Golf Course Lawn

Step-By-Step Guide for Getting a Golf Course Lawn

Reading Time: 9 minutes

A beautifully-striped lawn mowed tight like a golf course fairway. This describes the dream of most lawn care fanatics. I’m going to outline the process I followed to create the lawn you see above. It’s taken a little over 2 years of blood, sweat, and fertilizer to get my lawn to this point. Although it looks pretty good, I’m always looking for ways to improve my golf course lawn.

My lawn started out as Tifway 419. It’s the cultivar most-commonly installed by contractors in my area. Over the past 2 years, I’ve overseeded the lawn with Princess 77 Bermuda to get a darker color while reducing water and fertilization requirements. In the photo above, the lawn at is mowed at .75″.

1. Topdressing

In order for your lawn to look like a golf course, it first has to be smooth like a golf course. Despite how flat your lawn may look to the naked eye, once you start mowing it lower all the bumps, dips and weird undulations will show themselves. To overcome this challenge, you’ll need to topdress your lawn.

Topdressing is the process of applying a layer of sand to the turf to smooth out the uneven surface. There are several types of top dressing. It can range from primarily organic material to pure playground sand.  A 50-50 mix of river sand and organic material was used on my lawn. This has the advantage of leveling the turf while also adding nutrients.

A pure organic mix will eventually break down putting you close to back where you started. While enough topdressing mix should be applied to reduce the low areas, be careful not to over-apply. The tips of the grass should still be exposed allowing them to receive sunlight for faster recovery.

The process used for applying the top dressing was as follows:

  1. Scalp the turf to a height below .5”
  2. Remove as many of the grass clippings as possible
  3. Aerate the turf
  4. Apply a 10-10-10 starter fertilizer (brand doesn’t really matter)
  5. Apply top dressing mix
  6. Use a shop broom to work the dressing mix into the turf

Topdressing is pretty back-breaking work. Be sure to enlist the help of friends and family so the process goes faster. Alternatively, you can find a company in your area that provides this service. 

If you decide to use a service expect to pay about $5.00 per square foot depending on what all they do. My lawn is approximately 12,000 square feet and the cost ended up being $2,425.00 when I had this done last year.

Approximately 5 weeks passed between topdressing and my lawn being completely green.

top dressing invoice for golf course lawn

Core Aeration and Verticutting

Core aeration and verticutting are methods for opening up the canopy and removing thatch. I typically aerate in late March or whenever the grass starts coming out of dormancy. Core aeration punches 4 – 6 inch deep holes into the turf and removes plugs of soil.  This allows fresh air and moisture to enter the soil which improves water and fertilizer uptake. It also strengthens grass roots. You can rent a core aerator or pay a service to come do it for you. 

Verticutting thins out the turf by removing built-up thatch. It also promotes new growth since the grass is being sliced into 2 – 3 inch long sections.  Each of these sections begins new growth of its own. The result is a much thicker and healthier turf in the weeks following the process.  I recommend doing both aeration and verticutting at least once per season. To speed up recovery, I apply fertilizer after the procedure.

Depending on your lawn size, expect to pay $60 – $90 for core aeration and $100 – $150 for verticutting.

2. Mower

After topdressing, the mower you use is by far the most important aspect of acquiring and maintaining a golf course lawn. The primary reason most lawns don’t look like a golf course is because the owner is using the wrong type of mower to cut the grass.

A traditional rotary lawn mower is analogous to swinging a long knife to cut the grass. This hacking motion tends to tear the grass instead of cutting it cleanly. Traditional mowers are also much more likely to scalp the turf as mowing heights become lower. Any unevenness in the surface will cause the cutting disk to dip creating ugly-looking semicircles in the lawn.

For the mowing heights we’re after (.5” – 1.25”), you need to use a reel mower. A reel mower (also called a cylinder mower), cuts the grass by trapping the grass between the reel edge and the bed knife. This process cuts the grass similar to how scissors cut paper. They’re much friendlier to the turf since the grass isn’t injured as much during the mowing process. Pretty much all reel mowers also have the option for installing a roller which neatly lays the grass flat during the cutting process. This is what creates those glorious stripes we’re after. 

tru cut to mow golf course lawn
Tru-Cut 25"

My current reel mower is a commercial Tru-Cut 25”. It’s an amazing bit of kit that does a great job keeping the lawn nice. I started out with a Scott’s push reel mower. While the Scott’s can work for smaller lawns, the Tru-Cut is a much better option. Because the reel turns so much faster, you obtain a better cut even at lower heights. It’s also much less work to operate a powered reel mower than a manual push mower. If you decide to get one, be sure to get a front roller since it’s required to create those beautiful stripes.

