Koga Golf Club Pioneers MiniVerde™ Greens in Japan

In a climate and country where bentgrass has traditionally been king, MiniVerde™ Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass earns royalty status at Koga Golf Club in Fukuoka, Japan. The championship course became the first in the country to plant a full 18 holes with MiniVerde. The results could lead to many others following suit.

Practically unheard of in other regions of the world, Japanese courses commonly include two greens per golf hole. This practice provides greater variety of play for golfers as well as increased versatility for the maintenance staff. Most courses feature bentgrass for their predominant greens and choose zoysia grass for the secondary greens if planting a warm season variety of turf. Koga Golf Club selected MiniVerde Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass.

“The MiniVerde holds up better in the summer and gives the bentgrass greens a break during the summer months,” said Dr. Noriaki Aoki, Assistant General Manager and Director of Maintenance at Koga.

However, during the dormant winter months, MiniVerde maintains its performance, says Dr. Aoki. “Some people worried about the MiniVerde greens being too fast in the winter, but they don’t get as fast as zoysia in the winter. The grass blades are more upright than zoysia and can control the putt better. MiniVerde performs just as well in the winter as summer.”

Besides offering consistent performance throughout the year, additional factors contributed to the selection of MiniVerde. When Dr. Aoki contemplated changing one set of greens to bermudagrass, a colleague in the United States introduced him to MiniVerde. He instituted a trial of two bermudagrasses, and MiniVerde outperformed the alternative in color, density and smoother putting surface.

“A big plus is the finer grain of MiniVerde creating a truer putting roll,” said Dr. Aoki. “Also the color is a darker green, and greens up faster and more consistently. With the finer leaf texture, MiniVerde has a higher density.”

In May of 2011, Inaji Landscape and Construction led the conversion for Koga to MiniVerde with planting rates of 33 bushels per 100 square meters. Grow-in took just less than 12 weeks with the greens opening in early August.

“To be the first golf course in Japan to use a new variety of turf can be a very risky decision,” said Andrew McDaniel of Inaji Landscape and Construction. “However, through proper testing with a nursery green the first year and the planting of one sub green the second year to see how it performed under play, Dr. Aoki and Koga Golf Club could make a clear decision on the conversion. By doing this, it shows a commitment by Koga Golf Club to improve their current conditions while being a leader in the golf industry in Japan.”

With continued support from McDaniel and Inaji, Dr. Aoki established a maintenance program for the MiniVerde greens that keeps quality and performance high. The greens are cut at 2.7 millimeters during the growing season and increased to three millimeters for the remainder of the year. While the MiniVerde is dormant from December to February, covering the greens has not been necessary. To enhance aesthetics, Dr. Aoki does paint the greens in the winter, but the dormant months in no way affect the quality of play.

“You always have a sense of nervousness about how smooth the grow-in will actually go since you have 18 greens with their own different climates and possible shade issues,” said McDaniel. “I could not have been more impressed with how smooth the grown-in went. Dr. Aoki has a very disciplined maintenance program and sticks with the basics. I think this not only played a large role in the grow-in but carried over to their daily maintenance of the Miniverde and is why they continuously receive positive feedback from the conversion.”

With the MiniVerde greens in place now for a full year, member satisfaction at Koga exceeds expectations. “Members were excited to try out the greens,” said Dr. Aoki. “From day one, they’ve been happy with the quality. I am very satisfied myself.  It gives me an opportunity to rest the bentgrass greens and makes golf much more enjoyable.”

Alternating usage on the two sets of greens puts the bentgrass 18 in play only about three days per week in the summer and up to as many as five during the winter. With over 30,000 total rounds of golf played at Koga each year, the MiniVerde greens handle about 10,000 rounds.

Green speeds on the MiniVerde stimp nine feet on average, although the turfgrass has the capability to roll much faster. On Koga’s relatively small greens of approximately 300 square meters with severe undulations, Dr. Aoki recognizes that above nine feet would be tough for golfers.

The success of MiniVerde at Koga has not gone unnoticed. Dr. Aoki admits to being contacted frequently by general managers from all over Japan as well as other superintendents. “Many are coming to have a look and even play the course themselves to see how the MiniVerde is doing in Japan.”

Atlas Turf International