Fine Turf

We want to provide clear simple practical advice

so the layman golfer can understand the fundermental aspects of sustainable greenkeeping that affect their home course.

Below is a definition of the relevant grasses from Jim Arthur’s very readable book Practical Greenkeeping

Desirable species making the best turf

  • barenbrug fescvue browntop grass

    80% fescue, 20% Browntop grass CLICK TO ENLARGE

    Bents (Agrostis)

  • Fine fescues (Festuca rubra)

Undesirable species forming poorer turf

  • Meadow grasses (Poa spp., especially Poa annua)
  • Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
  • Timothy (Phleum pratense)

Weeds, or positively harmful species

  • Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus)
  • Crested dogstail (Cynosurus cristatus)
  • Early hair grass (Aira praecox)
  • Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata)


Primary Species and Varieties


Agrostis species (bent grasses) 

barenbrug browntop bent grass,

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There are a number of grasses within this genus, which in fact is arguably the commonest grass, because it is dominant on so much of our unspoilt natural grassland, whether used for golf or not.

A. tenuis. The archetypal ‘ browntop’  or sometimes called  ‘colonial’ or ‘common’ or even ‘New Zealand’,  the desired companion of fine fescues as the ideal partnership for all parts of golf courses, greens, tees and fairways alike. In selecting which one of some ten cultivars to use, the main criterion is to rate them against the desired performance for each specific use. Ratings are on turf density, fineness of leaf, shortness of growth, freedom from red thread disease, and summer and winter greenness.

A. castellana. A more vigorous, somewhat coarse-leaved, old strain (highland), still the best for tees or indeed in my opinion, for over-seeding in remedial work on greens, as its extra vigour is a plus.

A. stolonifera. Our native creeping bent, with characteristic and annoying creeping surface stems (stolons) which can be kept in order by regular verticutting etc. If it is, then it makes good putting surfaces.

A. canina. Velvet bent, sometimes found in wet or over-irrigated turf, a desperate thatch former and very susceptible to disease. Once it was touted as a lawn grass established by stolons, but in practice it was much better appreciated by sparrows making nests. Very fine leaves and deep green colour, which distinguishes it from fescues.

A. palustris x. The practice of referring to Penncross and allied strains as creeping bent (an American distinction between it and colonial bent) is bad enough, but to re-christen this hybrid as A stolonifera is appalling. It bears no botanical similarity. A fine-leaved grass, tolerant of warmer climes, it was bred to provide better greens than strains of Bermuda grass which used to be the choice for such hot climate courses. It is aggressive and spreading. It needs constant verticutting or grooming. It plucks up badly with spikes. It suffers from disease, both fusarium and especially take-all patch. It produces soft spongy turf due to its thatch-forming habit. All this is bad enough, but in European temperate conditions, as opposed to hot Mediterranean ones, its habit of dormancy in winter makes it quite unsuitable for winter golf in the former zone.

Never once have these stains out-performed European brown top bents in trials. Penncross and allied strains show spectacular early establishment, but rapidly deteriorate. Partly this is because those who specified its use in the past also seem to have gone for sand-only greens. This, coupled with the combination of heavy (hydroponic) feeding and watering with a grass with a severe winter dormant problem, inevitably means Poa annua dominance, sooner rather than later.

To sum up, Penncross is fine where there is no winter-or where the winters are so severe that there is no winter golf.


Festuca species (fine fescues).

Here again there are five species found in turf, which are, with the exception of the F. rubra group, are of only academic interest.

F. ovina. Sheeps fescue is common enough, but useless to us as it has a whorled, tufted habit of growth- not creeping-and so never forms a knit turf, resulting in very unsatisfactory pitted lies.

barenbrug fescue grass

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F. rubra. This is the main species. It is reputed to be difficult to manage and perhaps it is, in that one cannot make a mistake or it goes! The commonest mistake is to mow it too closely. This is quite unnecessary, as these fine fescues produce superlative, fast putting surfaces even when mown at 7mm, let alone 5mm. Using complete fertilisers or over-watering will rapidly kill them.

There are three main groups:

Chewings (F. rubra, ssp. Commutata)

Slender creeping red (F rubra, ssp, litoralis)

Strong creeping red ( F rubra, ssp, rubra)

This last will not withstand close mowing, so is restricted to fairways, tees etc. It is sensible to use at least one strain from each of the first two groups for greens, in order to spread the risk of disease. Remember that the variety at the top of the cultivar list will be the most expensive and in the shortest supply, so ask yourselves whether you really need all those characteristics, such as greenness, for run of the mill use. My personal advice is to use the best strains only for greens, with cheaper, but still good ones, for the whole of the rest of the course, and to use basically the same mix for everything- greens, tees and fairways alike.


Poa species (meadow grasses).

Here again there are a number of varieties, from our old enemy Poa annua (itself very variable in its growth habits), to perennial species covering a wide range.

P. pratensisP. trivialis.  P. nemoralis  and P. bulbosa  are of little use to golf.

P. annua. Annual meadow grass is the target for a battle that we never quite win, to keep it out of bent-fescue turf. It too can be variable, from very coarse, prolifically seeding, almost ephemeral plants through to very prostrate fine-leaved almost biennial forms sometimes called P. angustifolia or P. reptans. There is insufficient evidence to justify differentiating these forms as separate subspecies, because a change of management can sometimes produce a change of characteristics.


Lolium species (perennial ryegrass).

By my book this has no place on any golf course. If our aim is fine bent-fescue turf, even for fairways, why start with a football pitch plant which never forms a really close knit turf, aggressively smothers finer grasses, takes a lot of mowing (and with very sharp bladed machines) and never blends with other turf grasses. All too often one ends up with a patchy mix of Poa annua and ryegrass, unattractive, unsuitable and poor wearing.

Even so-called dwarf varieties are not all that dwarf. Ryegrass does not wear better than, say, bents and fescues, but it may, because it is so aggressive, survive poor quality management longer.


The main identification features are:-

Agrostis (bent)

Uncoloured basal stems, round section; many obvious, very close, parallel leaf ribs (no central rib) and dull blue-green colour.  May go purple in cold weather.

Festuca (fine fescues)

Uncoloured base and round stems, needle-shaped leaves, which will open up in wet weather but close up in dry; characteristic, light khaki-coloured leaves, forming close knit wiry turf.

Poa spp. (Meadow grasses)

Pale coloured base, folded stems, parallel-sided, rather short leaves with characteristic boat shaped tip, with pronounced double mid-rib.  If the leaves are flattened the tips split.  Forms open turf and often looks yellow-green and less than healthy under adverse conditions. Creates seed heads and flowers all the year round and particularly in the spring, at low level.


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