3. Fertilizer

I prefer to use a blend of synthetic and organic fertilizers. For the synthetic I use a medium release fertilizer from Lebanon Turf. The specific product is their ProScape 25-0-5 with 1% iron and 51% MESA. MESA is their proprietary additive that feeds the lawn for extended periods while not causing excessive growth. One bag of this fertilizer is enough to treat 14,000 square feet of Bermuda. It can feed the lawn for up to 3 months. 

For a slow release fertilizer, I like Milorganite. It’s organic and contains a bit of iron which promotes a very deep green color. I’ve applied it as heavy as 3X the specified rate with no burning. Your neighbors will hate the smell but it does wonders for your turf. Proscape fertilizer and Milorganite are a great combination that gives the turf a deep emerald green color.

This is my annual fertilization schedule:

  • Early March: Full Milorganite application
  • Mid April: Full Milorganite application
  • Late June: Full Milorganite application
  • Late June: Full ProScape 25-0-5 application
  • Mid-August: Final Milorganite application of the year

4. Mowing Frequency

A big reason why golf courses look the way they do, is mowing frequency. The shorter the grass, the more frequently it has to be mowed to maintain the desired height. In order to have a green lawn between mowing sessions, it’s recommended that no more than 1/3 the length of the grass be removed.  It also reduces the stress on the turf but to me this is secondary. Regardless of what you do to it, Bermuda is pretty difficult to kill.

This is the reason why putting greens are usually mowed daily while fairways are cut every other day.  That’s what it takes to maintain green turf below 1 inch.  For the home owner this translates to mowing at least 3 times per week; certainly not a small commitment.

During the summer months, (June – August), I usually mow the lawn every other day.

5. Pre-Emergent and PGR

Due to the low height of cut and mowing frequency, I don’t really have issues with weeds. That said, in mid-March I do put down a pre-emergent. I also re-apply in late June. The brand of pre-emergent I use is Spectracide. It can usually be found at your local big box store or Amazon for under $20 per bag.

The other chemical that I’ve recently begun using is PGR (Plant Growth Regulator). It inhibits the grass’ stalk from growing quickly while allowing the leaf to flourish. This has 2 great benefits. First, it reduces the mowing frequency because the grass isn’t growing vertically as quickly. Second, I get a darker green because the leaf isn’t being cut off as frequently. Older leaf is darker green than new leaf. 

The brand of PGR I initially used and still recommend is a variant of Primo Maxx called T-Nex

Depending on how much rain I get it’s applied every 4 – 6 weeks to control growth. My first application goes down in early June, followed by additional applications in July and August.  It saves me about 1 mow per week and also provides the benefit of a greener lawn.

An alternative to Primo Maxx is growth regulator called Tide Paclo 2SC. I’ve been testing it out recently and like it even more than Primo Maxx. It takes 3 – 10 days to start working but the effects on the lawn are amazing. Check out my video here to see the results. I use this backpack sprayer from Chapin to apply the PGR. Definitely helps create a tightly woven turf that I’m after on my golf course lawn.

6. Fungicide and Insecticide

There are a couple of options for keeping grub worms, fire ants, and other pests away.  I’ve recently switched to product by Syngenta called Caravan G. It’s a combination Insecticide and Fungicide. It does an excellent job of keeping the nasties away as well as eliminating lawn fungus like dollar spot. One bag covers around 8,000 square feet.

An alternative to Caravan G, is to use 2 separate products like Milky Spore and Advion Fire Ant Bait. For 2 years I used both of these products for fungus and ant control with great results.

7. Water

Bermuda only needs about 1” of water per week during the summer months to stay happy. If there’s no rain, that means running your irrigation system. Depending on your lawn size, water will probably be your highest expense.

