'Bermuda Grass' in Golf: What It Is, How It Plays

"Bermuda grass," or "Bermuda" for shorthand, is a common type of turfgrass used on golf courses. It is classified as a warm-season grass, so is most common in areas with hot summers and winters that don't typically get very cold. One region famous for its use of Bermuda grass on golf courses is the American South, particularly Florida, Georgia and South Texas.

In areas where the summers are hot but the winters can get cold, the Bermuda grass will go dormant in the cold weather and turn brown (it looks dead, frankly). In those locales, golf courses using Bermuda grass usually overseed it in the cooler months, typically with ryegrass, then bring back the Bermuda once the weather gets warm enough again.

Before we go any farther, a note about spelling. It is very common to spell it as one word — Bermudagrass. It is also very common to spell it without capitalizing — bermuda grass, bermudagrass or bermuda. All are acceptable, and golf industry associations can differ in their preferences.

Bermuda grasses — Tifsport, Tifeagle and Tifdwarf are names of common varieties — have thicker blades than bentgrass, and can be mowed lower than bentgrass (bentgrass is a cool-season grass). That gives bermudagrass a grainier look and feel than bentgrass. Some golf courses that use bermudagrass for their teeing areas, fairways and roughs will install cooling systems underneath their putting greens in order to use bentgrass on the greens (Augusta National Golf Club does this).

The grain of Bermuda grass greens can influence putts, so golfers on such greens must be aware when they are putting with, against or across the grain. Bermuda grass roughs, meanwhile, can have a spongy, grabby feel, and golfers unfamiliar with playing out of bermuda rough can have a hard time adjusting to it.

In a tips section on his website, Greg Norman compares bentgrass and bermudagrass this way:

"The long-bladed bent is like long hair — the ball rolls along the arcing blades of grass — whereas the short-bladed Bermuda forms a sort of crew cut, with the ball rolling along the tops of the bristles. These bristles create much more grain than do the waves of bent grass and therefore have a far greater effect on the roll of a putt. On some southern (U.S.) greens, a putt against the grain must be hit twice as hard as a downgrain putt."
Norman goes on to note that golf balls tend to perch on top of Bermuda grass fairways, resulting in crisper contact and more spin relative to bentgrass fairways, and shots tend to fly just a smidge farther off Bermuda fairways because of that cleaner contact.

In Bermuda grass rough, on the other hand, Norman says, "it's often a matter of survival — the thick, gnarly blades grab your club and slow it down, so in many cases your best bet is to cut your losses and simply chop the ball out with a short iron."

Bermuda grass is so-named because it was introduced to the United States from Bermuda, naturally (although, somewhat surprisingly, the grass is actually native to southern Europe). It has been used as a warm-weather turfgrass in the United States since at least the turn of the 20th century (early 1900s).

Among the benefits of Bermuda grass on golf courses: It is fast-growing, it is resilient, it stands up to foot and cart traffic better than many other turfgrasses, and is drought-resistant compared to many other types of golf course grasses. The disadvantages include its graininess on putting greens and that it goes dormant when the weather turns a little cooler. (Although most golf courses that use Bermuda overseed in the fall and winter, more golf courses today are simply allowing the Bermuda to go dormant and playing on that. Although it looks brown and dead, dormant Bermuda plays fine.)

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