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Overseeding act begins, but show must go on

Unlike a Broadway musical, golf goes ahead with the show several times a year even while it's still setting the stage.

Over the next few weeks, golf course superintendents along the Grand Strand will be busy performing their version of a set change.

As the scene moves from summer to fall, many will effectively switch out the kind of grass golfers play on.

They will sow ryegrass over the top of the bermudagrass that thrives so well in heat but slips into a kind of hibernation when things cool off.

This process, known as overseeding, gives golfers a green and growing - albeit slowly - surface during winter.

But for golf course superintendents, there is no intermission or curtain to bring down while they move the course from one act to the next.

The show just goes on, and golfers can find themselves right in the middle of the props being wheeled in and out.

First off, superintendents need to ruffle the fairways or greens they've been so carefully preening for months.

They will use a variety of equipment to break up the mat-like coverage to open a passage for new grass seed to find its way down to the soil.

For a start, they will likely lower the mowing height, removing much of the green leaf tissue and exposing straw-colored stolons.

That roughed up, off-color look might be further intensified by a process known as verticutting, where a machine slices into the soil laying open beds for the new seed.

As you might imagine, shredding all that bermudagrass and teasing up the soil generates considerable debris that either has to be collected or blown off.

Superintendents try to perform as much of this work in a way that minimizes the impact on golfers.

But again, with no curtain to draw, there's no hiding the fact that early fall is a time of transition on the golf course and golfers should expect to encounter some golf course maintenance activity or at least its impact.

Once ryegrass seed is laid out, superintendents then focus their energy on nurturing the young plants.

They will run irrigation often in the early stages and likely keep golf carts off fairways.

They will likely also apply some herbicides to control those weeds that, like the ryegrass, prefer the cooler months.

Without all that, a golf course with bermudagrass fairways and greens will simply lose all its color and vigor.

An increasing number of courses, particularly at private facilities, are happy to let that happen.

For one, it saves them a lot of money.

Buying, applying and growing new seed is an expensive proposition, often running into many tens of thousands of dollars.

Second, the bermudagrass often recovers much quicker when the weather warms again in the spring because it doesn't have to compete with the ryegrass for sunlight, water and other nutrients.

But in Myrtle Beach, where so much of the play is from out of town and competition for golfers is so intense, bone-colored fairways just don't match green when it comes to aesthetic appeal.

That foursome from New Jersey that flies down for a week of golf at the end of every November is looking to escape as many reminders of winter as possible.

Emerald fairways are not necessarily better playing surfaces, but it's a fact of life that most golfers prefer them.

So in that sense, while there won't be any intermission signs posted at your course over the next few weeks, it is still very much a case of "pardon our progress."

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