The Color of (Wasted) Money

Courses like TPC Scottsdale overseed in winter. What does that process actually entail?


Do you know what is non-native to the Arizona desert? Perennial Ryegrass. This is the go-to cool-season grass type that most Arizona golf courses use for overseeding. One of those courses: TPC Scottsdale, host of this week’s WM Phoenix Open.

Overseeding is the process of planting grass seed directly into existing turf. In hot climates like the Arizona desert, warm season grasses (bermuda) go dormant and turn brown when winter rolls around. To combat this, courses overseed with grasses that can both handle the cold weather and maintain a green color. This is an intensive and very costly process to carry out. It means dropping roughly 400-800 pounds of seed and $3,000 per acre. TPC Scottsdale has just over 100 acres of maintained turf. You can do the math. Adding in the demanding labor, necessary fertilizers, and massive amounts of water needed to germinate the seed, and it’s obvious this is a wildly expensive undertaking. All for the sole, unnecessary purpose of ensuring lush green grass.

Unnecessary because, contrary to what many golfers believe, dormant bermuda is a fantastic surface for golf as it creates firm and fast conditions. Oversaturated ryegrass, on the other hand, plays slow, costs more to maintain, and comes with negative environmental impacts. If courses really want the bright green look, they can color their fairways with paint for a fraction of the cost of overseeding while still retaining the playability of dormant grass. I would absolutely love to see the world’s best players compete on hard, dormant fairways. It would be a more dynamic and exciting style of golf.

The beauty of brown at Pinehurst #2 Photo: Fried Egg Golf

Obviously TPC Scottsdale generates a lot of revenue, and the costs involved with overseeding aren’t really a concern for any high-end public facility in that class. But it sets a poor, unnecessary precedent for other courses. Places like Pinehurst Golf Resort embrace the look and playability of dormant bermuda while still providing a world-class golfing experience. Maybe one day we will get to watch the pros play on brown fairways. When the water runs dry in the desert and overseeding is no longer feasible, we won’t have a choice.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.