Call him the Bentgrass Whisperer. At a time in which golf courses in the Carolinas are running as fast as they can toward hybrid Bermuda grass for their greens, Brad Fellrath is standing pat. Fellrath, the greens superintendent at Raintree Country Club in Charlotte, remains steadfast that he not only can grow bentgrass but it can thrive in this climate.
Bentgrass has long been the preferred putting surface in golf. But in this part of the country in the summer, the oppressive heat causes untold stress to the grass and leaves superintendents no choice but to keep the grass long and the surfaces wet to prevent bentgrass to die.
Subsequently, the majority of courses in the Charlotte area have converted their bentgrass greens to one of the hybrid Bermuda grasses, which thrive in the summer heat. Even Quail Hollow Club, host of next week’s PGA Championship, converted its greens to Bermuda.
You’d think that with Quail Hollow’s budget, they could grow bentgrass if anyone could. But with they PGA coming, Quail Hollow officials decided not to take the chance of losing the greens to the heat.
Fellrath is not surrendering. Raintree’s greens are among the best in Charlotte. Certainly, Raintree’s are not the only bentgrass greens in town but Fellrath gets the nod because he has to keep up with 36 holes on the club’s North and South courses. Even in the summer heat, Raintree’s greens don’t show much stress, they are fairly firm and ball marks don’t explode.
Fellrath gets the credit. He has been Raintree’s greens superintendent for 30 years and during that tenure, he believes he has developed a method to keep good putting surfaces all year.
“Nobody around here opens their greens up like I do,” said Fellrath, whose team aerates Raintree’s greens three times a year, moving twice as much material than what is considered normal. “Because of the two courses, we can work on one course and still have another course open. And by the time that course heals – usually in a week or so – you can work on the other one. That has helped me a lot.
“Early on, if you work hard at aeration, work hard in cleaning up behind you, you get a lot less static and the members become more and more supportive. Some of the new members will say something about aeration and the older members will say, ‘His process works. You’ll be surprised.’ And they buy in pretty quickly.”
Between the summer and fall aeration, Fellrath and his team use a gentle aeration with a tine that looks like a butter knife and topdresses the greens with a light sand. “It keeps them dry and helps them receive moisture, relieves heat,” he says.
In the winter, he applies a hydrojet, injecting water into the greens, hopefully to drive the grass’ roots farther into the soil.
The club also has large fans next to a few of the greens, which help with air flow. And, Fellrath says, the elimination of metal spikes on golf shoes has made a huge difference.
“I’ve been amazed how much they have helped,” he said. “I was skeptical at first.”
All of which allows him to mow the greens at the same height all year and not have to keep them long and wet in the summer.
As a result, it has prevented the club from following the herd and converting to Bermuda.
“We haven’t had to,” Fellrath said. “We haven’t lost greens for a very long time. I just don’t see the reason to change. (Bent is) still the preferred putting surface. The new Bermuda greens are incredible. But if you don’t have any reason to change, I wouldn’t change. I think our membership would rather have bent greens.”
And the members have Fellrath to thank.