Golf fans assume that the Oz-like green of Augusta National during Masters week is achieved by drenching the course with chemicals—or maybe with ground-up hundred-dollar bills—but, as the tournament approaches, the grounds crew at Augusta National actually uses less water and fewer pesticides than many homeowners routinely do, and they don’t fertilize at all. One reason has to do with the season: early April is the sweet spot for growing grass in Augusta, Georgia. Days and nights are cool, humidity is low, and soil temperature is perfect for producing green, healthy fairways with a minimum of chemical intervention. Winter weeds have departed or been squeezed out by the club’s annual over-seeding with rye, and summer weeds haven’t taken hold. Of course, it helps to have a tournament-time grounds crew of forty full-time employees and sixty volunteers, but the calendar is crucial. “In April, a yard on Berckmans Road could be as lush as any fairway here,” Brad Owen, the course superintendent (and no relation), told me in 2004. “Other times of the year, we all struggle.” Following are tips for average homeowners based on what Owen has learned while looking after the golf world’s most famous lawn:
- It’s best to let your yard dry out before watering. Over-watering encourages disease and weeds.
- You’ll save water and improve your results if you hand-water trouble spots rather than always soaking the entire lawn. Watch the weather forecast and turn off your sprinkler system when rain is on the way.
- Don’t shorten grass by more than 30 percent in one mowing. Removing too much of the leaf at once causes stress and promotes disease.
- Sharpen the blades of your mower. Augusta National sharpens all blades daily, because sharp blades cut grass rather than tearing it, and that’s better for the grass. Most homeowners never sharpen their mower blades.
- Have your soil tested, and ask your local extension service for advice specific to your soil type and your region.
- If you can take the time, inspect your yard daily and treat problems as they arise rather than trying to make your yard immune to every potential ill. Your grass will be healthier, and you will won’t use as many chemicals. The philosophy at Augusta National, Owen told me, is curative rather than preventative: “We don’t fix a problem until it appears.”