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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title / June 21, 2012 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Read the magazine story to find out more.

Photo: Golf ball on a putting green of bermudagrass. Link to photo information
An ARS researcher has developed a tool to more accurately identify non-uniform plants that can adversely affect the appearance and "playability" of putting greens, so that golf course managers can decide how to best deal with the trespassing plants. Click the image for more information about it.


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Keeping the Green in Putting Greens

By Dennis O'Brien
June 21, 2012

When a patch of unwanted grass discolors a putting green, it can cause headaches for golf course managers and for the sod farmers who supply them. But a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist has developed a tool to help minimize the damage.

Putting greens in the southern United States are made up of single cultivars of bermudagrass, and the appearance of non-uniform plants, or "off-types," can throw off the green's appearance and "playability." Karen Harris-Shultz, a geneticist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Tifton, Ga., has refined the process for telling one type of bermudagrass from another. This will help identify the source of unwanted off-types. ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

The lines of bermudagrass used on putting greens throughout the southeastern United States are all offshoots of Tifgreen, a variety developed more than 40 years ago by the late Glenn Burton, a former ARS grass breeder in Tifton. Even with the best molecular tools, the grass varieties are so nearly alike that it is sometimes hard to tell them apart.

When they find an off-type, golf course managers and sod farm managers often send samples of them to Harris-Shultz for analysis before deciding how to proceed. They need to know if the off-types are caused by a previously planted cultivar, a bermudagrass weed or by a mutation of the variety they planted.

Harris-Shultz collected 15 Tifgreen-derived cultivars from golf courses and research partners, extracted DNA from them and, with the help of an existing DNA database, developed a tool to help distinguish bermudagrass cultivars and identify contaminants.

The results, published in the Journal of the American Society of Horticultural Sciences, identify "repeatable polymorphic fragments" of DNA that are unique for each cultivar and can be used not only to distinguish among the different grasses, but to trace relationships between them.

Read more about the research in the May/June 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Last Modified: 6/20/2012