Turfgrass Terminology
Pythium blight. Creeping bentgrass. Cultivar. Poa annua. If you listen to golf course superintendents awhile, you will hear these and many other similar terms. To the layperson, they may seem rather foreign. An understanding of some of the more frequently heard golf course management terms may help you understand the complexities of managing a golf course. The turfgrass science terms included here concern the quality of the playing surface. Here are a few of the most common - with translations.


acid soil
A soil having an acid reaction of pH below the neutral point, which is pH 7.0; a soil having an excess of hydrogen ions. Turfgrasses generally prefer slightly acid soils, in the pH range of 6.0 to 6.5.

The process of coring to allow more air into the soil and to relieve compaction; used synonymously with aerification.

A growth of minute single-celled plants containing chlorophyll that develops on thin or bare areas in hot humid weather when soils are saturated with moisture.

alkaline soil
A soil having a basic reaction or a pH above the neutral point, which is pH 7.0; a soil having a predominance of hydroxyl (OH) ions, usually found in areas with relatively low rainfall.

annual grasses
Grasses that normally complete their life cycles in one year.

The fairway area close to and in front of the putting green, adjoining the putting green collar. This area is normally mowed at fairway height but sometimes is mowed slightly closer.


A large, widely distributed group of typically one-celled microorganisms, chiefly parasitic or saprophytic. Some bacteria are disease producing; many are active in processes such as the conversion of dead organic matter into soluble food for plants and the fixing of atmospheric nitrogen.

ball mark
A depression and/or a tear in the putting green surface made by the impact of a golf ball.

bench setting
See cutting height.

Bentgrasses, generally speaking, are tolerant of cold weather, extremely fine-bladed and very popular among golfers, especially for greens. Bentgrasses are even in demand in the South, but it is difficult and costly to maintain them in warm climates.

A term applied to plants that normally complete their life cycles in two years.

biological control
Control of turfgrass pests by the use of living organisms.

A combination of two or more varieties of the same grass species.

A general term used to describe symptoms of plant disease that may include sudden wilting or death of leaves, flowers, stems or entire plants. The most common blight of golf course turfs is Pythium.

Any of the dicotyledonous plants that grow in a turfgrass stand (e.g., dandelion, plantain, clover, chickweed, knotweed, etc.)

The practice of lifting excessive leaf and stem growth off grasses before mowing. Usually accomplished with brushes affixed to mowers ahead of the cutting reel.


To determine or mark the graduation of, or to determine and control the amount of material delivered by a sprayer or spreader on a given area or in a given time.

As commonly used, the condition in plants relating to the loss or lack of green color. May be caused by disease activity, albinism or nutritional deficiency.

An area of turf adjoining the putting green that is mowed at a height intermediate between the fairway and the green.

The reduction in the number and size of airspaces caused by compression. It is most often the result of traffic. Compaction prevents adequate water and air penetration, and reduces turfgrass root growth.

complete fertilizer
A fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

contour mowing
To shape the border between the fairway and rough to add interest, direction or strategy to the golf hole.

cool-season grasses
Among the best known are colonial bentgrass, creeping bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue and tall fescue. They grow best between 55 F and 85 F.

The removal of a core from a turfgrass area with a soil probe or hollow metal tines, usually to provide aeration .

A term used to distinguish cultivated varieties of plants from the naturally occurring varieties. Example: Penncross creeping bentgrass.

A mechanical procedure such as spiking, grooving or core removal on established turf without destroying its sod characteristics.

cutting height
The distance above the soil line that grasses are clipped.

    bench setting
    - the height at which the bedknife is set above a firm, level surface. This is generally the accepted measure for determining cutting height.

   effective cutting height
   - the actual height at which grasses are cut. It varies from bench setting, depending on the degree of thatch and flotation of the cutting unit.


damping off
A disease of seeds or young seedlings caused by fungi, usually occurring under wet conditions.

Drying up. A type of winter injury that exposed turf areas suffer when subject to high winds and inadequate moisture or snow cover.

