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Doing The Groundwork For The Perfect Putt

Head down, arms straight, hips in line. Breathe out. Steady swing.

That and a little luck is all you need to roll that dimpled white ball from Point A (your lie) to Point B (the cup).

That plus of several dozen yards of PVC drainage piping, covered by 4 inches of pea gravel topped by 12 inches of a mix of 80 percent sand and 20 percent Reed-sedge peat, over which lies that perfect carpet of bentgrass – weed-free, well nourished, well watered and unblemished by disease.

You”ll have to take responsibility for your putting stance, but plant scientists at the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences are working on the rest. This spring they”re putting the finishing touches on a new, 15,000 sq. ft. research putting green, built to U.S. Golf Association specifications, at the O.J. Noer Turfgrass Research and Education Facility.

When the job”s done, the Noer facility will have nearly 50,000 sq. ft. of putting greens on site. There won”t be much putting done, but there will be some exhaustive evaluation of turfgrass varieties and management practices.

The project is a partnership between the UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Turfgrass Association, which helped fund the Noer facility and underwrites much of the research done there.

That research goes far beyond devising the perfect putting surface, of course. Research at Noer deals with all uses of turf, including home and commercial lawns, parks, athletic fields, roadsides and sod farms. Much of the work focuses on finding ways to reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Other research focuses on evaluating non-traditional fertilizers (seaweed, for instance), seeing which types of grasses are best at crowding out weeds, and monitoring the movement of nutrients and pesticides from turf to groundwater.

A few plots are used to evaluate alternatives to grass lawns, including perennials, ornamentals and prairie grasses. The Noer facility has paired up with the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program to use turfgrass and alternative species to create more wildlife habitats.

An estimated 280,000 acres of Wisconsin is planted to turfgrass. About 30,000 jobs in the state are related to the turfgrass industry.