By Brian Hurlburt, www.LasVegasGolfInsider.com
I once wrote an article entitled, “To overseed or not overseed, that is the question.”
Well, Eric Dutt, Reflection Bay manager of operations, and his ownership group, have made the decision:
Overseeding each late summer is a thing of the past at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course located at Lake Las Vegas.
The “no overseed” decision originally was made in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, but is now here to stay for a variety of reasons that all seem to make good sense. A main benefit is one that golfers should enjoy.
“By not overseeing the golf course, our conditions will be as is good as ever in that late September, October and November timeframe, when the weather is perfect and everybody loves to play golf in Las Vegas,” Dutt says. “When you overseed, you are closed for some of that time period and then when you re-open, you have to keep a lot of water on the course, so courses are cart-path only and conditions aren’t optimal. Due to the need to keep the grass cool, a course can be mushy with long fairways and other issues just after an overseed.”
Another benefit to not overseeding with a rye grass is that the Bermuda grass isn’t disrupted, so the base only continues to improve instead of being damaged. This allows for better conditions a majority of the year, other than the coldest weather months when the Bermuda goes dormant.
“Every time you overseed, you lose approximately 10 percent of your Bermuda grass base,” says Noel “Chino” Villarreale, Reflection Bay’s superintendent. “By not overseeding, we’re able to have a stronger base grass that is more consistent throughout the year and is more tolerant of the water quality as it becomes less than ideal.”
Besides playability benefits, another reason Dutt and his team, which includes general manager Jon Openshaw, made the decision to not overseed is the ongoing drought concerns. Not overseeding saves a lot of water and the Southern Nevada Water Authority is mandating even more water cuts for golf courses.
“Given the water situation that we are in, by not overseeding, we’re able to drastically reduce the amount of water that we use throughout the winter and also during the overseed process,” Openshaw says. “Our fairways and roughs go dormant during the cold months, so the water requirements for the course as a whole are drastically reduced when compared to a traditional overseed model with rye grass that wants to grow all winter long and needs water.”
Dutt says the course will only be watered one day per week during the winter, and conserving water was one of the deciding factors in the decision-making process. Villarreale supported not overseeding when he heard the decision.
“As a superintendent, I think it is just a good thing to not overseed,” Villarreale says. “There are a lot of different benefits, and due to the water problems that we have, I think it is the best thing to do for Las Vegas.”
Dutt is also the first to admit that it makes solid business sense to not overseed, especially given the changing supply chain dynamic throughout the world. Course operators who do need to overseed (and there are valid reasons to overseed for some courses) are being told by seed suppliers that the price will be going up again in 2022. In some instances, the suppliers are not able to guarantee delivery of the seed.
“There is an expense and revenue equation that comes into play as well when we made this decision,” Dutt says. “Over the last couple years, the price of rye grass seed has almost tripled and that is a meaningful increase. A lot of commodity pricing has gone up with worldwide events including fertilizer that has gone off the charts due to the conflict in Ukraine. Overseeding is now almost cost prohibitive to a certain degree. And it is a double-edged sword because we also lose substantial revenue during the prime golf season. Without going into specifics, it’s a significant expense savings and a significant revenue improvement to not overseed.”
But as with anything, there are some challenges that occur with the decision. From about December through March, the Reflection Bay fairways and greens will be brown. It can be a shock to customers who are expecting lush conditions. To minimize some of the issues, green fee rates are adjusted accordingly during the winter months and green paint is applied to improve the course’s look and feel. Over the years, the quality and texture of green paint has improved.
“Come December until about March, we let our guests know right away, ‘Hey everyone, we are going to be playing on dormant Bermuda fairways and roughs’, just to make sure they understand the situation prior to making a reservation,” Openshaw says. “But we also share the good news that the greens are still playable because they are a bent grass and don’t go dormant. We also share the reasons behind our decision to not overseed and also remind the customers that the course will be in fantastic shape from April until December each year. For the best months of the year, we will have the best product available.”
While Reflection Bay was not the first course to the make the decision to not overseed, Dutt, also a board member of the Nevada Golf Alliance, says that he sees an industry trend towards more courses making a similar decision. He and he and his team believe in the movement.
“It’s becoming more and more accepted and prevalent for golf courses not to be overseeded because of all of the factors that we are facing in the Southwest and just the price of the commodity,” Dutt says. “There are a lot of uncertainties in the overseeding process. Doing business under those uncertain circumstances and given those factors doesn’t make sense.”
This is the fourth in a series of blogs that go behind the scenes of Reflection Bay Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas. Reflection Bay is a course partner of LasVegasGolfInsider.com.