Lower watering requirements is one of the primary reasons I made the decision to switch to Princess 77. A new grass seed called Arden 15 was recently released that has all the benefits of Princess 77 but grows in faster.  It’s also worth checking out.

Tying it All Together

While it’s certainly a lot of work, the end result makes it worthwhile.  Topdressing is by far the most difficult aspect of the process. Once you get past that it becomes all about fertilization and mowing.

Hope you enjoyed reading how my lawn was transferred from boring to awesome in just 2 short years. For those of you with golf course lawns, how did my process vary from yours? Are you using PGR to help control growth? If there’s anything I missed, please let me know in the comments below! Also if you’re interested in topics other than creating an amazing lawn be sure to stop by my blog. I share my take on topics such as finance, investing and personal growth.

golf course backyard

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This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Your video on the tru cut25 reel mower was great thank you. I’m in the process of purchasing one, I can’t seem to find the height it will cut the grass. The highest and the lowest. If you could tell me that I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks
    Jim Ellis

    1. Hi Jim,

      It depends on how yours is setup.Typically height of cut ranges from just under 1/2″ to 2.25″. Your best bet is to simply cut a sample area and measure it with a ruler. The notches in the height control allow you to make fairly small changes to the cutting height. It’s very granular. Congrats on the Tru-Cut. I’m sure you’re going to love it!

      Let me know if I can help with anything else. Thanks for your comment!

  2. I am going to start this project this weekend. with aeration then top dressing my next question should start with a seeding or follow this with the 10-10-10 starter fertilizer. i just know when i should start the seeding process to start growing the type of grass i want or need. So what i need to know when following this plan you have laid out and i am in the beginning process of trying to turn my lawn into this when should i seed. i am not sure if i can do those steps with starter fertilizer and seed or it would kill the seed. just let me know when i should seed.

    Thanks

    1. Starter fertilizer with the seed should be just fine. Just be sure to apply it at bag rate. It won’t kill the seeds. A triple 10 is what I would go with. Just be sure that you’re watering frequently since that will have a bigger impact on the seed taking off that fertilizer. Let me know how it works out.

  3. Hey Ron……I just started following you on YouTube a couple of weeks ago and today I stumble on your website, and I’m like hey this is Ron on YouTube… But thanks for all the info you share for everyone and especially the lawn enthusiasts such as myself… I have a question for you how do you apply your Princess 77 and do you recommend me applying after top dressing?

    1. Thanks so much for you comment. Yep! I would definitely apply it after top dressing. I did that.

      You have to figure that when the lawn is being top dressed, you’ve already aerated and there’s plenty quality soil to help the seed take root. You’re also going to be watering after top dressing to help the lawn recover faster. All those things will help the Princess 77 take off. Let me know how it works out. Be sure to take pictures and video of the process! 🙂

  4. Will do thanks…

  5. Hello Ron,

    I live in Charlotte Nc. I have Bermuda grass and this is my first spring using Milorganite, this is also our first summer in our new home. My Bermuda has dips, some uneven spots (gaps) and some areas in which the Bermuda seems to be moving slower greening up.
    I want to add Pro Scape to pair up with the Milorginite, but i’m not sure if I should focus more on greening up first or correcting my lawn leveling issues first in addition How ofter can I top dress to correct areas worst off?

    1. Leveling the lawn probably makes more sense if your goal is to get it smoother. You can still put Milo and Proscape down though. It’ll help the lawn recover faster. As far as frequency for top dressing, I would base that on how the lawn is recovering. Once the grass has mostly come back, you can apply another top dress. Just make sure you’re not completely submerging the grass in the mixture.

      After you put it down, use a broom to work it in so that the tips of the grass stick out. The only thing I wouldn’t recommend doing along with top dressing is PGR application. That will seriously slow down how quickly your lawn comes back. Proscape and Milo should be used as part of the top dressing process. Hope this helps. Let me know if I can help with anything else.

      1. Agree on the PGR recommendation – wait until your lawn is thriving THEN hit it with PGR and grin 😀. Too early and you’ll be sad.

        1. It’s been doing pretty well on the PGR. I’m really enjoying the lawn this year. There’s no major renovations planned. Just mowing, fertilizer and mowing.

