It was not an immediate decision for Eric Dutt, his team, and Reflection Bay Golf Club at Lake Las Vegas ownership to renovate all 18 greens with paspalum. But after research and some very meaningful first-hand knowledge, it added up to a no brainer to replace the old and worn bent grass putting surfaces with the tolerant new turf that is used during several PGA Tour events. –By Brian Hurlburt, founder, www.lasvegasgolfinsider.com
Reflection Bay closed in May 2023 and is scheduled to reopen in Mid-September with the new paspalum greens. The positives of introducing the fairly rare turf—at least its use on Las Vegas area golf courses—are plentiful.
Photo: closeup look at the new greens with about 7 weeks before reopening.
“Reflection Bay is about 25 years old and it was closed for about four and a half years during the real estate downturn (about 2009 to 2014), so any golf course in that age frame—let alone with a long closure–needs some work,” said Dutt, the course’s director of operations. “Our biggest challenge at Reflection Bay has been the heat, humidity, and, at times, poor water quality. We struggled in the summertime with the greens because of the bent grass. It was clear we needed to improve the greens, and we also made the decision to do a few other enhancements during the greens project.”
The paspalum turf has not been used much in Southern Nevada, but it has been in play at the very-busy Club at Sunrise in Las Vegas. Superintendent Scott Sutton planted wall-to-wall paspalum in 2017. Since then, the greens have been mentioned as some of the best and most consistent in the area.
Dutt was impressed when he and his team played Club at Sunrise during the Reflection Bay planning process. The scout group also included PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions player Craig Barlow, who serves as director of instruction at the High-Performance Golf Institute at Reflection Bay.
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The benefits of paspalum are many and include strong resistance to ball marks, the need to aerify only once a year, drought tolerance, and a high resistance to poor water quality that has a high salt content. In addition, several PGA Tour events are played on paspalum, usually in beautiful seaside areas such as Mexico or other tropical locales.
“I chatted with Craig about it and we talked about different grass types,” Dutt said. “When the topic of paspalum came up, he said, ‘You know, I have played four Tour events on it’. He was very positive about the experience. We then started to check all the boxes with the positives about going with paspalum and they really added up.”
Possibly the biggest challenge with paspalum is the ability to get the green speeds up at the high end of the Stimpmeter, but that is not mandatory at a resort course such as Reflection Bay. Barlow doesn’t see that as an issue, and looks forward to putting on the new surfaces.
“I think Reflection Bay is looking to be ahead of the times because the grass takes less water while still performing like other grasses,” Barlow said. “You can make them firm or soft, and the shot performance is pretty much like on other grasses I have played. Paspalum greens don’t have much grain in them, which is a bit different. Overall, I think they feel a little more like Bermuda grass than bent from my experience. The biggest thing is they are so durable. It is very difficult to find a ball mark on them. I think it is going to be a very nice change at Reflection Bay and golfers will enjoy them.”
Dutt said that when the course hosts high-level collegiate or other amateur events, there will be ways to stiffen the challenge besides just speeding up the greens.
“Going with paspalum will open up some pin locations on greens that, with bent, I couldn’t even think about putting a pin on certain slopes or around those slopes,” Dutt said. “The paspalum is going to give us flexibility in many, many ways.”
Dutt also said that the ongoing drought in the Southwest was a factor in the decision, and that planning for the future was important.
“When we looked at everything, we decided that for business and long-term considerations, and to hedge our bet a little bit, to use the Vegas phrase, we decided to go with paspalum,” Dutt said.
Industry experts are also taking a harder look at paspalum. Atlas Turf International President John Holmes recently wrote an article entitled, Paspalum: More Relevant Than Ever.
“I have discovered that in certain situations, paspalum is the perfect fit,” Holmes wrote. “Paspalum is the most versatile species of warm season turfgrass available. It is tolerant of a wide range of mowing heights and performs well on golf courses from tee to green … Paspalum is (also) the salt tolerance king, and salt tolerance is where paspalum shines.”
Now, Dutt looks ahead to the reopening to share the new turf with golfers who have come to love the Jack Nicklaus-designed Reflection Bay over the last quarter century.
“We will continue to do what we do, and that is provide what we feel is one of the best golf experiences in Las Vegas,” Dutt said. “We take a lot of pride in the golf course, our high-level service, and the one-of-a-kind setting with five holes in the heart of Lake Las Vegas. Our goal is to always be a little bit better each day. We want somebody to go away saying. “Wow, that was a great experience and a value for the rate. That is how we get people back. I am not a proponent of raising prices on certain weekends because we want to get somebody back two or three times a year rather than get them once. I believe the paspalum greens quality will add to our overall experience here in a lot of ways.”
Reflection Bay is an official course partner of LasVegasGolfInsider.com.