..........................Photo: John Baer/Oahu Island News

To most people, grass is green, fun to lie on and a chore to mow. To a golfer, the quality of grass is the difference between a great round and a club-bending day of disappointments. To a professional golfer, it may be the difference between going home empty handed or taking home a check for $225,000. And to a golf course superintendent, the 

right grass must survive anything – from divots to drought, golf carts to sea spray, and tourists to tournaments.

It’s a little early to tell where the development of Sea Isle 2000 Paspalum, a new heat, drought and saltwater tolerant hybrid of an old African turf grass, fits on the superintendent’s wish list, but those who have witnessed and been a part of the development of this grass see a potential revolution in the works.

In 1993, Dr. Ron Duncan began research at the University of Georgia Turf Center on a new strain of turf grass. After experimenting with various strains in research conditions, he came up with this newest hybrid of turf grass, Sea Isle 2000 Paspalum. “I was shaking out various strains by cutting them down to one-eighth of an inch – green height – and seeing if they could withstand the tolerances at that level,” he said.

At that time, no Paspalum grass had ever been specifically developed for putting greens. “We put it on USGA spec green, and it worked out great; that’s when we knew we had something special.” said Duncan.

Sprigs of the new Sea Isle 2000 Paspalum were shipped to growers in early 2000. “To have a grass that has this kind of flexibility and durability is a very positive development for grass,” said Duncan. “You’re going to get storm surges. You’re going to get high water tables where the salt water at high tide works up into the root systems. It’s just a fact of life; Bermuda grasses have struggled because of their saltwater intolerance. To now have a grass that isn’t affected by those conditions is pretty good stuff,” Duncan said.

The new grass was put to the ultimate test this past October during the Senior PGA Tour held on the Palmer Course at Turtle Bay. This was the first sanctioned event using the new Sea Isle 2000 Paspalum greens. It appears that Duncan’s hopes and dreams of creating a new turf grass have come true as the Senior PGA Tour players were all very impressed with the tournament greens. The comments were all very positive, and that’s something to smile about, as Senior PGA Tour players are notoriously known to be tough critics.

“There’s no grain on the putting surface, as opposed to Bermuda grasses, which are known for that,” Duncan said. “There’s a much denser canopy, so the ball sits up.”

According to Turtle Bay course superintendent Mike Honma, “The greens are rolling great, there’s no grain in them, and they’re putting true.”

“Sea Isle 200 Paspalum is also very environmentally friendly, which is catching a lot of people’s eyes,” Duncan said. “Being able to use alternative water sources is a big benefit. Plus, it’s about half the maintenance costs of other warm weather grasses. It takes half the nitrogen of other Bermuda grass.”

“In a salt-challenged environment, you need virtually no herbicide. Salt is toxic to a lot of insects, so with the right salt water management, we’re seeing a reduction in the amount of pesticides used. There is no perfect grass, but this one shows a lot of positives.”

Sea Isle 2000 Paspalum is saline tolerant, and because of this it will grow and thrive in links environments where golf course development has, to date, been impossible. So far, the Sea Isle 2000 has been used to build two seaside courses in the Dominican Republic, and courses from Naples to Nassau are experimenting with it.

Duncan also knows that the word-of-mouth exposure will be crucial, and according to all accounts, the new grass is on its way to becoming a regular on the professional tour.