The procedure of removing an excessive thatch accumulation either mechanically, by practices such as vertical mowing, or biologically, such as by topdressing with soil.

A disturbance in normal functioning and growth, usually caused by pathogenic fungi, bacteria or viruses.

In a resting, or nonvegetative, state.

The rapid removal of water by surface contouring (swales or ditches) or the installation of subsurface tile.


The wearing away of the land by running water, wind or other geological agents.

The combination of soil evaporation and transpiration from a plant; total water loss from plant and soil.


The slope or incline of a bunker constructed in the direction of the putting green, intended to create an added obstacle for a player to negotiate.

No precise definition exists in the Rules of Golf for "fairway." It is deemed to be an area between the tee and putting green included in the term "through the green." In terms of maintenance, fairways are those areas of the course that are mowed at heights between 0.5 and 1.25 inches, depending on grass species and the cultural intensity desired. Fairways normally are about 50 yards wide but vary from about 33 yards to more than 60 yards, depending on the caliber of the golf course involved and limitations imposed by architecture or terrain.

The application of fertilizer through an irrigation system.

A nutrient applied to plants to assist growth.

foliar fertilizers
Soluble plant nutrients applied to the leaf and capable of being absorbed through leaves.

foot printing
   - discolored areas of dead leaf tissue left after live, frosted turfgrass leaves are walked on.

   - Temporary foot impressions left on a turf because the flaccid leaves of grass plants have insufficient water to spring back.

Easily crumbled in the fingers. Most often used when describing soils.

A liquid or solid substance that forms vapors that destroy pathogens, insects, etc. Fumigants are usually used in soils or closed structures.

A chemical that kills or inhibits fungi.

A low form of plant life that, lacking chlorophyll and being incapable of manufacturing its own food, lives off dead or living plant and animal matter.


gang mower
A machine for cutting turfgrass - usually fairways - in which a tractor propels a cluster of reel mowers usually in groups of three, five, seven or nine.

The beginning of growth in a seed, plant bud or joint.

As applied to putting greens, the tendency for grass leaves to lie down in one direction and interfere with the natural roll of the ball.

A form of cultivation using rotating knives that cut slits into the turf and soil.

ground covers
Plants used to provide a low-maintenance, vegetative cover that is not necessarily turf.


A swelling or rising of the surface caused by the freezing and thawing of soil.

Nonwoody plants.

A chemical used to kill weeds or herbaceous growth.

A dark, well-decomposed material formed from decayed vegetable or animal matter in the soil.

A technique for applying seed, mulch and fertilizer in a water slurry over a seedbed.


To become established in a parasitic relationship with a host plant.

To filter into; the penetration of water through soils.

inorganic fertilizer
Plant nutrients derived from mineral rather than organic sources.

A chemical used to destroy insects.

The portion of a stem between the nodes or joints.


The removal of materials from the soil through rainfall or the application of water.

An abutment of sod raised 3 to 4 inches above the sand level of a bunker. It faces the putting green and prevents a player from putting out.

Materials containing calcium and magnesium used to neutralize soil acidity and to supply calcium and magnesium as plant nutrients. Lime materials include limestone, shell, marl, slag and gypsum.

liquid fertilizer
Plant nutrients applied in solution.

localized dry spot
A dry area of sod and soil that resists water as normally applied; caused by various factors such as heavy thatch, soil or fungal organisms.


In turf, an undecomposed mass of roots and stems hidden underneath green vegetation. Associated with sponginess or fluffiness in turf.

The process of working topdressing, fertilizers or other materials into a turfgrass area with drag mats.

The area in the immediate vicinity of the turfgrass plant from the surface to the depth of root penetration into the soil.

An element needed in small amounts for turfgrass growth.

Small organisms such as bacteria and other minute entities; usually invisible to the unaided eye.

A disease in which the causal fungus forms a coating over the surface of plant parts. The coating, which is a mycelial growth, is usually thin and whitish. There are two types of mildew: downy and powdery.

mixture, seed
A combination of seeds of two or more turfgrass species.