  6. Hi Ron,

    Im about to top dress my lawn in 3 weeks here in ATL. I’m planning on following your steps but was thinking about putting my Lebanon pro turf after I aerate before I top dress ( basically swapping out the 10-10-10 for the Lebanon)

    Also, do you recommend a 50-50 sand to compost mixture or more or less of a mix?

    Any thoughts or advice? Thanks!

    1. I really like 50% organic material and 50% sand. That allows you to level low spots while still leveling the lawn. Using only sand will level the lawn but adds no real nutrition to the lawn. Triple 10 fertilizer will work well along with your top dressing. Let me know how it works out or if there’s anything I can help with.

  7. Hello Sir, I was wondering on your Scott’s Elite 16 reel mower that you started out with, how did you set the height of cut to do 1” what settings did you do? I am just starting out on my front lawn with the Scott’s Elite 16 and noticed in a video you started out with that model. I got mine a a garage sale new for $20. Thanks again!

    1. Congrats on starting your reel mower journey. To get the 16″ down to 1 inch height of cut, you’ll have to remove the wheels and move the studs to a higher hole which will lower the mower. It’s really not too difficult. Takes about 5 minutes and only requires a couple of wrenches. Once you drop the height you’ll be right at 1 inch height of cut.

      Let me know if you run into any issues. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Thanks so much! I put the main wheels at the lowest setting and the roller is set on the 2nd highest setting which is getting me to an 1.5”
    So maybe I just need to drop the back roller down a step?
    Thank you for all the help! I am trying this out here in Gillette Wyoming, with KBG and PRG! Crazy I know but you and Connor Ward have inspired me and when I was younger growing up in the Pacific Northwest I worked on a golf course and the big for low cut lawn has never left me!

    1. I think dropping the roller down a step will do the trick. You’ll have to send me pictures of your lawn as it develops. I really appreciate you reading my blog and looking at my YouTube videos. I enjoy sharing the little I know to help others out.

      Let me know if I can help with anything else. Thanks for your comment.

  9. I have common Bermuda. Will the above steps work for that type of Bermuda? I have a relatively small front lawn. Two sections on either side of the driveway. One large. One small. Total square footage is probably less than 3,000. Last year I unfortunately let it get to 3.5-4.0 inches and it did not look good. This year, I scalped it early and have been cutting it often enough to keep it around 1.5 inches. It definitely has been looking a lot better. Unfortunately, I recently let it go 10 days without cutting, as we were on vacation. I cut it the day we returned. Have been using a rotary mower. That’s about to change. I raised it once notch for this cutting. Looked really good. Waited two days and lowered it to where I typically cut it. That was a mistake. Was still too long and thick for that setting, thus removed more than 1/3 in a lot of areas. Scalp mark appearance all over. Should have cut it again at the higher setting, then probably lowered it for a cutting the next day or two days later. Now have to wait until it recovers and then try higher setting again, then lower setting. Does that sound logical? Going to get the Scotts 2000-20 manual reel mower. Also, lawn a bit bumpy and uneven in areas. Need to top dress, but probably too late for this season, right? Any input or advice would be appreciated. We live in the Snellville area of Georgia. Your lawn looks great. Just started watching your videos. Very good. Thanks.

    1. Yes. The above steps will work great for common Bermuda. 3000 square feet isn’t huge so you’ll be able to really do it up nicely without incurring a lot of expense. When your grass gets high it’s best to work it back down low in steps. At any rate just keep mowing it between 1.5 and 2 inches. The deal with any lawn, is the more often you mow it, the better it will look.

      If go on vacation again simply cut it a bit higher and a couple days later mow it again at a slightly lower height. Work back down to your desired height over a couple of weeks to maintain a good appearance while you work towards your goal. Scalping it doesn’t really hurt the grass. It just doesn’t look good while it recovers. You can still top dress now without issue. All the way up to mid-August you can probably get away with doing it.

      The big thing with Bermuda is heat. As long as it’s hot, the grass will recover quickly. Sooner is better than later for sure. With 3000 feet you can probably take on the top dressing project yourself. Otherwise, I’d recommend using Sandman. They do great work and the process is pretty quick.

      Thanks for your comment. Please let me know if I can help with anything else.

