Step-By-Step Guide for Getting a Golf Course Lawn

A beautifully-striped lawn mowed tight like a golf course fairway. This describes the dream of most lawn care fanatics that want their home lawn to look like a golf course. We're going to outline the process you can follow to create the lawn you see above.

It’s taken a several years of blood, sweat, and fertilizer to get the lawn to this point. Although it looks pretty good, we're always looking for ways to improve this golf course lawn. This guide combined with a consistent approach will have your lawn looking like a golf course before you know it. 

Our goal is to show you how to reduce the time to make your lawn look like a golf course from several years to just 4 months.

The lawn started out as Tifway 419. It’s the cultivar most-commonly installed by contractors in my area. Over the past few years, we've overseeded the lawn with Arden 15 Bermuda to get a darker color while reducing water and fertilization requirements. In the photo above, the lawn at is mowed at .75″.

1. Topdressing

Top dressing lawn

In order for your lawn to look like a golf course, it first has to be smooth like a golf course. Despite how flat your lawn may look to the naked eye, once you start mowing it lower all the bumps, dips and weird undulations will show themselves. To overcome this challenge, you’ll need to top dress your lawn.

Topdressing is the process of applying a layer of sand to the turf to smooth out the uneven surface. There are several types of top dressing. It can range from primarily organic material to pure playground sand.  A 70/30 blend of river sand and organic material was used on this lawn. This has the advantage of leveling the turf while also adding organic material to the soil.

A pure organic mix will eventually break down putting you close to back where you started. While enough topdressing mix should be applied to reduce the low areas, be careful not to over-apply. The tips of the grass should still be exposed allowing them to receive sunlight for faster recovery.

The process used for applying the top dressing was as follows:

top dressing invoice for golf course lawn
  1. Scalp the turf to a height below .5”
  2. Remove as many of the grass clippings as possible
  3. Aerate the turf
  4. Apply a 12-12-12 starter fertilizer (brand doesn’t really matter)
  5. Apply top dressing mix
  6. Use a shop broom to work the dressing mix into the turf

Topdressing is pretty back-breaking work. Be sure to enlist the help of friends and family so the process goes faster. Alternatively, you can find a company in your area that provides this service. 

If you'd like to see what goes into top dressing a lawn check out this video. We show how the process works using heavy equipment and the manual process. Both methods produce great results.  

 If you decide to use a service expect to pay about $5.00 per square foot depending on what all they do. This lawn is approximately 12,000 square feet so the cost of the initial lawn level and top dress cost $2,425.00.

Approximately 3 weeks passed between topdressing and the lawn being completely green. 

Core Aeration and Verticutting

Core aeration and verticutting are methods for opening up the canopy and removing thatch. We typically aerate in late March or whenever the grass starts coming out of dormancy. Core aeration punches 4 – 6 inch deep holes into the turf and removes plugs of soil.  This allows fresh air and moisture to enter the soil which improves water and fertilizer uptake. It also strengthens grass roots. You can rent a core aerator or pay a service to come do it for you. 

Verticutting thins out the turf by removing built-up thatch. It also promotes new growth since the grass is being sliced into 2 – 3 inch long sections.  Each of these sections begins new growth of its own. The result is a much thicker and healthier turf in the weeks following the process.  We recommend doing both aeration and verticutting at least once per season. To speed up recovery, apply fertilizer after the procedure.

Depending on your lawn size, expect to pay $60 – $90 for core aeration and $100 – $150 for verticutting.

2. Lawn Mower

Greensmaster 1600

After topdressing, the mower you use is by far the most important aspect of acquiring and maintaining a golf course grass at home. The primary reason most lawns don’t look like a golf course is because the owner is using the wrong type of mower to cut the grass.

A traditional rotary lawn mower is analogous to swinging a long knife to cut the grass. This hacking motion tends to tear the grass instead of cutting it cleanly. Traditional mowers are also much more likely to scalp the turf as mowing heights become lower. Any unevenness in the surface will cause the cutting disk to dip creating ugly-looking semicircles in the lawn.

