Michigan State University is launching a new Bermuda grass turf for healthier putting greens

Contact: Grace Jones

Mississippi State Assistant Professor Hongshu Dong, a scientist at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station who specializes in grass breeding and genetics, evaluates grasses in a university greenhouse. (Photo by Dominic Belcher)

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State scientists are developing new types of turf grass for putting greens that hold golf shots with real potential.

Scientists at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station have developed two new turf grass varieties as the first hybrid Bermuda grass varieties unrelated to the commonly used “Tifgreen.”

“The superior performance of these two grasses provides stakeholders with new options in the green market,” said Assistant Professor Hongxu Dong, a specialist in grass breeding and genetics. “These two grasses add new genetic diversity to Bermuda grass varieties, especially those used for growing vegetables.”

He noted that ‘MSB-264’ and ‘MSB-285’ have a straighter leaf orientation than the traditional Bermuda grass setting green varieties. Although they are visually similar, they have different genetic makeups. Both are propagated vegetatively and are sterile triploid genotypes, meaning they do not produce seeds.

“This has the potential to allow for more accurate placement and better grip on golf shots than the very dwarf Bermuda grass varieties that exist,” Dong said.

These varieties, developed by MAFES scientists in Michigan State University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, have proven successful throughout their growing seasons.

“Both MSB-264 and MSB-285 showed high turf quality, leaf texture, density, genetic color, color retention in autumn and winter, rapid spring greening, and high percentages of living ground cover,” Dong said.

“Compared to the Tifgreen-derived varieties, which are the mainstay of the warm-season golf course putting green market, ‘MSB-264’ and ‘MSB-285’ were bred from a much different genetic background. These variants are full siblings derived from Tifgreen,” he explained. Hybridization between parents.

In 2013, the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program began a five-year warm-season trial in which green varieties were placed at sites in Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia. Those studied included MAFES Bermuda grasses and commercial cultivars such as ‘Sunday’, ‘TifEagle’, ‘Tifdwarf’ and ‘Mini-Verde’.

The process of breeding for marketing is long and arduous, taking 10 to 12 years to develop a single variety. It begins with the characterization of germplasm materials and hybridization between selected parents that exhibit superior and unique characteristics.

“Because the process is so long and because you have to collect a lot of data to patent and market the turf, we have 110 to 120 turfs being evaluated for sports fields, golf courses and home lawns,” Dong said. “The breeding program is a numbers game. The more varieties you test, the greater the chances of getting some varieties that are good enough to go into trials and then go into production and marketing.

Wayne Feeley, a recently retired MSU turfgrass breeder, led the development of MAFES. Both herbs are available for licensing. To learn more about licensing, contact Jim Mitchell, licensing assistant in the MSU Office of Technology Management, by email at jfm93@msstate.edu or call 662-325-8223.

To learn more about the Michigan State University Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, visit www.pss.msstate.edu. To learn more about MAFES, visit www.mafes.msstate.edu.

Michigan State University is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

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