Bentgrass, a cold-weather grass, was the original inhabitant of RTJ's greens before the switch to Champion Ultradrawf Bermudagrass was made.

RTJ Trail’s Grand National golf course gets new greens

By Daniel Chesser
The Auburn Villager

One of the nation’s premier public golf courses receives its first renovation since opening in 1992.

The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand National opened its lake course for play last week after replacing the grass on the putting greens.

Bentgrass, a cold-weather grass, was the original inhabitant of RTJ’s greens before the switch to Champion Ultradrawf Bermudagrass was made.

“Bentgrass is one of the draws to this place and it has served us well,” said Tommy Barnes, sales and marketing director for RTJ at Grand National.

RTJ at Grand National is known for being the Southern-most course to use Bentgrass, but the change requires less maintenance.

“The Bentgrass, I had to baby it just trying to keep it alive for the rest of the season,” said Jeff Olemann, head grounds keeper at RTJ at Grand National. “It got weak on us, opening the door for other grasses to come in.”

The Champion Ultradwarf is a warm season grass and close to four acres of it was put down on the course over the summer.

Olemann said he could now assess the course twice a year and tend to all its needs instead of having constant surveillance on the greens.

The Champion Ultradwarf was taken from a strain of Bermudagrass in Texas and has been used by private and PGA Tour courses since 1987, according to Olemann.

“It greens up in March and slows down around September, October or November,” Olemann said. “A wet, hot summer would kill the Bentgrass; Champion Ultradwarf is more resilient.”

Renovations began in June and the Champion Ultradwarf Bermudagrass greens are ready to play on.

“You couldn’t have done this with a 5-week-old Bentgrass green,” Olemann said.

The new grass is smoother with less friction allowing the ball to move faster when putting for the hole.

RTJ will see 30,000 rounds on the new greens this year while a private course may have 15-20,000 rounds.

“We have seen some courses do 40,000 rounds on this grass. It was just getting a lot of people on board that thought it was the right thing to do,” Olemman said. “It took some people playing golf and looking at other facilities that had it, but it is not that new with first greens being planted in Azalea City down in Mobile.”

The Champion Ultradwarf has proven itself over the past decade in high-end courses, according to Olemann.

In addition to the renovations on the lake course a new chipping and putting green was added, concrete with new mats for tee-boxes were put in place at the driving range and the par-3 short course greens were switched from Bentgrass to Tifdwarf Bermudagrass.

Tifdwarf is highly adapted to heat, heavy traffic and low mowing similar to the Champion Ultradwarf, but grows with less density.

A yearly membership at the short course is only $420, according to Barnes.

Grand National, by all reports, was the single greatest site for a golf complex Robert Trent Jones, Sr. had ever seen and brings business from all over the world.

It was built on the 600-acre Lake Saugahatchee with 32 of the 54 holes linked along its shores.

RTJ Golf Trail at Grand National was ranked as the top public golf course in the 2009 Golf World Readers’ Choice awards.

Both the links and the lake courses have made the top 10 of Golf Digest’s list of America’s Top 50 Affordable Courses.

The three courses at Grand National are also listed among the nation’s

40 Super Value courses by Golf Digest’s Places to Play.