For the mowing heights we’re after (.5” – 1.25”), you'll need to use a reel lawn mower. A reel mower (also called a cylinder mower), cuts the grass by trapping the grass between the reel edge and the bed knife. This process cuts the grass similar to how scissors cut paper. They’re much friendlier to the turf since the grass isn’t injured as much during the mowing process. Pretty much all reel lawn mowers also have the option for installing a front roller which neatly lays the grass flat during the cutting process. This is what creates those glorious stripes we’re after. 

Our current reel lawn mower is a Toro Greensmaster 1600. It is a golf course lawn mower used to cut tee boxes and approaches. If you're in search for the best reel mower out there, it's tough to beat the Toro Greensmaster 1600. To find one at a good price, search Google for "Toro Greensmaster 1600" or "Toro GM1600". 

A pre-owned Greensmaster in good condition will cost between $1500 - $3500. A Toro Greensmaster priced in the $3500 range will typically have lower hours (under 500) and will arrive freshly serviced. That way you're ready to go for an entire mowing season. Local auctions or one of the online marketplaces are a good source for finding this reel mower for sale. 

Another option is to find out which company your local golf course leases their reel mowers from. These places will often have off-lease reel mowers for sale at attractive prices. A bonus is you start a relationship with the company that will likely service and/or repair your reel lawn mower. Regardless of where you get yours, a powered reel mower is an amazing bit of kit that will produce the best possible cut. 

If the price of a powered reel mower is intimidating, you can always go with a manual push reel mower. The Scott’s push reel lawn mower works well and produces a nice cut. There are also good push reel mower options from Fiskars and Earthwise but the Scott's push reel mower is the one we have the most direct experience with.

While the Scott’s will work for most lawns, the Toro Greensmaster or Tru-Cut C25 / C27 are better options. The reel turns much faster, so you obtain a pristine cut even at lower heights. It’s also less work to operate a powered reel lawn mower than a manual push mower. If you decide to buy one, be sure to also get a front roller since it’s required to create those beautiful stripes.

3. Fertilizer

We prefer to use a blend of synthetic and organic fertilizers. For the synthetic we use a medium release fertilizer from Lebanon Turf. The specific product is their Humic Max 16-0-8 with 8.9% humic acid and 35% MESA. MESA is their proprietary additive that feeds the lawn for extended periods while not causing excessive growth. One bag of this fertilizer is enough to treat 15,000 square feet of Bermuda. 

Soil testing is an important tool for determining the best fertilizer for your particular lawn. The soil test kit that we like and recommend is the one by MySoil. The kit is very easy to use. We show how in this video.  

For a slow release fertilizer, Milorganite is a good option. It’s organic and contains a bit of iron which promotes a very deep green color. We've applied it as heavy as 3X the specified rate with no burning. Your neighbors will hate the smell but it does wonders for your soil which ultimately creates a greener lawn.

If you want the best possible option for your lawn consider Lebanon Turf Humic Max since it will improve your soil quality while feeding the grass.

This is a good general annual fertilization and lawn product application schedule:

  • Early March: Full Humic Max application
  • Early March: Spring Pre-Emergent application
  • Mid April: Full Humic Max application at 3 lb per 1k rate
  • Late June: Full Humic Max application at 3 lb per 1k rate
  • Late June: Full Humic Max application at 3 lb per 1k rate
  • Mid-August: Final Humic Max application of the year
  • Late August: Fall Pre-Emergent
proscape and milorganite to feed golf course lawn

4. Mowing Frequency

A big reason why golf courses look the way they do, is mowing frequency. The shorter the grass, the more frequently it has to be mowed to maintain the desired height. In order to have a green lawn between mowing sessions, it’s recommended that no more than 1/3 the length of the grass be removed.  It also reduces the stress on the turf but to me this is secondary. Regardless of what you do to it, Bermuda is pretty difficult to kill.

This is the reason why putting greens are usually mowed daily while fairways are cut every other day.  That’s what it takes to maintain green turf below 1 inch.  For the home owner this translates to mowing at least 3 times per week; certainly not a small commitment.

During the summer months, (June – September), we typically mow the lawn every other day. As a general rule, the more often you mow your lawn, the better it will look. If you'd like some tips on improving your mowing and getting amazing lawn stripes, check out this video. 