  10. Thank you. I had been mowing it every 2-3 days at around 1.5 to 1.75 inches. My rotary mower has five numbered settings. I had been cutting it at number 2, which is less than 2 inches. When we returned from vacation, I set it at number 3, then dropped it to number 2 two days later, which resulted in the scalping/yellowing. So, that method did not work. I think I got a good bit of growth in those two days and should have cut it again at number 3. Maybe should have started higher, then worked down to 3, then 2 over a few weeks, like you said. Regardless, what should I do now? My last cut was on Tuesday, at number 2. It still has a lot of areas that don’t look good. Should I wait until all the bad areas have greened up, then start over? The green areas have noticeable growth. Or, should I go ahead and cut today or Saturday? At what height?

    1. I would cut it again today at number 2. If 2 is your desired height then cut it at that height as long as you can do it a couple times per week to maintain it. Remember the rule 1/3 rule. You don’t want to take off more than 1/3 at any given time if you want it to stay green between cuts. The shorter you want it to be, the more often you have to cut it. This is why golf course greens are mowed daily.

      We got some rain this week which should also help with green up. It won’t hurt to go up one notch if you’re worried though. I did that this week just to see how the lawn would look. Going to release a video soon showing the results.

  11. Thanks. So, even with a lot of areas not greened up yet and recovered, it is ok to cut today? I may try it a number 3. Also, how do you handle cutting the area alongside the driveway? Outside wheels on the driveway, or on the grass and using the trimmer to get the part right next to the driveway?

    1. I tend to put the roller in the grass and use the trimmer to get the edge where the grass meets the driveway. If you put the wheels on the driveway, it tends to cut the grass in that area a bit higher which often doesn’t look as good. It guess it also depends on how much higher your driveway is from your lawn. It’s ok to cut the areas that haven’t recovered. Remember that the grass isn’t dead or really even hurt. You’re seeing brown because you cut down on the stalk of the grass. The green leafy portion was cut off.

      By mowing it again at the desired height, you’re essentially training the grass to grow leaf at that height. It will take a bit to green up, but the end result is you’ll be able to cut it at that height and it will remain green between mowings. Again, this all hinges on mowing frequency. If you’re only cutting once per week, you’ll likely need to cut it higher.

      Hope this helps.

  12. Understood. I am able to cut frequently. And will be purchasing a manual reel mower soon. In the meantime, between the following, what would you recommend, with my rotary mower: 1) cutting today at number 2 (my desired setting and the setting I had been previously cutting at), then at that setting every 2-3 days, or 2) cutting today at number 3, then tomorrow at number 2? How long will the brown areas take to green back up, if I cut at number 2 again today and every 2-3 days at that setting? I don’t want to go the rest of the summer with the brown areas. Thank you for your patience with me.

    1. I would cut today at number 3 and the next time you mow, cut it at number 2 if that’s your desired height of cut. It won’t hurt to work you way down to the lower height over the course of a couple of mowings. Cutting it every few days should be often enough to keep Bermuda green at the number 2 height of cut.

      After a few mowings at number 2 if you like the way the lawn is looking, keep that height of cut. Worst case you can always raise it back up to level 3. We are in the prime growing season right now so it’s pretty safe to experiment a bit. The lawn will recover quickly. Let me know if I can help with anything else.

  13. Ron, the bermuda appears to be recovering. It has been a week since the scalping. There are around 20-25 small areas that have not yet greened up. I cut it at the number 3 setting using the rotary mower on Sunday. I received my Scott’s 20 inch manual reel mower yesterday and used it on the small area on the other side of the driveway. Debating what and when to use it on the large area that was scalped. Should I wait for more green up, or go ahead and use the reel mower tomorrow (will be three days since the last cut)? I adjusted the large wheels (as per the owner’s manual) so that I can cut it as low as one inch, if desired. If I cut tomorrow, should I cut it at two inches, or would it be ok to go even lower, considering it is not fully recovered?

    1. Nice. Bermuda is very hardy so a bit of heat, water and time is usually all it takes to get it to come back. If your plan is to switch to the reel mower, I’d go ahead and do that now. Just cut it a setting or 2 higher initially so you can see how it’s looking. If it’s too high you can always lower the height of cut and go over it again. If it were me, I’d start cutting it with the reel mower. Let me know if I can help with anything else.

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