A material such as straw, netting, burlap, etc., spread over seeded or stolonized areas to protect them from erosion, moisture loss and temperature extremes and to enhance germination and growth.


native grasses
Grasses that are indigenous or that occur naturally in a particular region.

A substance used to destroy nematodes.

Small, round worms, usually microscopic and colorless, that live free in moist soil, water or decaying or living organic matter. Parasitic forms puncture plant tissues and live by sucking the juice of the plant.

The joint of a grass stem from which leaves and buds arise.

noxious weeds
Weeds categorized by law as objectionable in a seed lot for commercial sale.

An area set aside for testing new turfgrass cultivars and chemicals and for growing replacement turf for the golf course.

nutrients, plant
The elements taken in by the plant, essential to its growth and used in elaboration of food and tissue.


organic fertilizer
Fertilizers that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, as well as needed nutrients. Organic fertilizers can come from naturally occurring sources or be made synthetically.

organic matter
Decomposed material derived from plant or animal sources. An important component of topsoil often added to topdressing soil mixtures to give added water-holding capacity and exchange capacity to the soil.

organic soil
A general term used in reference to any soil that is at least 20 percent organic matter.

To sow seed over an area that is sparsely covered or to plant cool-season grasses into dormant warm-season turfgrass swards for a temporary, green winter cover.


An organism causing disease.

Unconsolidated soil material consisting largely of undecomposed or only slightly decomposed organic matter accumulated under conditions of excess moisture.

A measure of the ease with which air, roots and water penetrate the soil.

perennial grasses
Lasting or continuing from year to year in areas where adapted.

A substance used to destroy pests such as weeds, insects or diseases.

A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a material or solution. pH ranges from 0 to 14. Values below 7 are increasingly acid; above 7, increasingly alkaline.

Harmful to plants .

Stands for plant growth regulator. A chemical that can slow the growth of turfgrass .

The vegetative propagation of turfgrass by means of plugs or small sod pieces. A method of establishing vegetatively propagated turfgrasses, as well as repairing damaged areas.

Poa is the genus of all bluegrasses. Pratensis is the species name for Kentucky bluegrass. Poa annua is annual bluegrass. There's also Poa trivialis (rough bluegrass) and Poa compressa (Canada bluegrass).

pore space
That space between solid soil particles or aggregates that is normally filled with water, air or grass roots.

A term used in reference to herbicide treatment made after weed seedlings have emerged from the soil.

A term used in reference to treatments made before weed seedlings emerge from the soil.

profile, soil
A cross-section of soil that shows the layers or horizons lying above the unweathered parent material.

Pythium blight
A highly destructive turfgrass disease that can totally destroy a turfgrass stand in less than 24 hours. Pythiumblight most commonly occurs under conditions of high temperature and humidity.


A term that refers to practices involving complete changes in the total turf area, i.e., reconstruction of a green, tee, fairway, rough or any other area of the golf course.

Turf improvement involving replanting into existing live and/or dead vegetation.

The capability of the turf to spring back when balls, shoes or other objects strike the surface, thus providing a cushioning effect.

An underground, root-like stem; underground creeping stem.

A disease caused by a fungus that results in a layer of reddish-orange material forming on the leaf or stem surface. The rust material will come off the plant readily when rubbed.


saline soils
Soils in which there is a heavy accumulation of salts.

Turf damage occurring under conditions of excessive water, high temperatures and intense light.

Cutting into or below the crown of the grass plant while mowing. Continued scalping will weaken or kill the turf.

seed bed
An area of soil prepared for seeding.

A plant grown from seed; usually refers to a young plant.

selective herbicide
One that can be applied to a mixed stand of turfgrass and weeds that will selectively kill certain weeds without injuring the turfgrasses.

A form of cultivation involving a deep, vertical-cutting action that is used to open the soil as well as the turf.

A disease caused by a fungus.

Plugs, blocks, squares or strips of turfgrass with roots used for vegetative planting.

