bentgrass courses. It’s only natural for folks here to be curious why we haven’t converted as well, and one of the most common questions asked around the golf course is, “What’s the possibility of Big Canoe having bermudagrass greens?”
That’s a tough question to answer. Here’s why:

No, this is not evidence of Big Foot. It’s our golf course research square after existing vegetation has been sprayed out. (Photo by Lydell Mack)

It’s important to remember although used for the same purpose, bentgrass and bermudagrass are very different plants. Slight differences in color, texture, and density do exist, but the biggest difference lies in their genes.
Bermudagrass is genetically adapted to tropical regions (originally discovered on the island of Bermuda) and is referred to as a warm-season plant because of its ability to photosynthesize under extremely hot, humid, sunny conditions. Conversely, bentgrass is genetically adapted to colder regions (originally grown in Scotland) and is referred to as a cool-season plant because of its ability to survive under cold, low-light conditions.
Because of these basic differences, neither one is ideally suited to north Georgia – we’re generally too cold for bermudagrass in the winter, and possibly too hot and humid for bentgrass in the summer.
When you consider the average temperature trends for our particular region in North Georgia, and the number of trees around our greens casting shade, bentgrass is still our best option for putting greens. Although we can have extremely hot weather in the summer (2016 being the best example), it is less likely than the guaranteed cold weather we see in the winter months. One only needs to look at the winter kill we experience on the bermudagrass tees and fairways to know possible snow cover and hours of winter shade would cause death to bermudagrass greens as well.
Having said all that, we will begin a test this month on our nursery green to determine the survivability of warm-season greens here. In conjunction with Dr. Schwartz from the University of Georgia, we will test two types of bermudagrass and two types of zoysiagrass as potential putting green surfaces compared to the existing bentgrass. We’ll keep you posted on the research and its conclusions.