Golf Course Lawn

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

Reading Time: 8 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

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
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 use and 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.

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.

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!

golf course backyard

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This Post Has 8 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. 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.

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