The installation of sod.

soil modification
Alteration of soil characteristics by adding soil amendments such as sand, peat, lime, etc.; commonly used to improve physical and chemical conditions.

soil probe
A tool used to remove a deep core from turf areas to examine root development, thatch depth, topsoil depth, soil arrangement and soil moisture.

soil sterilant
A chemical that renders soil free of living organisms.

soil testing
The analysis of soil samples for chemical and/or physical properties.

soil texture
The coarseness or fineness of the soil. Sand is coarse-textured; clay is fine-textured.

An established classification into which similar individuals in the plant or animal kingdom are placed. A species is described as a morphologically distinctive and genetically isolated natural population.

The act of perforating turf and soil crust by the use of solid tines, spikes or blades for the purpose of aerating the soil.

spray drift
The movement of small spray particles away from the target area.

The planting of stolons (runners), rhizomes or vegetative segments of plants.

To treat soil chemically or by heat to kill disease organisms, weed seeds and insects.

An implement used to measure the speed of putting greens.

Creeping stems or runners aboveground that may produce roots and new stems and become independent plants.

A pattern left on turfgrass - usually a fairway or a green - using lightweight mowing equipment. Its main purpose is a pleasing appearance. Patterns are the result of light reflected from blades of grass lying in different directions because they have been mowed in different directions.

That part of the soil profile below plow depth. Usually considered unsatisfactory for plant growth.

An agent that reduces surface tension of liquids on plant materials or in the soil. Wetting agents are common examples.


Lacking inherent ability to resist. Turf may be susceptible to diseases, insect damage or weed encroachment.

The action of one chemical upon another causing an accelerated action or a result that neither one alone could produce.

Light sprinkling of water on turf, usually done during the hot part of the day to prevent wilting. Only enough water is applied to wet the leaves, not the soil.


teeing ground
The starting place for the hole to be played. It is a rectangular area two club lengths in depth, the front and the sides of which are defined by the outside limits of two tee markers.

texture, grass
The width of individual leaves. A narrow-leaved grass like creeping bentgrass is considered fine-textured. A wide-leaved grass like some tall fescues is considered coarse-textured.

A tightly intermingled layer of dead and decaying roots, stolons, shoots and stems that develops between the green vegetation and soil surface.

The ability of a plant to withstand the effects of adverse conditions, chemicals or parasites.

A prepared mixture usually containing sand and organic matter used for leveling and smoothing the playing surface. It acts as an aid in controlling thatch and in maintaining biological balance. Topdressing is also used to cover stolons or sprigs in vegetative planting.

A general term applied to the top natural layer of soil.

Quality, state or degree of being toxic; poisonous.

transition zone
Commonly referred to as the geographical zone that is too far north to easily grow warm-season grasses and too far south to easily grow cool-season grasses.

The movement of water vapor out of a plant through leaf openings.

triplex mower
A machine for closely cutting greens involving a small power unit propelling three precision reel mowers, usually in front. Triplex mowers are also used widely on tees and fairways.


In classification, a subdivision of species. Differing from the remainder of the species in one or more recognizable and heritable characteristics.

vegetative propagation
Propagation by means of pieces of vegetation, i.e., sprigs or sod pieces.

The green, living plant material remaining after mowing.

vertical mowing (verticutting)
The thinning of turfgrasses by blades or wire tines that cut perpendicular to the soil surface. Specifically designed to remove mat, thatch and grain from greens and to thin dense turf.


warm-season grasses
Among the best known are bermudagrass, St. Augustinegrass, zoysiagrass, bahiagrass, carpetgrass and centipedegrass. Bermudagrass is the most popular for greens. Warm-season grasses grow at their optimal rate between 75 F and 95 F.

Plants out of place; undesirable or unwanted plants.

wettable powder
A dry powdered formulation of a pesticide that is applied as a suspension in water.

A loss of freshness and turgidity. Drooping of leaves due to inadequate water supply or excessive transpiration. Also a vascular disease that interferes with utilization of water by a plant.

winterkill (injury)
The general term applied to injuries of turf from a variety of causes that occur during the winter and become evident in spring.







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