 

5. Pre-Emergent and PGR

growth regulator for golf course lawn

Due to the low height of cut and mowing frequency, we don’t really have issues with weeds. That said, in mid-February we do apply pre-emergent. On some lawn we also re-apply in late April. The brand of pre-emergent we use is Prodiamine. If you’re looking for a more cost-effective option that can be applied using a backpack sprayer, look no further than Prodiamine WDG. It’s an industry standard when it comes to pre-emergent for home lawns. We show how to apply it in this video.

 The other product that we've regularly use is PGR (Plant Growth Regulator). It inhibits the grass’ stalk from growing quickly while allowing the leaf to flourish. This has 2 great benefits. First, it reduces the mowing frequency because the grass isn’t growing vertically as quickly. Second, you will get a darker green because the leaf isn’t being cut off as frequently. Older leaf is darker green than new leaf.  This video covers the benefits of PGR and gives you easy-to-follow tips for getting the best results. 

 The brand of PGR we use and recommend is called Primo Maxx. It comes in a 4 oz. container which is perfect for anyone wanting to try it without spending too much. 4 oz. of Primo Maxx is enough to treat a 4000 square foot lawn 4 times in 1 season. For those of you with larger lawns go with a variant of Primo Maxx called T-Nex

Depending on how much rain you receive, PGR should be applied every 4 – 6 weeks to control growth. Our first application is performed in early May, followed by additional monthly applications until September  PGR will save you about 1 mow per week and also provides the benefit of a greener lawn.

We use this backpack sprayer to apply the PGR. It supports higher pressures, has better construction, and includes an assortment of sprayer tips to give the best result. If you prefer a more cost conscious option, this sprayer from Chapin is also very good. A quality sprayer definitely helps create a tightly woven turf that will make your home lawn look like a golf course.

6. Fungicide and Insecticide

caravan-g golf course lawn herbicide
arden 15

There are a couple of options for keeping grubs, army worms fire ants, and other pests away.  We recommend and use a product by Syngenta called Caravan G. It’s a combination Insecticide and Fungicide. It does an excellent job of keeping the nasties away as well as eliminating lawn fungus like brown spot. One bag covers around 8,000 square feet.

For fire ants, we recommend Advion Fire Ant Bait. This is a granular product that is easy to apply and performs well for extended periods.

If you'd like a fungicide that’s designed to treat a broader range of lawn fungus, we recommend Headway G from Syngenta. Keep in mind that this product is strictly a fungicide. It contains two active ingredients which makes it more effective.

If you go with with Headway G, you’ll need to use a standalone insecticide to keep grubs and army worms out of your lawn. The best insecticide you can get in this space is called Acelepryn. Check out this article on eliminating and preventing armyworms using this product. It's available in liquid and granular forms as Acelepryn SC and Acelepryn G respectively.

7. Water

Bermuda only needs about 1” of water per week during the summer months to stay happy. If there’s no rain, that means running your irrigation system. Depending on your lawn size, water will probably be your highest expense. You can ensure you get the most out of your watering by using efficient irrigation.

Lower watering requirements is one of the primary reasons we made the decision in 2018 to switch to Princess 77. A new grass seed called Arden 15 was recently released that has all the benefits of Princess 77 but grows in faster, produces a deeper green and is more drought tolerant. In our 2021 lawn top dressing and overseeding project, we went with Arden 15.

If you decide to go this route, check out Amazon since they often carry it at a great price. Also, don’t forget to apply a good starter fertilizer along with the seed application to ensure the best possible results. 

Tying it All Together

While it’s certainly a lot of work, the end result makes it worthwhile.  Topdressing is by far the most difficult aspect of the process. Once you get past that it becomes all about fertilization and mowing.

If you’d like a general calendar to follow that will mimic most of what we do, have a look. Due to the monthly nitrogen application, using Plant Growth Regulator is ESSENTIAL. If you’re not using PGR, DO NOT FOLLOW this schedule. Now with the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it.

Month by Month Break Down

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

JUNE

JULY 

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

OCTOBER 

Hope you enjoyed reading how this lawn was transferred from boring to awesome in a short period of time. 

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